Saturday, March 16, 2013

Correction, page 109, Surfers Journal 22.2

This is a correction for the board identifications/credits for the photo at right of the three boards in the piece I wrote on Daniel Thomson that is in the current issue of the Surfers Journal. The credits were printed incorrectly by the Journal. It should read from left: Quigg, Kivlin, Simmons. Apologies to Joe Quigg and Matt Kivlin for this error. I've also included text below that was edited out of the piece that puts the photograph in context, which is that just about everything that became the "modern" board of today existed in the minds and designs of Simmons, Quigg, and Kivlin long ago. I love the photograph because seeing their designs side by side clearly shows this. Boards are collection of Fernando Aguerre, photographed by Ryan Field in 2007.

"But there is something that tends to shadow and confuse Simmons’ design legacy. The fact is that he built a lot of wide tailed single fin “spoons” for surfers who preferred one fin. The single fin Simmons spoons were planing hulls in every respect but they lacked the crucial element of outboard fins that gave the design its directional stability and control. Instead, these boards had a single keel fin plopped down in the middle of a big wide tail.  Compared to the dual fins they didn’t work very well. They were unstable in turns and the spoon nose hindered the riders ability to “walk the board”, something that was becoming important as surfing moved towards the cross-step and nose ride era of surfing. Simmons made little or no effort to modify his boards to accommodate a single fin or allow a rider to walk up to the nose. Simmons was passionate about evolving the planing hull, but he had no interest in evolving the single fin. To improve the single fin by pulling in the tail and adding rocker meant discarding nearly every design element that made the dual finned planing hull work. He left single evolution to others and stuck to his theories.

Years ago Simmons and Bev Morgan experimented with a six foot board. Simmons explained to Morgan that the board would need dual fins to work, but Morgan insisted they should try it as a single fin. Rather than modifying the design as a single fin, Simmons then suggested they should keep the dual fins but add a third fin to satisfy Morgan’s wishes. In effect, he was only willing to modify a dual fin. He wasn’t adding two fins to a single fin, he was adding a third fin to a dual fin. He could add a third fin and the board would still function as a planing hull, but if he removed the outboard fins it wouldn’t work. At any rate, Morgan insisted on a single fin and Simmons gave in. After winning the battle of wills with Simmons and getting his way with a single fin it turned out that Morgan didn’t like the board at all. 55 years later Morgan freely admitted that ‘Bob was right, of course. It should have had two fins at least.” 

The short comings of the single fin Simmons spoon would inadvertently help propel the popularity of the Malibu chip, a single fin design that would prove to be the nemesis of the planing hull. The Chip was the flip side of the two Malibu design schools. Its proponents were just as passionate about making better surfboards as Simmons was. But where Simmons followed hydrodynamic theory, they followed intuition, working within the confines of an emerging performance criteria that they themselves were creating. They “walked the board” and used tail pivots and stalls to stay close to the curl, setting up forward trims on the nose and “hot dogging” the wave. Their style was heavily influenced by the point waves of Malibu and the hot curl surfers they had seen in Hawaii, like Rabbit Kekai. They admired the sleek lines of the hot curl boards and the single fin was central to their philosophy. They had no qualms about breaking Simmons’ rules and opposing his theories in order to make their boards work better and improve their way of surfing.

The Malibu chip had rails borrowed from the Simmons planing hull, and there were some similarities in the outline, but beyond that the two designs had little in common. As the chips evolved over time they moved further and further from Simmons. Since chip innovators like Joe Quigg were not bound to Simmons’s planing theories they were free to make the tails narrower, add rocker, and flatten the nose by getting rid of the spoon. These boards quickly surpassed Simmons’s single fin spoons as the board of choice for hot California surfers on the cutting edge of the rapidly evolving  “hot dog” style of single-fin surfing. By the mid-fifties the best surfers on the coast rode boards from the single fin chip school.
In 1949 Bob Simmons, Joe Quigg, and Matt Kivlin all worked together in a space in Venice. Odds are the board Simmons is riding in Prosser’s photo was built there. Nearly every element of what would evolve into the modern board of today , including construction processes, existed in its embryonic state in the minds and boards of these three men in 1949. But Simmons, with his dual fins and wide tails, was on one side of the spectrum, and Quigg and Kivlin, with their single fins and narrow tails, were on the other. Their design philosophies were conflicted and never merged in their time."

(this text was edited out of Daniel Thomson and the Speed of Phi, TSJ 22.2)

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