I sat out the "Ride-Anything" movement. Fended off the four-fin attack. Laughed at alaias. Stayed away from epoxy resin and every species of fish. In fact, through all the "alternative materials" and fashion trends, I've stayed true to the same design concept for 15 straight years: a trusty 5’10” Thruster. Partially because I just have more fun riding my normal shortboard. But mostly because of Kelly Slater.
It started with my first surfboard. Sure, my dad bought it. And Jeff Widener shaped it — all five and a half feet of pink rails and tape fades. But Kelly rendered it obsolete. The problem? It needed a nose job. Slater's was thin and narrow, with rocker through the roof. And my board? Well, she was flat, wide, and worst of all round. How could I loft alley-oops with a blunt front-end? How was I supposed to stand tall in Backdoor pits? Or poke holes in a whole generation's realm of possibilities?
"When do I get one with a point?" I'd inquire after each session, knowing my progress would always be stunted, until I rode what Kelly rode.
"When you surf open face by yourself," dad would respond.
And when I did, he did. And then some. My new stick was 5’11” x 17 ½” x 1 ¾”. Pure white — except the black tail pad — with a front end that could pierce a Diamond Tip. Exactly like Kelly's, minus the carbon strip and Quik logo. There was only one problem: it rode like shit. Impossible to catch waves, but eager to pearl. Not only did it hinder my development, it kinda pissed me off. But I stuck with it. And today, though I remain obsessed with riding shapes both refined and celebrity-tested, I do it not because I want to look like a pro, but to challenge and improve my own surfing. That's what's fun to me.
But all that stubbornness changed today with one strange little 5’4″. A White Diamond, shaped by Robert Weiner, whose work has inspired some of Dane's continuing experiments in truncated sticks. The board felt different, but not in a pretentious, "new feelings" kind of way. It was like my day-to-day favorite with a coffee buzz. The waves weren't too good, but I was going faster than everyone else. Accelerating in and out of each foam climb. I had zip. I was smiling. And doing better turns. I was thinking, for the first time in my life, now this is an alternative I can get behind. And, though it looked a bit different, it wasn't forced. Nothing to typecast me in the lineup, just a little more foam and volume and — that's right — a fuller nose. Five years after the closure of Clark Foam set off a frenzy among manufacturers, all of them obsessed with how different materials perform, we're now looking at how they help different surfers perform. The result is a craze that's validated by not just guys like Dane Reynolds and Kelly Slater, but by you and me. And that helps us all evolve in terms of how we surf — not just what we surf.
In this year's annual surfboard issue, we take a look at our options for 2010. In "What Are You On?" (page 76), we talk about today's four basic board groups and why, in the year 2010, they remain most relevant. We profile our Shaper of the Year, Matt Biolos (page 66), and come full circle on his fundamental mission statement: "We help people enjoy their leisure time; that's what it's really all about." And we check in with Kelly Slater in "What I've Learned About Surfboards" (page 86), to find out that the surfer who hampered a lot of his copycats' growth in the '90s may be the guy who once again leads us all into the future — even if that future is little more than a knock-off of my pink, 5’6″ round-nose. — Travis Ferré