I just watched Stoked and Broke for the zillionth time. It doesn’t have a ton of surfing footage in it, but it makes me want to surf, kinda like the original Endless Summer still does. It also makes me want to hack my coffee table into a quiver of handplanes and wooden bellyboards and become a 21st century George Greenough. The Korduroy guys who made Stoked and Broke are the vanguard of a People’s DIY Surf Army; armed with their unglassed, finless foam blanks, alaias, and a vast array of ugly, sometimes assymetrical handmade shapes, they espouse an individualist pursuit of stoke as a replacement for the off-the-rack, mainstream board-riding experience. But is this the next phase of surf design? Making your own weirdly dysfunctional equipment? Lewis Samuels nails the nostalgia as a prison thing when he eviscerates the Derek Hynd/Ryan Burch model of riding crappy equipment in good waves, though it sure looks like those guys are having fun.
But where, in terms of advancement, anyway, are these finless boards supposed to take us? Self-made equipment was once forward-looking: foam replaced balsa; two fins replaced one; thrusters killed (temporarily) the twinnie. Surfing advanced. It’s awfully hard to guess where this era of nostalgia-fueled navel gazing will lead. Some (Samuels) have come out hard against the Ryan Burches of the world and have little patience for progression that isn’t founded on power surfing. (It is, I suppose, possible that power surfing has reached its apogee. Short of guys doing barrel rolls towed into 35 foot Shipstern’s, I don’t know where else the power thing can go.)
While thinking about this the other day I wondered: maybe DIY experimentation is a necessary step toward the “next big thing” that will completely change how everybody surfs. Though having said that, not much of what is being done by the new breed of mad-scientist shapers seems all that new: all boards were once finless, asymmetrical shapes have been around for decades, and the crazy-channel bottomed thing is not new either.
Then I had a (possibly) very important realization. Who cares? Surfing and surfboard design are under no obligation to evolve in any particular direction. Maybe it’s way more fun to surf on finless foam blanks, and maybe it isn’t. It’s not for me to say. Maybe surfing is always about having the most fun possible, and that road may reach a dead end at beyond-vertical snaps, gouging cutbacks, and skateboard airs. I think it can be argued that most design improvements also improved the fun one could have on a surfboard, mostly by opening up more parts of the wave for riding. Now that there seems to be little place left on a wave that the modern shortboard can’t get to, maybe it’s time to revisit the flats and the shoulder, on boards that want nothing to do with ripping.
Maybe it’s just more fun. And maybe that’s been the end goal of board design all along.