Internationally published author-editor, scholar, and writing professional working for the tech industry
Photo: Thomson

Tomo and a non-traditional nose outline. Modern planing hulls can be ridden a foot shorter than your standard shortboard with no compromise to performance. Photo: Thomson

The Inertia

The Instagram situation reflects some of the more significant, underlying issues in the industry. Plagiarism might be a strong word, but it seems like ‘design ideas’—even seemingly unique ones like you own—are often replicated without mention of origin. Is crediting design and respect to the history of surfing important to you?

Most definitely. Respect is the backbone of surfing and I try to credit my influences as often and as publicly as I can. But the thing that concerns me is that there is this basic, ignorant consensus that everything has been done before, nothing is new, etc., and therefore nothing is sacred. This is an uninformed generalization that I disagree with. Surfboard design is a highly technical craft, equally as technical as modern aviation and ballistics science (minus jet propulsion) or America’s Cup yachts and dynamic boating, maybe even more technical in some ways because we are dealing with constant variables of the ocean and wave riding. So surfboard designers are the only class in this technical field of dynamics without intensive formal education and dialogue. Even if a good shaper is well-versed in design, (s)he is mostly relying on personal accounts (recounting sensations or experiences) from team riders who, in most cases, have a better understanding of sticker placement than fin placement. ‘It went good…It was fast’ or ‘I didn’t like it.’ Other design dialogue is mostly laymen’s terms for ‘point of sale’ banter at retail to sell to the average Joe: “fish, pig, surf-skate short board. Just keep the Benjamins flowing and boards moving out the door. And for goodness sake, don’t get all ‘sciencey’ or technical about it!”

As a result, surfboard design is evolving very slowly, especially at the top end, and most shapers are just looking to each other for direction and there are few leaders. The brands/designers in tow become insecure about their integrity and relevance, hence resorting to promoting flimsy, far-fetched references to conceptual inspiration and generalizations like ‘its all been done before,’ rather than stating directly ‘who has done it before them.’

Surfboards are mostly trial and error and the best designers are the ones who have experimented the most. In most respects, this is effective, but in my opinion, not as effective as a scientific grounding in hydrodynamic principles to extrapolate concepts from experience to undergoing the trial and error of R&D.

I feel that crediting historical design is a critical part of the productive evolution of our sport. I like the notion of design lineages, kind of like a shaper family tree. Of course others before us have set the stage for bigger things and we are all standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, but that is the nature of the industry or the whole human race for that matter. All meaningful shapers have a history and field of design that grounds them, a mentor or a style from which they base their designs either from being taught directly or by personal appreciation.

I think there are many cases in current times where a design reaches new plateaus and morphs into something new–finless boards like those by Derek Hynd and other shapers, for example. Big wave boards are evolving more than ever. Meyerhoffer single fins. In-cut rail experiments and many other designs demonstrate how advanced board design is getting. This is not to say it is not born of a lineage, but I do feel it is wrong for shapers and bystanders to claim prior use purely through concept association. We have all heard someone in the parking lot say, ‘Ya know we did that in the ’80s man?’ to which I reply, ‘well where is the evidence and why isn’t it around today?’ Perhaps the general idea or ‘concept’ may have had some similarity however 65 cents ain’t a dollar and, for whatever reason, it was not executed in a manner that would have made the design worthy of continued refining and promoting efforts.

So, at times, I feel rightful to classify most of the designs I build as unique innovations. I have spent the most time developing, refining and promoting the [Modern Planing Hull] concept. I didn’t ever say I invented the [MPH] concept. The modern planing hulls are derived from a well-credited history which, again for the record, I will state here:

George Greenough:

George was a daily part of my life for my first 14 years. He sat at my family dinner table almost daily talking fins, curves, carbon fiber, sails, cameras you name it, day in day out for well over a decade. I don’t forget any of that stuff. He had a huge influence on me, but later in my teens, he and my Dad had a falling out and lost contact. Being stuck in a position of family loyalty, I don’t see much of George anymore but I do value the time he spent in my childhood and I always respect him. I credit George purely out of respect for his achievements and his work. It is not my intention to ride his coat tails, and I know I would not be the designer I am without his influence so he deserves to be highly credited for sharing his knowledge with my family.

Mark Thomson:

My dad is a brilliant and immensely strong character and gifted designer in his own right and the years spent with George only galvanized his design ability. He was able to take many of George’s applications of windsurfing and kneeboard flex and fin design and apply it to modern high performance surfing (shortboards). He has an iron will and, at times, an overpowering presence, but he has the best intentions at heart. If others disagree, he doesn’t give a flying fuck what they or the rest of the world thinks of him. I admire these traits. I’ll apply some and leave out others. I feel I am more calm-natured and more objective, but he still inspires and pushes me to this day.

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