This interview is featured in the Board Buyer’s Guide in SURFER 59.2, on newsstands now.
Daniel Thomson has been well ahead of the surfboard design curve for years now. Non-traditional shapes are having a bit of a moment in the surfboard market, with far more unique outlines and bottom contours permeating lineups than years prior, and that revolution is no doubt at least partially inspired by Tomo's futuristic approach to squeezing as much speed as possible out of tiny, unorthodox shapes. He's also starting to apply his unique planing hull concepts to competition-ready shortboards and bigwave craft.
What's inspiring you in surfboard design these days?
I'm psyched about the diverse directions surfing is going at the moment, especially in the design of high-performance boards. We're working on a new, more compact planing hull version of the Sci-Fi, and I'm also really exited about a new step-up I've got coming out in May. It's a bit like a stretched-out version of the Evo, with a double-ended template, built for good waves. I've got a pretty innovative range coming out this year and I'm pumped about that. I've also been playing with some foil boards and I'm excited about the possibilities of those for our sport. I'm working on some dual-fin, big-wave designs, too.
How have your ideas about design changed in recent years?
The rectangular designs with sharp lines that I've focused on lately have evolved to resemble more traditional templates to suit contest surfing a little bit. I'm trying to apply things I've learned along the way from different design paths to traditional shortboards. The past few years my focus has been to bring my shortboard game up to the level of elite athletes, all while trying to innovate in that category as well. I've also been able to spend more time playing with the design I'm most passionate about—planning hulls—to continue that evolution. I just want to bring more diversity to my range.
Do you think unusual shapes have gained more mainstream acceptance in recent years?
Yeah, most definitely. The Sci-Fi is a bestseller in the US and Australia in the performance category. Kelly Slater's involvement with that board has surely helped the public come around to them. In a general sense, though, people are more interested to explore different designs that improve their surfing. Surfers are motivated to explore new feelings in their boards. I'm always trying to add speed and flow and reduce drag, while packaging all that in as small a planshape as possible, which helps surf performance. I'm also trying to add a little bit more curve in the outline and the tail and nose shapes to make some of my boards more forgiving. We've found a really nice balance between tradition and new school planing hull design. The balance is a bit more aesthetically pleasing and functions better.
Are there out-there ideas you've got banging around that you think the public isn't quite ready for?
My philosophy is always to envision what surfboards will look like in the future—not in 5 to 10 years, but maybe 20 years down the track. The future, I think, will be all about minimalism and functionality while utilizing appropriate technology. The kiteboard-style shape seems to be the most functional planshape with the most surface area in a small size, but as that's evolved and been used over time it's started to develop its own shape.
What are you working on in the big-wave realm?
From about 2006 through 2012, I was on this dual-fin paradigm, making twin-fin boards that were super high performance, and I decided to make a couple big-wave paddle-in boards based on the concept, with a ton of drive and hold and more speed on a big wave face. In 2016 I was in Portugal and shared some ideas with Pete Mel for a big-wave dual-fin with a sort of fish template but also that applied planning hull contours to get more speed, drive and hold off the rail. I made one for Pete and he rode the concept at Mavericks and Puerto and his feedback was really positive. Jamie Mitchell wanted one after seeing Pete ride a few. Now I've made one for Kelly too. They've got a radical, concave deck with a low-volume rail, but with volume held through the center of the board. The rails are quite thin so they really bite and you can drive off the rail or find a real precise line in the tube—places where a thicker board would struggle to hold the rail. The concepts are super wild looking, but are about having more speed and drive without being hung up by a narrow pintail with a bunch of fins on the rail. I'm really excited about what these boards can do in huge surf.