So flowing! So smooth!
Texting a surfboard shaper can be like tossing a bottle into the sea, and hoping that the message tucked away inside will eventually reach its destination. Will there be an answer? We can only wait and hope.
So when I confided to Ryan Lovelace over text message that I maybe wanted a singlefin, I did not expect an immediate answer. But there he was, right back to me. Oh, I have a few of those at the shop, he said. His shop is less than a mile from my house. Just about everything in Santa Barbara is about a mile from my house, it seems. Except Rincon. Rincon is more than a mile from my house, which is sad, but we can’t have everything in this life.
The idea of singlefin has nagged my brain for a while. So flowing! So smooth! Perhaps by some alchemy, I could discover grace. I should confess right now to trying and mostly failing at ballet as a child. Grace is not really my thing. I am good at endurance sports that are notable for requiring a stupid determination to keep doing a thing that hurts. I do not know how I drew this particular athletic card, but it seems that we don’t get to choose these things.
On the whole, my boards have run toward the small and skateboardish. More speed than grace. This pattern might reflect a subconscious wish that I could actually ride skateboards. (I can’t.) Can you imagine being able to just go play any time you want? No tides, no wind, just pavement. Better still, there’s a lot of pavement in the world. The problem is, pavement breaks bones, in my experience, and I like my bones in their current arrangement. So, surfing.
In the current issue of Surfers Journal, LT interviews six shapers from around the surfing world. The premise of the story is the two-board quiver. What’s your ideal two-board quiver? The story resonated with me, because mostly by accident, I’ve spent the past year or so carrying the same two boards to just about every session and riding one or the other. They aren’t my only two boards — but they’re the two I’ve ended up riding most often without thinking too hard about it.
The first is a square-tail thruster I ordered custom to work in half-assed waves. I liked it so much that I ended up riding it pretty much all the time. Made by Jason Feist at J7 Surfboards, it’s got some width tucked into the nose and tail. For the nerds, which is all of you: 5’9” x 19” x 2 5/16”, 27 liters. Futures Blackstix fins.
If the first board is pretty conventional, the second is… not a thruster. You’ve all met my tiny twinfin before, and when I first picked it up — and let Chas smell it — I had no idea how much I would ride it. I figured it would be a summer fling, a novelty. Turns out, the little thing is damn addicting. Made by Christine Brailsford Caro at Furrow, it’s a 4’10” twinfin, single concave to v-bottom, moon tail, 19” wide. I got a pair of fins from Christine, which she designed.
Two totally different boards: Which to ride? Somedays, the conditions make the decision quickly and easily. If it’s over shoulder high, that 4’10” starts to feel like a twig in the rapids. Easy choice, ride the shortboard. Steep? Again, three fins feel pretty great. Junky? The shortboard minces its way through the texture a little more easily than the tiny toy board. On a clean, waist-high day, that twinfin looks insanely appealing. On an average day, though, either board will work.
Mostly, it’s a mood thing. The twinfin is fast, slidy, silly. It’s impossible to ride that little thing without grinning like a fool. It’s terrible in a crowd, which in a weird way, makes it good. It’s almost impossible to be an angry asshole on a board that looks like a Tiffany box, if a Tiffany box could float. It does the cutest little turns and flies down the line on a wire. Surfing should be fun, and this little board is the best reminder of that truth that I may have ever ridden.
If I’m in the mood to bash things, well, there is a reason that angry shortboarder is the stereotype. And there’s something deeply satisfying in the way a well-tuned thruster that’s familiar and comfortable will go very precisely where you tell it to go. The shortboard is also very good at telling me that some of my ideas about where we should go aren’t really that smart. Nobody’s perfect.
So there I was, standing in Ryan Lovelace’s exuberantly cluttered shop, looking at a singlefin shaped by Alex Lopez. I’m pretty sure shapers’ workshops are the same the world over. There’s the cluttered space where finished boards and random detritus hangs out. And then, there’s the precise foam-dusted room, with the tools neatly stored, where the actual boards are made. The contrast will always amaze me, I think.
So how does this even work, I ask him. We crack jokes back and forth about where to put the traction pad (No, I didn’t! I promise, I didn’t!) and how maybe there’s a couple fins missing back there. You just do less, he tells me. I nod and try to understand the idea that the board will do the work for me. You just cruise. I’d probably fuck this up and try to hack a foot off the length if I were ordering this thing custom (it’s 6’7”), I say. And yes, that would defeat the point — or at least, change the nature of the project entirely.
Then I handed him a wad of cash and slid the board under my arm. I promised to ride it in good surf, assuming I can figure out how it works well enough to do that without creating a total disaster. Do less, I mumbled to myself. I’m not sure I’m good at doing less. I walked out into the damp, grey light and stood, board under my arm, waiting for the afternoon traffic to break. Maybe I can find waves this weekend. Maybe I can figure this thing out. I enjoy my optimism — and my delusions.
(And yes, because I know y’all in the comments section will ask: I pay for pretty much all my stuff in surfing, so anything mentioned in this here story, I bought with cash money. So there’s that.)