John Florence, at this year's Margaret River event. Photo: Moran
John Florence, at this year's Margaret River event. Photo: Moran

Design Forum: John Florence’s New Go-To Board

Shaper Jon Pyzel breaks down his popular model, The Ghost

Jon Pyzel has one of the most unique tasks in the surf industry in crafting whips for John Florence, arguably the most talented surfer of his generation. Sure, Florence could hop on a rubber mat and still make his surfing look effortlessly powerful, but Pyzel works hard to make sure the World Champ's boards allow him to do exactly what he wants.

This year, Pyzel's got Florence on a new model. Remember back in April at the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro, when Florence outmaneuvered every single one of his competitors in rough-and-tumble conditions, surfing the main break like it was playful Log Cabins? Or the gravity-defining alley-oop he threw down at Bells, or the beautiful carves he laid down at J-Bay? That was all done on Pyzel's somewhat recent creation called The Ghost—a high-performance board that provides extra volume without the bulky rails. We called Pyzel recently, just before the start of the Hurley Pro, to get a breakdown of The Ghost's design, insight into how John’s board dims have changed this year, and more.

Was John the inspiration for this board?

It's actually something I've been working on for a long time, but I wasn't making many of them. The initial idea came about when I was on a shaping trip in Bali and I had some pre-shaped blanks sent from Australia that got damaged along the way. I was just making use of what we had, because we didn't have a lot of resources at the time, and there was a 6'4" step-up board that got the nose broken off, and I just reshaped it into a 5'11" for myself. I surfed it a ton and it worked in all different types of waves there—when it was pumping and even in small little Bingan waves. What I'm doing now for this board is that same kind of idea: getting rid of the front few inches of a step-up board and turning it into more of a performance board.

I finally made one for John for a trip he went on with Kelly Slater to the South Pacific. Then, last year, I finally made him a 6'2" (the other one was a 5'11"), and he ended up loving it and riding it at Backdoor. The first time I ever saw him ride it there, he did this huge air, one of the biggest I've ever seen.

I think Margarets was the perfect storm for the comfort level he had with the board, and how those conditions are ideal for that design. John really likes it, and that, in turn, has helped spread the word. People have been riding them and liking them at all different levels—from guys who are chargers riding really good waves to guys who are just average and in smaller waves.

How does this board differ from your other popular models, like The Bastard?

The major thing with this board is that it has the wide points forward and the apex of the rocker is pushed forward, which is rare, in my experience with surfboards. Usually, you build a board with a center apex of rocker, but I've pushed it forward a bit. The tail is also pretty pulled-in for the length and size of the board. It's pretty gunny, which you wouldn't think would work for a high-performance board. But it has a lot of rocker. The way that John really likes to surf is to get speed and push the turn as hard as he can. So having that pulled-in tail allows him to push hard. And having that curve in the tail allows him to follow through the turn without skipping out or sliding out.

The volume of the board is also shifted forward beneath the chest, in the front of the board versus the back of the board. It has a pretty low entry rocker and the back half has a lot of curve, so you have all this drive from the front half of the board, but you have all this looseness and this performance out of the board’s back half, which is a pretty good combo. Having someone like John ride it, it's shifted viewpoints on what might've been considered an alternative style of shortboard. Now it’s looked at as a board that is winning contests.

I know he’s changed his board dims a bit this year. Did you play a role in that decision?

The biggest thing he's done is that he's finally realized how big he is. He's kind of like a big puppy; they don't realize how giant they are until they hear it from someone else. He's a big kid, and he's always ridden really small boards, by his own choice. I and many other people have tried to steer him into adding more thickness and volume to his equipment, but he's always been hesitant to it because he's liked the sensitivity and the feel of really being able to turn hard on surfboard.

We found a balance of making thicker boards that still feel good for him. Ross Williams had a lot to do with that. We've always been trying to push him, but Ross stepped in and said, “Look, this will be really good for you.” Just the other day, I was at John’s house and he gave me about 20 boards of his from the last 6 or 8 months. “I went through my garage and these are just all too small for me now,” he said. He's now riding equipment that is more suited for his size, but also suited for his surfing.

Photo courtesy of Pyzel

That seems like an ongoing trend for more surfers: adding thickness and volume to their boards.

It’s about putting that thickness in the right places. And that’s what I’ve done with this board. John really likes a thin rail and a thin feel to a board. If I thicken up the boards too much in the rails, he can feel it right away, even when he picks up the board. This particular design has a thinner rail for its thickness and is real foiled-out in the tail, so it suits him really well, and it happens to suit a lot of other people, too.

How did a thinner rail affect his performance at Margaret’s?

You could see that the other guys were having to hold back because they were either on too small of a board, or if they were on a thicker board, it seemed like they had a much thicker rail. When you're going slow, a thicker rail is fine. But when you're going fast with a really thick rail, it actually holds you back, because the board wants to keep going straight and stay on top of the surface of the water. This board allows you to knife into the wave, even at speed. And that plays a part in how the board worked for John at Margaret’s. He's very tuned into how the boards feel, and he doesn't like to give up that sensitivity for extra float.

Would you recommend it to people living in Southern California who surf beachbreaks every day?

I would, but I would buy it a little shorter and a little wider. I always recommend people go at least a 1/16″ or a 1/8″ thicker than their normal boards so they get that volume in it, that paddle power. Right now, we're working to build something that is is more user-friendly for different kind of waves everywhere. We're testing it out with team riders right now.

At what size would you recommend it to someone, in comparison to their normal shortboard?

I'll use John as an example. He's 6'1" and about 180 lbs. and he's riding them at 6'0". So he's riding a board that's an inch smaller than him. I think that's a pretty good model. I wouldn't say go bigger, because I feel like they ride a little longer than they are. I think you can go smaller than your height, or right around your height, and you'll be good. Figure out your width and your thickness that you normally like and maybe go a little wider than your high-performance shortboard, and probably a little thicker, because that'll add up to the volume you're looking for with the thinner rail and the thinner tail. But they do tend to paddle really well because the volume is more under your chest, which makes a big difference, too. And it's got a flatter entry rocker so it paddles faster, whereas a high-performance board with another half-inch more of curve in the nose pushes a lot of water when you paddle.

The Ghost also comes as a 5-fin setup. Do you recommend it as a thruster or quad?

I ride the board a lot, so personally, I prefer it as a thruster because I like it to feel snappier and more pivot-y. But if you're going to surf bigger, more lined-up, and hollower waves, then a quad would work well. For day-to-day surf, that board is better off as a thruster, just to keep it more versatile.

John Florence. Photo: Miller

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