None More Fun Than the Fish

"Fish" doc tells story of the world's most fun board design

Considering that surfing has no real purpose other than pure fun, it’s a bit amazing that riding an easier board—the quickest, most simple way to be sure you actually have fun in every session—was either ignored, or outright mocked for most of the last, oh I don’t know, let’s say, three decades. Still is, in some circles. I know guys who’ve been surfing for 20 years who refuse to try anything other than hi-fi thrusters, for no other reason than that’s what they’ve always ridden. To them, that’s a surfboard. That’s surfing. Everything else is a child’s toy. Never mind that thrusters are the proper board choice in only about 25 percent—tops—of your average sessions.

Crazy, right?

Joseph Ryan, director of the new(ish) documentary “Fish” thinks so. At least, I assume, because he’s made a pleasant little surf film (though not exactly short) that’s one part love letter to the Fish—or rather to “alternative” board design in general—and also a gentle rebuke to the dark ages when seemingly every surfer carried a brittle, skittish, high-performance thruster to the beach no matter the conditions or their ability level.

Ryan starts with the history of the Sunset Cliffs surf scene into which Steve Lis and his kneeboarding brethren first hatched the fish in 1967 (Fun fact: Lis would strap on his swimfins and squat down to his knees over a piece of butcher paper, and trace his fins and doubled-over legs to make his first fish templates).

From there, “Fish” swims along tracing the trajectory of the design’s acceptance and refinement by the standup surfing community in southern San Diego, to the controversy of David Nuuhiwa legitimizing the design by riding one at the ’72 World Championships in Ocean Beach, to MR’s incorporation of fish-y principles into his twinnies, to Derek Hynd handing one off to Tom Curren, and finally, to Rasta, who fills out the last bit of the film with astoundingly good surfing. More Rasta, please, surf world filmmakers.

Great interviews abound. David Nuuhiwa, for example, is a talking head at one point, and when was the last time you saw him in a surf film? Bird Huffman, Cher Pendarvis, Skip Frye, lots of Andrew Kidman, Rob Machado, MR, Donavon Frankenreiter’s mustache, and Derek Hynd all chatter on helpfully about why the fish is a lightning bolt of pure joy to ride.

[Hynd, however, right about at the 34:00 mark, says something so hilariously, illogically bizarre that I almost wonder if it was an editing mistake. He describes a session at J-Bay shortly after he moved there, during which he rode a cutting-edge pro board—not a fish—and came in furious at the surf world and “wanting to vomit,” disgusted that the board had allowed him to go anywhere on the wave, and make every maneuver he attempted. He was angry that his high performance board had “made surfing too easy.” So he jumped on a fish. I have no idea what the hell that means. Hynd, always a head-scratcher.]

I was already convinced that the fish is the highest form of board design and I held one of mine extra close after watching “Fish,” but Ryan’s film made me want to introduce a few new members to the school in my garage.

You’ll probably feel the same. Give it a watch.