THE WATERSKATE A BOARD SO CHUNKY...BUT YOU CAN STILL CARVE ON IT|
by Grant Miller
I've spent the past 15 years coming and going between Narrabeen and California/Mexico leading a semi-nomadic shaper/surfer/traveller existence. For years I've noticed certain design-related phenomena occurring in both places. Mostly, surfers struggling on little, under-volumed boards; and the closely related increased popularity of minimals and malibus.
This article describes a design I've been developing for two years ...the Waterskate. It's primarily designed for small-to-medium waves and is also aimed sqarely at those surfers who still want to rip, but are being forced onto longboards because of volume deficits in shortboards. It's pitiful watching surfers struggling on trendy waferboards, then give up, drop out, or maybe re-emerge on a Longboard. Once you go up, it's hard to come down again.
All surfers are different, right? Different weights, heights, ability levels etc. So why are most surfboards the same? When I say the same I mean, where's the choice? You can either buy a shortboard (a la Slater) or a mini-mal/malibu. What kind of choice is that? Where do most surfers weighing 75kg-plus go for a decent, gimmick free, small-to-medium wave board? They don't go anywhere, they get on a Longboard because they are forced to. Now let's not get into an existential argument about free-will versus determinism; I'm just saying bigger guys don't have much of a choice.
Similar things with girls. Often they begin surfing on a mini-mal, and having learnt the basics want to come down in length. What is there to come down to? Nothing. Most smaller boards are still too thin, too narrow and too rockered.
The other day Joel Fitz (80Kg) came by to pick up a new board. He said he hadn't
had a small wave board with "appropriate volume for over five years". If that's Joel's experience, where does it leave your average surfer?
A separate article could be written on the ethics of shapers and shops who build and sell inappropriate boards. The Harvey Norman surfshop chain mentality (with kick backs for salesmen) is alive and well.Some shapers have attempted to address this problem. However going to extremes in thickness or width create boards which lack sensitivity and flow.
The Waterskate idea started during a worse than usual summer in Sydney. At 77kg it was hard surfing gutless one-to-three foot waves on a 65" squash designed for good surf. Sure, I made other boards..... a bit thicker, wider, fishes etc and tried to adapt, but these compromises in isolation cause other problems. Finally, I didn't feel like surfing unless Narrabeen was pretty good. Then, I remembered riding boards as a kid with more area and volume that were really fun, like what Peterson rode in Morning Of The Earth, and a bit like the "funboards" I'd shaped in California. Now, one advantage of spending nine summers in California is that I learnt a lot about building boards for small waves (you get the gun practice on Mexico trips).
What I wanted was simple. Something easy to paddle, stable, like a well supported platform and easy to turn, but still with drive and speed. A board for one-to-six foot junk that would still go off in good waves. Man, that's not simple!
The guts of this design are in the planshape (outline), rocker (bottom curve),
thickness distribution and their relationship to one another.
As you can see, the Waterskate has continuous outline curve, particularly pronounced in the last third of the board. This has two main effects:
1 It allows the board to have more area in the nose and tail; this increases stability and flotation which equals easier paddling. It also enables the board to be turned from further forward for longer turns. This is a significant difference from regular shortboards with narrow noses which can only be surfed from one sweet spot off the tail.
2 Continuous curve also makes the board really easy to turn - very short arcs are possible because when turned off the tail, only a small amount of rail line contacts the water. Tail shape is either round or square, according to personal preference.
Okay, so we have a loose planshape for easy turning, but where is the drive coming from?
Compared to other boards, Waterskates have a lot less rocker. Now, in isolation, this would create a very fast but stiff surfboard. However, when combined with continuous outline curve we get the speed/drive benefits plus looseness.
Flat rocker has three main advantages.
1 Increased drive/speed - A straighter bottom means more rail line in the water during turns, which creates a longer potential turning arc. In a straight line they go fast, with more momentum going over flat spots.
2 Improved paddling - If you can't catch the wave, you can't surf Pretty obvious, but ignored by many shapers who still use lots of rocker - even in boards for small waves. Waterskates have enough nose lift to provide clean entry into waves, but no more. I use a bare minimum of rocker to maximise planing area, so that for example my 6'4" paddles very similarly to a regular 7'4" board. However, once up and riding, the boards are amazingly loose via the planshape and bottom contours.
3 Multiple sweet spots - One thing about single fins I miss is forward surfing. Sometimes I'd rather do one long turn than three little off-the-tail turns over the same distance. With flatter rocker this is possible, surf forward for down the line, or off the tail for tight arcs in the pocket.
Up front is a slight roll under the nose. This facilitates direction changes during full rail turns and prevents rail catching whilst coming off the top. This roll softens and feeds into super flat or a slight concave through centre, promoting speed, before
a reasonably deep double concave vee under the back foot. Because of the extra width and flatter rocker in these boards, more vee is needed for quick rail-to-rail transfer.
THICKNESS, RAILS AND THINGS
To ensure flotation, thickness distribution is fairly constant throughout and is combined with a blocky full rail to prevent bogging down. Rails are medium soft through the nose and centre. However, the bottom edge of the rail needs to be hard enough to project the board out of turns but not too edgy or it will catch in chop. Too soft and drive is lost. Rail volume is very important and determined primarily by a surfer's weight, height and favoured position.
These boards are a lot of fun, they look simple but are actually quite complex. Outline, rocker, foil and fins are critical variables. After much trial and error we've got it down to very predictable outcomes - easy paddling, high drive and turning possibilities with multiple sweet spots. I'm shaping these boards from 5'8" to 7'2" after which they start to overlap with my performance mini-mals.
Typical dimensions for a 75kg surfer are 6'4" x 20 1/2" x 2 9/16". For heavier guys it all gets moved up a notch. Toggsy is a good example - the first guy at Narrabeen to try these boards - a decent surfer, weighs 90kg. After two years of trying to surf undervolumed shortboards he was over it. Now he's riding a 6'8" x 20 1/2" x 2 5/8" Waterskate and is already talking about going down to 6'6". In his own words, "It paddles like a mal and surfs like a shortboard". It just shows, a lot of surfers are just not being catered to.
Today more people than ever want to keep surfing as they get older. They should
be encouraged with individual equipment not hindered with the bullshit presented
by chainstore salesmen. The Waterskate provides more choice by recognising that
all surfers are different. We are not all Slaters, but with the right
combination of foam underneath, many things are possible. Talk to your shaper, ask shops where their boards are made, voice your opinions, trust your intuition. Happy exploration.