Waterspot: Surfing the future

Waterspot: Surfing the future
Skip Frye Surfboards are the Stradivarius of surfboards, but could there be something better? Photo by Chris Ahrens

Over the past few decades surfing has been looking to its rich history for the latest in surf craft. Longboards, alias, paipos, fishes and eggs are all examples of this back-to-the-future trend. And while I love and regularly ride all of the aforementioned surf craft, I don’t consider them the final word in wave-riding vehicles. That word has not been spoken and, really, never will.

As I hammer out this piece on my Apple computer, I am inches from my omnipresent cell phone. Behind me are two decorative relics of the past: a dial-up telephone and a Smith Corona Typewriter. I love looking at both of them and miss the quaint charm of the years I employed them, but I will never use them again.

Now, I have a surfboard in my limited collection that was built in 1967. It is made of a foam core with a wooden stringer and covered with fiberglass. My latest board is better shaped, smaller and lighter but still made with the same materials, and while lighter (and consequently less durable) it is not much different than those boards made half a century ago.

Some will argue that surfboards now have three to five fins with fancy high-tech fin boxes, various forms of concaves in the bottom and are not always symmetrical (thank you Carl Ekstrom). While true, these still lag far behind in terms of changes made in other devices in the modern world.

I don’t know if I was the first to consider it, but I have been mind surfing a computerized surfboard for at least the past 20 years. The board would have a brain like an ocean-going fish has a brain. The surfboard I have now has no brain and therefore, as a rigid object, cannot adapt to new situations.

I spend a fair bit of time observing fish while I swim in the ocean. As a matter of life or death, they dart quickly from one place to another, seeking food or trying to escape becoming food as their bodies adjust to different pressures put upon them while swimming. Their fins are no more rigid than they are fixed in height and width. So, why don’t modern surfboards take a tip and copy them?

Here’s what I suggest: A surfboard that adjusts its rocker and rail through each turn and whose fins react to various pressures put upon them. When the board is being paddled or trimming through a mushy section, little or no fin will appear and when a turn is being cranked in a steep section, fins will appear not only on the bottom of the board, but also on the rails, expanding and contracting as needed.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I cherish old surfboards nearly to the point of worship, and if I could afford it, I would have half a dozen of them packed in my eclectic quiver. I love them in the way I love the glide and art deco fins on a Cadillac El Dorado. They are beautiful. They are wonderful. They are holding us back from progress into a new age of wonder and discovery.

Any serious board maker who would like to further discuss the manufacture of a truly modern surfboard, please contact me through The Coast News. Someone will eventually move on with you, or without you.

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