I used to be a 5'11" thruster type of guy. Polyurethane. Triple concave. When the waves got bigger I'd ride something longer, but that was it. Epoxy? Fishes? Quads? Nah, I'm good.
Then, last December I flew to Hawaii without surfboards, figuring there would be plenty for me to sample at the SURFING house. I was wrong. The only unclaimed board was online editor Brendan Buckley's 5'8" stringerless, epoxy, Hayden quad, which he promised would work just fine at 8-foot Haleiwa. Skeptical, but with no other option, I walked out of our house and past Ezra Sitt's jujitsu studio with the funny shape under my arm. Class had just let out and a sweaty Joel Tudor watched me load the Hayden in our rental car. "Where the hell do you think you're going to ride that today?" I slumped into the backseat thinking: He's right. Why didn't I just bring a step-up?
I paddled out at solid Haleiwa and sat on the inside, sifting through scraps. But midway through the session I accidently drifted into the outside takeoff zone just as a perfect bowl approached. With nobody deeper, I spun and went, fully expecting to skid out and fall on my face. Instead, as I pushed off the bottom the board projected me up the face and into one of the better turns I've done on a wave that big. After 20 years of conventional surfboard thinking, I was completely surprised.
And isn't surprise — with new waves and new moves and new boards — the spice of surfing life? Mason Ho thinks so. In Beau Flemister's essay, 'Surprise Me: An Ode to Unsafe Surfing', Mason says, "…there was this one guy in Hawaii, Taz Fretz from back in the day: He was the gnarliest. He'd paddle out to huge Pipe on a 5'8" twin fin and do psychotic carve-360s…and it was his equipment, more so than his actual surfing, that was unpredictable. Maybe that's what's the most surprising: A guy that's on an 8-foot gun one day, then a 5-foot twinnie the next — but in the same exact size surf."
That's the beauty, and luxury, of surfing outside of contests. Having that freedom to experiment. In last year's surfboard issue we learned about the preferred equipment of the best competitive surfers in the world, but we also learned they stick mostly to standard designs and keep experimentation to a minimum. So this year we wanted to see what the guys off tour are riding. The Ozzies, Danes and Dohenys. And what'd we find? Some standard shortboards, yes. But also epoxys, twinnies and quads. Carbon fiber, cork and kevlar. Their equipment is varied and a reminder that experimentation is what drives progress.
Progress, and fun. Since that fortuitous session at Haleiwa I've been slowly replacing my trusty, 5'11" thrusters with new shapes, designs and materials. Some have worked, some haven't. But it's that promise of surprise that's kept me inspired to keep experimenting. —Zander Morton