Size MattersOr Does It?

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Outside magazine, July 1999

Size MattersùOr Does It?
The evolution of the modern surfboard has been largely aùhow to put it diplomatically?ùfickle affair. From the long, ultrastable, not terribly maneuverable sticks of the 1950s, to the shorter, more responsive designs of the 1960s and '70s, to the potato-chip-thin, aerobatic sleds of the 1980s and '90s, each era has offered a completely different ideal of ridability. Now, after realizing that no single board can do it all, shapers are abandoning their dogmas and merging old silhouettes with modern materials to create an array of boards for advanced paddling, planing, and carving. They're introducing innovative fin setups, ultralight composites, and streamlining tweaks culled from yacht designers. Which of the five boards we've reviewed is for you? That depends, of course, on whether you'll be plying the smallish rollers off Florida's Canaveral National Seashore (try a long, cruising surfmobile), or darting to and fro across the wall-size wave faces off the coast of Santa Cruz, California (go for a short, edgy rocket launcher), or heading even farther afield. The point: Everything old is new again.

The classic longboard from Wave Riding Vehicles ($525; 252-491-8535) has an elegantly imposing look straight out of surfing's Golden Age, the 1950s, but thankfully lacks the unwanted bulk. In lieu of old-school materials, namely balsa, shapers halved the board's weight to about 15 pounds by wrapping a light foam core in fiberglass, making the board faster and more responsive. Beginners will appreciate its nine-foot, four-inch length and 23-inch width, as well as a set of removable side fins for extra stability. More experienced kahunas can dispense with those fins to allow for looser cruising. In either case the wide front deck makes for easy paddling.

The Stewart Hydro Hull ($358; 949-492-1085) is a thoroughly modern high-performance board that just happens to be nine feet long. It handles well in a variety of breaks, and gets extra lift from a slightly concave bottom in frontùperfect for noseriding. Its rounded rails, or edges, along with channels on the underside of the board, work like the pontoons of a hydroplane to keep things loose and fast, yet stable. Like a shortboard, the Hydro Hull is light, about 13 pounds, and performs better the more aggressively you ride it.

Don't let the seven-foot, two-inch Patagonia Rocket Sled's ($520; 805-641-9428) late-eighties big-wave-gun profile fool you. While it does have sharp, fast rails and extra volume in the nose for riding high, paddling easily, and tracking precisely, the Rocket Sled is firmerùand quite responsiveùthanks to something called a single-density core. Design firm Point Blank, which created the Rocket Sled for Patagonia, replaced the polyurethane core and polyester resin endemic to the last decade with a combination of tough, recyclable polystyrene foam and epoxy, for a board that's lighter and said to be stronger than its predecessors.

Rusty Surfboard's six-foot, six-inch Hipster ($470; 619-578-0414) is a shortboard with the feel of a looser, more slender ride. The new design wrinkle here, inspired by the hydrodynamics of sleek racing yachts, is a set of small, winged fins that rest forward of the traditional "thruster" setupùtwo main fins with one in back. These additional wings force water to flow more efficiently to the main fins, thereby cutting down on drag and turbulence. The Hipster's swallowtail cut in the rear, which pays homage to a 1970s-era innovation, reduces volume and weight, and provides superb tracking. It's a nimble, fleet board that can hold its line even when things get hollowùthat is, if you can.

From its length, you would expect the six-foot, four-inch Round Nose Fish from Lost Surfboards ($400; 949-492-2566) to be the trickiest board to mount in this group. But with its tapered nose, 21-inch width, and beefy 2.75-inch-thick midsection, it's actually fairly simple to get into position for the next big one. Once you're up, however, merely thinking about turning will give you whiplash; head for the lip and you'd best pack a parachute. This board can be squirrelly, but why go straight when you can turn and burn like the nearest 15-year-old? One of the wildest paint jobs in the industry gives you license to front like a teenager, too. ùJOEL BOURNE

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