It should be abundantly clear these days that the appeal of alternative or traditional surf craft has sunk its retro teeth into the masses. As shortboard shapers have adopted the wider outlines, flatter rockers, and fuller volumes first seen on classic designs like Steve Lis-style fishes and Simmons' planing hulls, our habitually conservative tribe has grown increasingly open-minded over the last two decades. And no doubt surfers like Harrison Roach and Justin Quintal - who manage to make riding an egg-y mid-length or Campbell Brother's Bonzer look as stylish and radical as if they were atop an Al Merrick handshape - have done much to make the high-lines and casual approach dictated by retro boards even more alluring.
But an alternative board often commands a high price tag, as shaping a proper one requires both the deep knowledge of surfboard design and the experimental mindset most often possessed by only a select few shapers. Pulling one off of Craigslist can require the luck of winning the lottery and the deep pockets of someone who just did so.
Recently, Global Surf Industries - who's done quite well converting both polyurethane and handshape traditionalists with its Hayden Shapes collaboration - teamed up with acclaimed Australian longboard surfer-shaper Josh Constable's Creative Army label to shape, glass, and ship a range of machine-shaped longboards and mid-lengths to shops around the world.
While militant purists might not be stoked on the idea of a retro pop-out, neutral surfers looking for a new feeling under their feet for a reasonable price are likely to be more than amenable to the combination of Constable's clean outlines and GSI's quality construction.
For his part, Constable - a six-time Australian longboard champ and world title winner who developed his designs around Noosa, Australia, perhaps the most fitting training ground for alternative surfcraft experimentation - never gave the collaboration a second thought.
"So many great shapers have worked with [GSI] in the past," Constable says. "[Bob] McTavish, Steve Walden, Greg Weber, and then obviously Hayden, who, at the moment, is one of the top guys shaping in the whole world.
"I knew quality was going to be great," Constable continues. "It was just a matter of me spending time at the factory and making sure that my boards were going to look and feel the way I wanted them to."
During his recent visit to the United States, Constable and I took several of his GSI collaboration models out into clean, waist-to-chest high Northeast Florida surf. With the waves breaking soft on the outside and running more top to bottom on the inside sand bar, I opted for a mid-length model called the Huevo. While the board is also available in 6'10" and 8'0", I grabbed the 7'6".
Constable says the Huevo's design was born of nearly two decades of experimentation, beginning with a shorter version he created with his shaper from his competitive years, Dave Boyd.
"A lot of them were in the 6'4"-6'8" range with some double concave and then V through the tail," he says of the early designs. "That's where it kind of originated from. Through the years, I'd tried some of Donald [Takayama]'s mid-lengths and the ones that Bing does, which are amazing."
Meant to be ridden as either a single fin or 2+1, the Huevo is essentially a wide, double-ender egg. The board's underside features slight V from nose to tail with a subtle entry rocker and a flat middle panel for increased stability and added paddling power, all blended to a mellow lift out the back. It has soft fifty-fifty rails with a harder edge through the tail.
"All my rails are pretty soft," he says. "At home in Noosa, the waves are a little softer. I wanted the board to feel easier in smaller surf. With softer rails, if you're digging the rail on turns, it'll pop back out, rather than on a board with edge that wants to stick more."
With the peaks standing up randomly at our shifty Florida beachbreak, the Huevo's flat bottom and added volume was certainly an advantage, as I was able to both chase peaks down the beach and get into set waves early. Riding the board as a 2+1 allowed for some serious drive and control off the bottom, and subsequently put me in position to throw some power behind top turns and consistently find the pocket.
The board comes with a 7" Creative Army fin that Constable designed, featuring a medium-sized base and relatively mellow rake with FCS-II plugs for side-bite experimentation. I added a pair with 50/50 foil, which Constable agreed would keep the tail looser than with a flat foil.
"Fins are such a personal preference, depending on the size and abilities of the person," Constable says. "The single-fin is one I used on tour for 15 to 20 years. It's mid-base, mid-tip, mid-rake - it just kind of sits right there in the middle. Nothing too crazy."
Like most well-designed mid-lengths, riding from the middle of the Huevo can help the rider draw high lines, while scooting back to the tail provides an adequate pivot point to swing the tail.
"Mid-lengths are just so fun and easy," Constable says. "Beginners can ride them. Intermediate surfers can push their surfing on them. Advanced surfers can really ride them with power and flow."
Overlooking any contradictions inherent in the idea of a retro pop-out, the Huevo is a well-constructed, versatile design fit for a wide variety of riders. And retailing at around $725, the Huevo is bound to find many willing to enlist in Constable's Creative Army.