Marc Andreini. Photo: Ferraris
Marc Andreini. Photo: Ferraris

Design Forum: The Andreini Vaquero

The California master shaper's uncompromising vision of power and flow

It was sometime in the late 1960s. Master California shaper Marc Andreini, a then-15-year-old surf-obsessed grom, was captaining a Boston Whaler along the coast of the hollowed Hollister Ranch when he pulled into the cove at Government Point. A south swell was filling in, and Andreini and his crew, which included friend and future surf star Margo Oberg, anchored their boat down in the cove, resigned to push their heavy logs on the small, playful inside waves. Sometime into the session, Andreini stared out toward the top of the point and caught a glimpse of what he still considers one of the best surfing performances he's ever witnessed. And it changed the trajectory of Andreini's surfing and shaping life.

As Andreini watched from the Whaler, Santa Barbara surfer, filmmaker, and experimentalist George Greenough, riding atop his famed red spoon Velo kneeboard, drove out of massive bottom turns before sweeping high into the pocket, carving out impeccable figure-eight cutbacks and slipping into the tube before getting shot out "like a cannon.”

"It was the best surfing I'd ever seen," he says of Greenough's display of power and technique. "It was an epiphany for me—the greatest influence on my surfing and approach to board-building. My whole path in surfing was mapped out that day."

In the years since he was serendipitously confronted with Greenough's high-performance antics, Andreini's garnered cult status up and down the California coast. He's spent the last five decades crafting boards that suit his uncompromising vision of what beautiful surfing should look like. Mostly low-rocker mid-lengths with hull bottoms, Andreini's boards are designed to move horizontally across the face of the wave and ride high up in the pocket, beckoning the rider to surf with power and flow. Though his master-craftsmanship is apparent in his versions of popular shapes from the transitional period, like his spooned-out "Magic Sam," old-school "Pig," and speedy "Edge" boards, Andreini's Vaquero—a low rocker, full outline single fin, with a rolled bottom and round tail—is the shape that's most capable of matching the shaper's resolute values of power, grace, and style .

Photo: Ferraris

Andreini began surfing in Santa Barbara in the late 1950s. Before shaping boards, he was fixing his own dings and reshaping noses and tails with scraps from Jeff White's and Brian Bradley's Montecito board shop, White Owl.

"The first real surfboard I made was a 7'3" Vee-bottom stubby that I ended up breaking at Steamer Lane," he remembers. "Up to that point, I'd never seen anybody shape or glass [a board]. I'd just been working with the materials and repairing boards. Pretty soon, I'm making all my own boards, and by the time I was 18, I was in business, and I'd still never seen anybody shape a surfboard."

Aside from Greenough's performance at The Ranch, Phil Edwards' approach to wave riding also served as inspiration for Andreini's vision. The surfing of Greenough and Edwards remained indeliably etched into Andreini's mind as he began designing boards that he hoped would help him draw similar lines.

"I've been completely driven by my personal vision of what beautiful surfing is," Andreini says of his approach to board-building and design. "Phil Edwards for my generation is the absolute epitome of power and grace. He could do it all with the greatest regal-style carried over from the ancient Hawaiians.

"Then you have Greenough, who is not a stylist per se, because he is a kneeboarder. But what he's given us is the blueprint to high performance surfing. So you take speed and acceleration out of a turn and add barrel riding and wrap around turns, add the regal-ness of Phil Edwards, and you have the vision. I want boards that deliver that type of an approach to wave riding. I'm not interested in trends. I never have been. I take the characteristics of a board that give you that kind of performance and adapt it for the person and the wave."

The origins of the Vaquero go all the way back to the Transition Era, right before the shortboard revolution. Many of the popular boards of the day, like the Weber Ski, Maui Foil, or Fame Formula 2 were essentially displacement hulls, with lots of belly toward the front, moving into flat through the tail, with pintails and long rake-y fins. Andreini says he started building a version of those boards in the late ’60s, with a fuller outline and wider tail to be ridden on smaller waves.

"Everybody wanted a Lightning Bolt-style pintail, down-railer in those days," Andreini says of the narrow, big-wave boards designed for the heavy, powerful surf of Hawaii. "They were just dogs to surf in California."

Originally called the "365" for the amount of days the board could be ridden in California, the Vaquero was designed for the breaks Andrieni frequented like Rincon and The Ranch.

Photo: Ferraris

The Vaquero's rolled-bottom, low-rocker, and wide-point-forward outline all work together to help move the rider horizontally across the face of the wave. Starting from the board's wide nose, Andreini kept the rails relatively soft in the front, but sharpened them through the board's back third.

"People think a hard edge holds. It's the opposite," Andreini says. “Compared to where you have a flat rocker, which makes the board want to go across the face, that soft rail up front helps pull the board up the face. It doesn't go up vertically, but it does pull you back up into the pocket. That's where the board feels most comfortable — two thirds of the way down from the top of the wave where it’s at its hollow-est. Because of the rail shape, the water wraps up around the bottom and gently comes on the deck and holds onto the board in the wave. It helps you get that beautiful style of getting into trim right through the top of the waves and into the pocket."

Andreini likes the Vaquero with a little bit of extra weight, which he says adds inertia through turns. For the board's fin, Andreini designed the AFlex, using the base measurements of Greenough's popular 4-A and adding some additional flex. He says the proper fin-length depends on the board's size, as well as the thickness of the rails and the width of the tail.

"On a single fin, if you place the fin where it'd go in the box and lay it on its side, in theory, it should extend past the rail about 30 percent. That's a basic gauge," he says.

After more than 50 years of shaping, Andreini's not actively looking for converts. He's got a hardcore clientele and says those with open minds tuned into classic style will love the Vaquero.

"I'm not against any kind of surfing. It's a total freedom of choice," he says. "The [Vaqueros] are fast and smooth and have a really nice flow. They love horizontal surfing as opposed to vertical. And they are as good backside as they are frontside. If someone is of the right frame of mind for [the Vaquero], then they'll love it.”

Though his creation did change names—after artist and surf-historian Kirk Putnam added the words "Vaqueros de Las Olas" to the bottom of an 8'3" Andreini built him in the early '90s—everything else about the Vaquero remains faithful to Andreini's initial vision.

"I feel like the Vaquero contributes to my own idea of how surfing should always be flowing and beautiful," he says. "The Vaquero forces you to surf that way. You can't really do anything else other than that."

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