“You use that thing as a kiteboard? Never seen anyone surf on a kiteboard…”
The antagonistic query was directed at a good friend of mine—a talented, aerial-minded San Diego native whose surfing still turns heads in the lineup well into his thirties in spite of holding a day job and serving as a model family man—as we walked back to the carpark from a nameless reef.
The guy who asked the question was easily in his late fifties, more than a slight beer belly and seemingly genetically doomed to live out his days with a haircut that was half Kelly Slater and half Matt Wilkinson. Unlike either Kelly or Wilko, he had a generically shaped egg under his arm, probably the same outline he’d been riding for the last four decades or so.
“Is that thing an airplane wing?” my buddy quipped, referencing the eight-plus feet of board under his adversary’s arm. The antagonist, who my buddy had seen around local beaches for decades, glanced at his toes and moved along uneasily, tacitly aware that his seniority—and ego—had been squashed by the ripper with the funky shape underarm.
Modern board design is a lot like the above conversation: traditionalists oppose innovators and the old guard tries to make sense of new and upcoming talent, technology, and designs. But occasionally new talent comes up with something that the old guard hadn’t quite perfected yet. Mix in the fact that the old guy and the young ripper may have known each other for years and things get interesting.
Take, for example, the funky shape at the center of the above cliffside encounter–a diamond-nosed modern planing hull (MPH) design pioneered and refined by Daniel “Tomo” Thomson. In his early thirties, Tomo isn’t quite a household name in the board building craft. Yet. But Daniel Thomson’s shaping–inspired by aeronautics and hydrodynamics–has introduced some unique outlines that have caught some people off guard and garnered some serious attention. And although he builds boards under his own Tomo label, he’s now got the backing of Firewire Surfboards, the innovative brand who have used their design and materials-focused ethos to take MPH to mass production with their Vanguard and V4 models.
Tomo was recently caught in the crosshairs of a viral social media dispute that went from friendly to serious to downright ugly, bringing out some heavy accusations and tacit threats from some rather large names in the professional surfing world. While the (foam) dust continues to settle, Tomo was kind enough to give us his thoughts on the MPH, social media, pro board feedback and shaping’s future.
This interview was originally focused on discussing the design concepts behind the Modern Planing Hull and some of the benefits of partnering with Firewire to bring MPH designs to the surfing masses. However, after seeing the reactions to your Instagram feed a few weeks back, I figured we might start with that. There were some big names—shapers and pros alike—weighing in and some major digital hassling going down. What was it all about?
I guess the positives that I can take from the “Instagram episode” are that it brought a lot of attention to my designs. Firewire told me that they had record sales of the Vanguard that week so it can’t be all bad. I’m actually pretty stoked that brands like Mayhem and Channel Islands actually even recognize me from the hundreds of other talented shapers out there. I wasn’t saying “They copied me! Wah wah!” like some kid. The whole thing was quickly taken out of context by a barrage of comments that don’t know our professional relationships or history as shapers and individuals. One can clearly draw similar comparisons to the designs I posted on my Instagram, so whether or not they were ‘inspired’ by the V4 or not, either way it validates my cause through assimilation. That’s what I meant by the comment that ‘the water is nice… come jump in.’
In the wash-up, I got quite a ‘social earful’ from Matt Biolos and half of his Instagram followers, perhaps deservedly so? Nonetheless, I am sorry if I offended Matt or CI. My achievements pale in comparison to theirs and I definitely have a ton of respect for those guys.
I later commented to Matt that the Lost 5’5 x 19 ¼ movie had a really big influence on me and really motivated me to really get into shaping. With that video, I thought that what he was doing was the future. His boards [the little fishes] were clearly the future direction of surfing to me. Small, fast and agile, punting airs and spins, I think he [Matt] could have taken it that way at the turn of the century, but Matt and Al Merrick continued back on the shortboard horse (not to their discredit), and shortboards have held strong ever since. Still, I’ve always favored the fish because of his [Mayhem’s] designs. This was all prior to the Lis fish, Pavel, and Kenvin influenced shapes that I work with.
Dan, since American readers may not know your story, perhaps you’d like to give people a bit of background so they know why your designs are different and why you speak in terms of science and geometry when describing your boards.
Well, surfing is my passion and my life, every day is dedicated to somehow progressing my [design] cause, and hopefully the sport in general. In that respect, I am always student of surfing and never a master.
I know my surf history well, I study many spectrums of the sport and designing surfboards happens to be one of them. I ride a surf mat because it teaches humility and the simple pleasures of riding waves. I train, meditate and I do yoga. I spend a lot of my free time studying quantum theory, philosophy, sacred geometry and fluid dynamics. I run a small business (poorly) and I don’t watch television.
I believe I have a pretty good understanding of the bigger picture with the sport of surfing. I kind of see how everything fits and how diverse the sport is becoming. There are a million ways to ride waves and many different expressions from groms, girls, tow-ins at Teahupoo, bodyboards, hand planes, shortboards, longboards, the ASP community and the elite feats of superhumans, grace, power and agility that we see in competition.
Many of us are fortunate enough to make a living in the surfing industry and I really try to be mindful of others and also the bigger picture, not discrediting anyone else’s design or stepping on any toes. At the same time, I have a burning passion and overwhelming drive to contribute genuine innovation for the greater good of the sport, albeit in a small way. At the same time, I realize that the overall impact of my designs is ultimately in the hands of the surfers, and, more specifically, the best surfers.