This piece was featured on Surfline.com
Rusty examines the best way to go shorter and have more fun...
Nat Young winning the '66 World Champs on a radically short (for the time) 9'4". Photo Tom Keck
Once again there is a full-blown "modern" shortboard revolution going on.
Every generation settles into the equipment of the period, which is usually some version of what really good competitive surfers ride in optimum conditions and that notion of "standard equipment" or "Performance Shortboard" (PSB) is perpetuated by the surf media.
The reality is that most of the time the average surfer is dealing with average conditions and is trying to find the fun in a surfboard designed for a better-than-average surfer in better than average conditions. Ah yes, we can all aspire, but let's get real.
Thus, every decade or so there is a collective cry of B.S. on the PSB and the media announces a "design revolution."
Owning a surfboard designed for average surf is about the most sensible thing a surfer can do. If there is only one board at a time in your budget, wouldn't you rather be having fun, surfing with much less effort 80% of the time, and pushing the threshold of your board on the occasional good day? (Versus bogging and pulling off the odd good hit on your signature world-tour board?)
There is no revelation in the "short shortboard revolution" -- it's practicality and the pursuit of happiness rearing its everyman head.
Go shorter, wider, thicker, flatter, and the fun will find it's way back into your everyday surfing experience. Skip the old-school fish thing; it's been flogged to death. They ride flat on the water and have an appalling lack of continuity in rail-to-rail transition. There are plenty of good alternatives. Round tails, diamond tails, bat tails, and sorry if it sounds sacrilegious, but do yourself a favor and try anything but a tail that ends with a 10-inch gap. One or two sets of wings are a great design feature to step down tail width without excessive outline curve.
Nine-time world champ Kelly Slater getting funky with his stubby board at Snapper. Photo: Sean Rowland
Length: At least four inches shorter than your current PSB. Depending on body type, agility, ability, and (cringe) age you can go even shorter still.
Outline: Go at least an inch wider in the center than your current shortboard. The proportions dictate how the board will ride. As the area shifts forward or back you will be forced to move with the balance point or center of mass. Most generic PSBs have a tail that is three inches wider than their respective noses. These proportions put the wide point at roughly two inches behind center. For your alternative everyday board (why would it be called an alternative?), consider an outline that is proportionately fuller up front. This extra area up front will assist in catching waves, add draw and length to turns (remember the board is shorter) and provide some bonus planing surface under your front foot. (There have been past evolutionary branches that have explored area aft, but history has shown that only staunch advocates of back-foot surfing find happiness down that road.)
Rocker: Lower rocker will help the board plane in softer surf. I feel that old-school fish rocker is too flat and limiting. A relaxed modern shortboard rocker not too far off your current shortboard will be fine. Extra width and fuller, firmer rails will add plenty of skate and glide. Simply delete the nose flip: imagine cutting a few inches off the front of your board: the arc you are left with will be fine for your new everyday board.
Rail Volume: Go fuller -- more volume. The object is to stay on top of the water and not bog. The trick is to find a rail that is full and still somewhat angular so you can still set the rail on turns but not over commit in weaker, softer, surf.
Rail Shape: Low; a lower apex and tighter bottom radius facilitates more efficient water release and generates more lift. It will also make for a more sensitive rail that reacts more quickly than a softer, rounder rail. You will find that a well designed full rail with a firm tucked edge will get up on top of the water and be quicker out of the gate than the garden variety, round, Frisbee rail. Other positive attributes: better carry and glide through flat spots and weak sections with a free and loose feel.
Fins: why wouldn't you want to be able to change your fins? Fins make or break the board. It may sound counterintuitive, but bigger front fins will generate more lift. Softer tips are a good thing in softer surf. Fins with dynamic rebound, usually only found in all glass or RTM construction (a whole other conversation), are worth the investment. Rear fin(s): smaller will free up the tail.
This is a good trick if you want to get a little more out of your current three-fin in weaker surf: Speaking in general terms, most surfers are running about 4.5" fins in all three slots. Try something on the order of 4.75 up front and 4.25 in the rear and this should give your board more lift and free up the tail.
Construction and Weight: In smaller, weaker surf, light is your friend. You will get the best weight to strength ratio with EPS/Epoxy construction; handbuilt, composite, molded or otherwise. The lightness of an EPS core combined with the strength of epoxy resin, pound for pound, ounce for ounce will make for a more responsive, lively board.
Sounds like fun? It should be!
Rusty, mowing foam in his SD shaping bay. Photo: Aaron Chang