A Convention For The Unconventional

Fourth Annual “It Doesn’t Not Work” event kicks off this weekend at Picture Farm Gallery in Brooklyn

From the proliferation of garage experimentation to the growing acceptance of different approaches to wave riding and the merits of alternative surfcraft, surfboard building is more freewheeling and democratic than ever before. And while shaping may forever remain indelibly attached to the design adage that form follows function, we’re bearing witness to a broadening of the very definition of function.

Kicking off its fourth incarnation this weekend in New York, It Doesn’t Not Work will again push the definition of function to include anything that (might) float. Held annually at the Picture Farm Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, IDNW is the brainchild of cofounders Tyler Breuer, David Murphy, and Toddy Stewart. Sparked by the notion that the process of board-building is a kind of living folk art in which surfboards are borne of a conversation between craftsmen and the sea, the trio set out to provide a platform for interested artists and shapers to experiment with that conversation. While the exhibit features plenty of time-tested alternative designs like displacement hulls and fishes, it also attracts submissions that run the gamut from a-functional (a board made from discarded cardboard and tape) to futuristic (a program that creates fins with a 3D printer).

This year’s event will start on Friday night, May 19th with a kickoff party at Brooklyn’s Pilgrim Surf + Supply and continues with Saturday’s Fish Fry event during the day and an evening slideshow by Long Beach photographer Mike Nelson.

While IDNW has grown in size and scale to include more than 30 shapers this year, the event’s founders have held true to their impetus to encourage experimentation in a fun, collegial environment. On the eve of this year’s exhibit, we caught up with IDNW’s Tyler Breuer and Toddy Stewart to talk about why this event has the northeastern surf community so jazzed.

Has the popularity of the IDNW surprised you? Why do you think people get so excited about it?

Toddy Stewart: I think people are so excited about it because it’s not scary. We have a lot of first-time shapers who’ve submitted things this year. I think the community feel has taken ahold of folks and people trust it. We’ve designed IDNW so it’s not intimidating to shape something and then put it out there. I think there is an inclusiveness that resonates throughout the event. It’s all about having a good time.

Tyler Breuer: In the last ten years, we’ve seen a growth of shapers here who are willing to try anything. I think that has a lot to do with it. I remember Richard Kenvin came to do a talk here around 2010 that I hosted. It was all about backyard shapers. He said, specifically, that backyard and garage guys lead the way for design innovations. I think that planted some seeds in the area. It’s been exciting to see people come out of the woodwork. I didn’t realize there were this many people shaping surfboards. We’re getting asked by a lot of people how they can be a part of this.

How does the event fit with the larger trend of acceptance for alternative or out-of-the box design?

TB: I don’t think you could have done something like this in the ’90s or even the early 2000s. People were afraid to stray from the norm. But I think part of it is that surfing has grown in population size. With that, you bring more minds, more ideas, more creativity. And obviously pro surfers are starting to give credence to more experimental designs. There’s a confluence of energy moving forward.

TS: The whole growth in the popularity of surfing can be a touchy subject. It can be a bummer sometimes. But, overall, I think the show is certainly born out of people feeling more confident and comfortable giving shaping a try – just going for it. This thing more or less started when David [Murphy] was first getting into shaping. He and I were sitting at a gallery show talking about shaping, and he was like, We should have a show about surfboard shaping so we can talk about this more. It really came from David’s desire to learn more about shaping. At the same time, I think it’s a rebuke of our digital culture where people don’t get together and share stuff because they just passed it along on Facebook or Instagram. It’s purposely a community gathering where people are supposed to show up physically with things that they built with their hands.

What can we learn from boards that that are designed with a broad definition of function in mind?

TB: I think what is happening is people’s definition of surfing is changing. All the boards [in the show] are functional, in some way. It’s a broader definition of function. For so long, surfing has been focused on high performance – better turns, bigger airs. But, you can fly down the line going as fast as you’ve ever gone before on something that might look like a brick. If it planes and it goes fast and that’s what you’re going for, that’s awesome. Surfers, especially in the ’70s, always talked about surfing having this musical quality. It’s really taken on that analogy now, where people can go in any direction they want.

TS: I’ve been surfing since the early ’90s, and I didn’t know shit about shaping. I just would buy a board and surf – not much thought behind why something works. Working on this show has taught me a ton about surfboard design. I’m looking at boards in ways that I never was before. I think a lot of surfers think they know what’s going on. If you aren’t having these conversations with shapers or experimenting yourself, maybe you don’t know as much as you thought you did.

How about the Fish Fry event? Are the shapers putting these boards through the paces?

TS: I wouldn’t say it’s inspired surfing out there. It just looks like somebody riding a fish, which is sweet and is definitely a good time. But it’s not like Dave Rastovich riding a fish [Laughs]. The Fish Fry is really cool because they line up all the boards on the beach, and you can go ride them and try them out. You can get a feel for why one thing works and why something else might not work. Or you can figure out that you’re just too old or too big to ride that board [Laughs].

How has the event changed? What tweaks were necessary to improve the experience for those involved?

Toddy: Really, nothing has changed. We try not to change it. We want it to be as shitty and ad-hoc as it always is.

Tyler: We keep it really simple and easy. One of our goals is actually not to grow it [Laughs]. If people know that we aren’t making money on this thing, or that we’re losing money on it, then they tend to take it less seriously – which is the point. We want it to just be about fun.

[For more information about the event, visit the IDNW website here.]