Talking Design with Rusty: Bottom Line Part 1

The last few blogs I've covered Bob Simmon's influences on modern design, and an overview on rocker. A natural segue would be a little history and discourse on bottoms.

Here's a short list of some bottom contours that have been utilized over the last 40 years: Vee bottom. Spiral vee. Hulls. Tri-Hulls. Tri-plane Hulls. Bonzers. Venturis. Double-barrel vee. Clinker bottoms. Channel bottom. Six-deep channels. Four-deep channels. Belly channels. Curved-belly channels. Phazer bottoms. Micro Grooves. Triple con. Double concave. Reverse vee. Step tails. Hydro hulls. Hydrofoil. Jet bottom. Slot bottom. Double-deep concave.

And...the single concave. Why single concave?

A little background: Concaves in surfboard bottoms have been around since Bob Simmons introduced them in approximately 1946. Some big-wave guns from the late '50s and early '60s have concave in the bottoms, all the way through the tails.

But for the most part, surfboards up until the late '60s had convex bottoms. Sure, there were plenty of nose concave designs for noseriding, but concave in the back half of the board was more the exception than the rule. In 1966, 1967, longboards started to shorten up a little and vee bottoms were introduced. The panels on either side of the stringer were relatively flat.

01_mctavishBob McTavish circa 1968; pretty futuristic looking board: double concave entry feeding into a vee bottom.

Vee helped these still relatively high-volume, wide boards, to tip over, and carve a shorter arc on rail. The problem was, in more powerful surf, when turning these deep vee bottom boards, they had a propensity to tip over, run on one rail, and lift or climb right out of the water. They would spin out.

Bottom turn or spinning out? '70s SURFER cover.

As the boards evolved over the next couple of years, they got shorter, and eventually narrower, and the deep vees became passé. The late '60s shortboards still had some genetic residue from the longboard era: slightly rolled noses with a lifted rail up front, but the rails were firming up in the middle, laterally a little flatter, and the tails were down railed with shallow vees. Hulls still enjoy a strong and loyal following with the folks who frequent lined-up pointbreaks with almond-shaped pockets

singlefinClassic '70s single-fin bottom. Photo: Brody

By '70 and '71, rails are down all the way; nose-to-tail, bottoms are much flatter, and the vees are starting to get dished out into something called "spiral vees." The elevated spine of the vee still helped to initiate turns and provided drive and direction. By dishing out or hollowing out the vee panels towards the rail, more bite, or hold, was created. Water was routed through the troughs and spiraled out through the tail. These types of bottoms were the norm for a few years. There was lots of experimentation with wings, stings, and other types of template breaks in conjunction with smaller, secondary concaves exiting through the outline breaks.

Aussie shaping legend Terry Fitzgerald was a major proponent of these "Flyers".

Fitzy explains: "The jump came in the winter of '72. My Hawaiian influenced boards just didn't have enough tail area to skate over the flat spots at Narrabeen. So, I ADDED wings (or what we called flyers). The idea was that by adding the wing to the rail it would add more planing area, but you'd still have a narrow tail for in the pocket and bigger waves. The 'wing/flyer' had to be pinched to allow the rail to stay in the wave and run you higher as well (√° la Bunker's idea). But, the wing also gave you a break point for snapping out of the lip. So, three pure benefits: More planing area to get across the flats; pinched wing to stick in the face and ride high on; a break point in the rail to snap off the lip on. [Tested in Hawaii that year and then launched in December '72, January '73 in Australia.]

Fitzy's ad from Tracks magazine.

Fitzy continues: "Wings were not something you created by cutting a piece out of the tail of your board. They were ADDED to the rail line/foil and planshape, and pinched to have minimum effect of rail-line entry but maximum effect on planning area when flat -- plus, the increased ability to run high and hold a high line.

"I've always been a concave addict (right back to an 8'9" that had a concave from nose to tail that I had custom built in 1967), so when the pinwings I was riding started to get stuck in the lip, I went back to an old trick off putting a concave in the pin behind the fin. You still had rail line, but a vacuum when flat (almost a swallowtail effect) so going rail-to-rail was a damn sight easier. The vees were always spiraled (rolled and curved), so changing the panels back to concave was an easy feed."

Before the shift to multiple fins, some of the best single-fin surfing was being done on channel bottoms. Six deep channels. And during the '70s, there was a lot of tinkering with bottoms, trying to gain speed and traction. Short, wide boards were loose but required longer, deeper fins to keep them in the water. The longer fins had a lot of frontal drag -- they slowed the board down. Narrower boards were quicker and required less fin but were somewhat impractical for most average surfers in average conditions. So, unless you were a very light surfer, or riding good, hollow waves all the time, the narrower boards were liking owning a Ferrari but being stuck in city streets most of the time.

The early '80s saw fairly short, wide boards with bottoms that still had remnant features from twin-fins and single-fins. Fairly flat under the front foot with vee running through the back third of the board.

80s_twinfinLate 70's Canyon double wing, double barrel twinnie

With the advent of the three-fin surfboard, the search for increased traction and drive, while minimizing drag, was put on the back burner. Bottoms started to change. Check back next week for part two...

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