“I’ve always been a speed guy,” 61-year-old Skip Frye admits matter-of-factly.
“It’s a whole different ball game. It’s a glide. It’s a feeling,” says Chris Christenson, a 30-year-old shaper who’s been mentored by Frye, both discussing the merits of the Fish, the storied board design that has become a San Diego legacy.
The two shapers, separated by 30 years of surfboard innovation, are sitting in Frye’s San Diego factory discussing a sublimated link in the evolution of the surfboard.
The board in question is short, wide, flat and fat with a pair of twin keel fins, and a broad, split tail. It looks like some aquatic animal that evolved for survival in dual environments. But, as Frye contends, the true “Fish” is the one surfboard created in the heat of the ’60s shortboard revolution that, while having changed little in design over the years, remains completely relevant to today’s surfing. For the simple reason that, unlike many other less integral designs, the alteration of any of its original parts entirely changes the animal.
Few surfboard designs have inspired the emotional attachment as the Fish (and despite the loose use of the moniker to describe the popularity of short, wider hybrid thrusters, these are definitely not Fish). Passionate San Diego shapers and surfers have long guarded the Fish design as possessively as the localized Sunset Cliffs wave where it was born. And they’re adamant about the dimensions of the real thing. Says Larry Gephart, originator of the Fish’s classic laminated wood keel fin, “Anything less than 9.5 inches from pin to pin, you’ve turned it into a swallow tail and it loses the feeling.”