“The Simmons Effect” at the Surfing Heritage Foundation in San Clemente last Saturday, July 10th was at once a memorial and technical conference on the design legacy of Bob Simmons. While his modified displacement hulls, shaped from balsa in the late 1940s and early 50s, might at first glance seem to have scant relation to the high performance boards of today, it was in fact Simmons’ awareness and application of hydrodynamic theory that set California surfing on a new trajectory from the previous standard of straight-line plank riding.
John Elwell, a personal friend of Simmons, spoke to the impact the man had on the small crew of La Jolla kids who would scratch their heads at the odd-looking craft that would emerge from Simmons’ garage—wide tailed keel fins with extra nose rocker scarfed-in, a deep concave running through the stern, and elliptical rails—so different that any other craft of the time. Richard Kenvin showed footage from his ongoing Hydrodynamica project of Ryan Burch slip-sliding at top speed on the reef waves of Wind an Sea and fellow conceptual test pilot Lucas, gliding a Simmons keel at Malibu, eerily like the goofy-footed craftsman of old himself, 60-years to the day on a swell of similar proportions.
The boards on display (a number of Simmons originals among them) all shared some link to the high aspect planing ratio and findings of Daniel Bernoulli, the 18th century mathematician whose work Simmons applied to the “problem” of surfboard design, and in the widest sense, the boards exhibited the principles of efficient fluid dynamics, which, of course, is essential to being set free on the face of a wave. More and more it seems, the Surfing Heritage Foundation is fulfilling its role, not only as a repository of our sport’s history, but also a place of continuance and exchange, where surfers of today can access the many offshoots of modern surfboard design and learn from the wealth of knowledge accumulating generation by generation.