The Inertia

“Make me a fish! Like Tom Curren!”

So begins 5’5” x 19 1/4…Century, the new video series from …Lost. In voice-over, Matt Biolos remembers a phone call he got from Chris Ward, asking him to make a board that would renew interest in the fish design in the ’90s and put Biolos on the map. A quarter century later (get it?), Biolos has saddled up with a new crew, along with some of the originals, to make a tribute to the movie that helped kickstart his career.

In episode one of the new series, Biolos recalls the original film’s origin. “It was the fall of 1994 and there was this little blip of Tom Curren, surfing in Long Island, New York, on a knee board. “Oh! Tom Curren riding a fish!” It was a little spark.” After seeing that footage, a teenage Chris Ward called up Biolos and asked for his own version of the board. From there, Biolos went to the BC surf shop in San Clemente and found inspiration from the vintage boards hanging on the walls, then returned to the shaping room and hacked out a twin-fin fish. Eventually, so much footage would amass of Chris, Cory Lopez, Andy Irons and others riding that fish that it turned into a full film, called 5’5″ x 19 1/4, after the dimensions of the board.

“It was actually our editor, Drew Todd’s idea,” Matt told me. “We’d already made a couple rambunctious, wild surf movies.” Those would be What’s Really Going On, and What’s Really Going Wrong, early …Lost creations that drew attention for their uninhibited tone and raw sensibility. “Drew was the one that said, ‘Let’s just grab all the fish stuff and make a movie about that,’ and we did it. We didn’t expect it to have the lingering long-term effect that it did. We didn’t have much foresight. We just wanted to get the footage out before it got old.” Though it was cut together by a bunch of kids who “had no idea what they were doing,” as Biolos describes it, the cult success of 5’5″ x 19 1/4 in many ways propelled …Lost to be the company we know today.

“This time around, we’re more celebrating what it did, what it did for our careers and the careers of our team riders,” said Matt of the reboot. When I asked what inspired them to create the new series, he replied “We never stopped building the boards, that’s for one thing. That fish or a very similar iteration of it has always been in our line since about ’96, since before the damn movie.”

Though there have indeed been many iterations of that fish over the years, it was with a 25th anniversary re-release of the original model, as the Round Nose Fish ’96, that the trajectory of the original film started to echo itself. “We started selling them like hotcakes and all our team riders started grabbing them and ripping on them” said Biolos. “All of a sudden footage started to stack.”

Once again, they assembled the fish footage into feature length movie, which they screened across the United States. Meanwhile, the team continued to surf the boards in bigger and heavier waves, and ended up with far more footage than could fit in one feature. They split it up into a six-episode series, and thus 5’5” x 19 1/4…Century was born. “It’s basically the same team creating it: myself, Mike [Reola] and Drew Todd. We’re a little long in the tooth now, but it’s the same guys doing it and it feels kind of real.” said Biolos.

However, this time, there are also a few new players. “Kolohe Andino actually was very involved in it,” added Matt. “He filmed and edited all his parts himself. He took it upon himself to go down to Australia and post up for two weeks with a board bag filled with fish and made all those segments himself. In the final episode there’s a segment of him and Griffin surfing Backdoor on them. He’s an integral part in this project as well. So it’s really cool to have his, I guess you call it youthful enthusiasm, added to it.”

In a way, 5’5” x 19 1/4…Century points to the cyclical nature of the fish itself. It’s a design that emerged in the ’60s when Steve Lis first shaped one as a kneeboard, but it keeps on coming back. In the late ’70s, Mark Richards’ swallow-tailed twin-fins took the surfing world by storm. Then, in the ’90s, there was Curren’s “little spark” that led to Biolos’ RNF. The design seems to ebb and flow with an inverse relationship to the predominate surfing culture. Every time the surfing world starts to feel stale, when shapers and surfers get locked in to performance shapes designed to win competitions, someone inevitably rediscovers the fish.

When I asked Matt about the boards he drew inspiration from for the original Round Nose Fish, his answer once again echoed the twisting and recursive history of the fish design. “When Chris first called me he was like ‘Oh, I want a fish, I want a fish,’ really he was talking about Tom Curren riding a Fireball, like a Tom Peterson from Australia channel bottom fireball fish, which is really not a fish,” he told me. “It was a thruster with a big swallow tail, a pointed nose and tons of nose rocker. It was a short, wide shortboard. It was like a precursor to stubby thrusters.”

“It was a brilliant board that really opened everyone’s minds. But Chris was watching Curren surf that thing at like Log Cabins and some sloppy North Shore and called me and said ‘I want a fish.’ He was like 15, he didn’t really know how to describe what he wants.”

“At the same time, there was something of (Curren) on a Steve Lis kneeboard, like a real fish, surfing one-foot New York. So I saw that hazy video on a Rip Curl movie, probably something that came out in ’93 or ’94, then I went to the BC surf shop. On the walls there, hanging up high, I knew he had all these retro boards that [Brian Clark of BC surfboards] had made when was shaping through the seventies.”

“Most twin-fins that were in everyone’s line around the world from ‘78 to ‘82 were basically versions of an MR twin-fin. Deep vee in the tail, usually a winged swallow and a fairly pointy nose, because that was Mark’s performance shortboard. So you’re looking at the wall and you’re looking at boards that are basically a Southern California shaper’s spin on this twin-fin an Australian guy revolutionized performance competitive surfing with.”

To combine all that ouroboric history with Matt returning to re-create a film he made in his youth struck me as a sort of romantic notion. I imagined a nostalgic homecoming, but it turns out that Biolos looks more to the future than he does the past. “I think the viewers get more nostalgic than we do,” he told me. “For us, we look back and we just want to celebrate. We don’t ever want to rest on our laurels. We don’t want to rest on what we did then. I was a pretty below-average board-builder at the time. I was young and pretty sloppy still.”

It’s a sentiment that also comes up in the series itself, that the success of the RNF, and by extension …Lost itself, was a moment of kismet. “We got lucky. We struck paydirt at the time. We were kids,” Biolos told me. “Having the right driver behind the wheel made a huge difference. I could have made that board and given it to a couple local kids at Salt Creek and it would have gone nowhere. It’s just sometimes things have to happen. It was just a moment in time.”

Rather than a walk down memory lane, or a trumpeting of their accomplishments, re-creating 5’5” x 19 1/4 turns out to be a recognition of that moment in time that allowed the …Lost crew to grow and transform. It was also a chance to put the board back in the hands of young surfers, to capture some of that ‘rambunctious’ energy that was a hallmark of classic …Lost productions. “To see [Kolohe and Griffin] out there ripping in every little surf town, in front of all the kids, on basically the same fish that we started this whole thing with was pretty stoker.” recalled Biolos. “When we edited that segment it was great, seeing Griffin and Kolohe doing keg stands with college kids and in Jacksonville and New Smyrna Beach and partying in New York and then going out and getting barreled. To me that was just amazing. I just love that.”

However, Biolos’ eyes remain ever on the horizon. “As much as we’re making this movie (out to be) and celebrating 25 years of our original film, I get up in the morning and am making boards for the best surfers in the world to compete against the other best surfers in the world. That’s my biggest responsibility right now, putting the right boards under the feet of Carissa Moore and Griffin Colapinto. That’s number one.“


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