You may have seen them at your local breaks: bizarre nose-less crafts with straight rails, deep concaves, and angular tails. They look more wakeboard than surfboard. More tech than soul. At a glance, it looks like an alien craft from the distant future. But then again, looks can be deceiving.
The board is called the Vanguard, a new design by Australian shaper Daniel Thomson, and because of its peculiar outline, many surfers aren't sure what to think of it. But Thomson stresses that his design has nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with function.
"I didn't shape the nose like that just to look weird and catch people's attention," he explains. "Having this nose allows you to straighten the rail line and have the leading edge of the board parallel to the water. Basically, the goal is to reduce drag and increase speed."
READ: The Design Forum Blog
According to Thomson, chopping the nose may leave you with a much shorter board, but the wider nose and tail offer the same volume and keep as much rail in the water as a regular shortboard. In addition, the parallel rails allow water to flow in a more streamline path around the board. But if that is the case, why doesn't every shaper take a handsaw to those last few inches? The pointy nose of a surfboard must have some purpose, right?
"You can definitely go without a nose," explains Thomson. "The top 6 inches of the board do nothing in terms of performance. My aim is to break down a board into its most functional elements and get rid of its least functional elements. The diamond nose profile is really functional because it has so little swing weight. If you think of a pendulum, when it swings, there is a moment of delay before it changes direction because of the weight. The weight at the nose of your board acts similarly, and when you cut down that weight, the board transitions between turns more quickly and efficiently. The board also fits in a tighter pocket, which allows for some different lines."
Though the Vanguard is Thomson's most well-known shape, his ambitions as a surfboard designer go beyond small-wave, high-performance crafts. Most recently, he's been fine-tuning boards for the bigger, more powerful waves of the North Shore. By taking traditional big-wave designs and chopping 6 inches off the tail, shaping it into a double diamond, and inserting narrow channels in the tail next to the rails, he believes he can maintain paddle power and control while allowing for more speed and maneuverability.
"It's basically just an extension of my shortboard designs," says Thomson. "I can get rid of the length without getting rid of the functionality of the board. I've taken 7-foot boards down to 6 feet while keeping it completely functional. Guys can tackle bigger waves with smaller boards, and they end up with a little bit more speed and the ability to attack the face in tighter angles."
Thomson says that most of his inspiration comes from studying hydrodynamic theory rather than existing designs within the surf world, which is why his boards have such a distinct look—a look that many surfers just don't trust.
Thomson's designs may not be for everyone, but he's been known to convert the skeptics, including a few of the world's best. Before Filipe Toledo hopped on a plane to France for the Quik Pro, he stopped by the Firewire factory and grabbed a V4—one of Thomson's high-performance shortboards—off the rack. During his Round 3 heat (one of his first sessions on the board) Toledo emerged from a head-high barrel and hucked one of the biggest full-rotation alley-oops ever done in competition. Odd outline aside, the board clearly worked as intended.
"I've gotten used to the skeptics," says Thomson. "That's just the nature of innovation, whether it's in surfboard design or anything else. When someone doesn't understand what it is that you're trying to do or how you're trying to do it, it's easy for them to just switch off and dismiss it all together. I tend not to listen to any of it, because I can see the potential in surfboard design, and I'm just trying to do my part and keep pushing forward."
Watch Daniel Thomson and Stu Kennedy rip on the Vanguard: