Talking Summer Board Designs and  Upcoming SEA NYC Paddle

By JON COEN

The surfboard rack in a shop is like an enchanted forest. There’s something a little bit magical about all those new sticks lined up just waiting to be ridden, surrounded by images of perfect waves, and the intoxicating smell of wetsuits from across the way. And the easy attitude of the kid in the shop, nodding his head in agreement of just how perfect that board is for your style. In your head, a few of those boards would be ideal, the pearly white shortboards, the sweetest airbrushed retro fish, or a classy resin tint on a designer longboard. Of course, in your head, every summer day is crystal clear, with chest-high walls of glass bowling across an empty sandbar.

And the reality is more like tiny bits of chop vomiting onto the sand, sideshore winds, three inlanders on soft tops learning to surf next to you, and a fisherman landing his lead a few feet from your head. It doesn’t matter what you’re riding because, if you’re like me, your style is somewhere between a handicapped gorilla and that tight-shirted dude at the bar all hopped up on Liquid Lightning and ecstasy. But let’s not dwell on that.

Instead let’s take some time to talk boards. Hopefully, you’ve had a chance to check out the running project on our website called “SandPaper, Show Us Your Quiver,” where surfers have been showcasing themselves with their sticks. We have some good-looking mugs around here, and some great-looking boards.

But I specifically want to talk about small waves and this summer’s design trends for the micro stuff. Summer happens to be when we have the smallest surf, but despite this, we all want to be out there. Who wants to miss out on our fleeting warm water?

If we consider the last 30 years the age of “modern surfing,” small-wave boards have undergone several different evolutions, and the most recent is taking shape to this day. Of course, the shortboard revolution wasn’t necessarily aimed at small waves. Before 1996, your only real alternative in tiny waves was a longboard. The 9-foot-or-better board is still an option. I would say, aside from a SUP, you can ride the smallest of ripples with a big, old, heavy log. Fifty years from its arrival, it’s still a blast.

But only the most dedicated longboarders want to ride that pig all summer. In the mid ’90s, Tom Curren brought the fish back into style, the kind of boards that Barnegat’s Jesse Frack was busting loose on around here in the 1970s.

The new fish went in two directions: One was re-creating vintage boards from 20 years prior, and the other took the attributes of the classic fish – shorter, wider, more volume, pronounced swallow tails, twin fins and decreased rocker and created a hybrid of all the aforementioned characteristics, just toned down from the originals. It was awesome to have that choice and be able to scoot down the line on a knee-slapper. If you think back, Florida’s Cory Lopez and California’s Chris Ward were really pushing the limits on these things in those classic “Lost” films. The drawback for the average surfer, however, was that the retro designs didn’t work in critical waves or any kind of chop. The hybrids fared better, but there was still a considerable difference in the way they held in real waves, especially if you wanted to do a proper turn.

By 2006, quads came back in a big way. They gave you the feel of a twin fin, but held a little better. Still, they’re tough on most of our winter swells and rough to ride backside.

There was a major shift in about 2009 when California’s Dane Reynolds started riding a Channel Islands board called the Dumpster Diver. It is said that Ventura, Calif., shaper Robert Weiner, who was at Farias’ Ship Bottom store a few weeks ago on an East Coast tour, created the Robert’s White Diamond model that was Reynolds’ inspiration.

Reynolds was a refreshing breath of air to the ASP World Tour and wasn’t afraid to stray from the same ol’ narrow, thin shortboard. We couldn’t get enough of him. And unlike the other surfers on tour, who were fine-tuning 1/32nd inch of nose width, the stumps Dane was riding translated to the average surfer. It was wider, fatter and shorter, like the traditional fish, but the swallowtail gave way to a wide squash or diamond shape. The nose was pulled in, the rocker decreased to nothing, the outline made sexier, and a single concave added. The only other surfer to deviate from the norm happened to be Kelly Slater, the greatest of all time, and even his boards didn’t move the dial like Reynolds’.

Pretty much everyone I know got a Dumpster Diver or something similar as each surfboard company came out with its own version. The DD wound up being Channel Island’s biggest seller ever. The shorter board made speed without sacrificing performance. You catch more waves, get momentum and do legitimate turns in the pocket.

And now these design fundamentals are being improved on to move in even smaller surf. Reynolds’ new thing is the Sperm Whale, a very thin, short, wide board that almost has the outline of a funshape, but the biggest stock board is 6-foot-1 and the smallest is 5-foot-1! Keep in mind that a 3-foot wave in the summer and a 3-foot wave in the winter here are two very different things.

“The Neckbeard Squash is the most popular Channel Islands model,” said Brian Farias. “We did sell a couple of Dane’s new board, the Sperm Whale, as well this summer. The Fred Rubble and the DFR (short for Dane Freaking Reynolds) bridge the gap between your groveler and your board for better waves. Dane surfs Ventura, which has a variety of waves from soft points to wedges to barrels. I think that is why these boards are so popular out here. Rocker is key. The designs translate very well.”

The Channel Islands truck was in Beach Haven on Saturday, allowing surfers to demo all the horses in the stable.

Robert’s still offers the White Diamond, but this summer has the Diamond Fish and the Modern 80s. His latest is the Mush Monster, which has yet to reach LBI.

“For Lost, it would be the Rocket V.2 and the Sub-Driver. Drivers were basically all over the U.S. Open. Seemed like everyone was riding Mayhem’s (shaper for Lost) boards,” Farias added.

Another trend is the Mini Simmons. Bob Simmons was an innovative board builder in the 1950s, the first to tinker with the hydrodynamics of surfboards. Little known fact: He also invented the textured rubber ping-pong paddle. His short boards with straight-cut square tails have been modernized for small waves. Farias carries a version of this in the Chris Christenson Ocean Racer, the Ocean Avenger 5-fin, which Farias has been riding himself this year.

“The goal with all these boards is to have an increased volume hidden in a smaller template, a flat overall rocker for paddling and get drive through mushy sections,” he explains.

The board of choice for summer gruel at Wave Hog and Brighton Beach Surf Shops is the Bandito by Matador Surfboards.

“It’s basically taking a longboard outline and shrinking it down to 5-foot, but they go up to 8-foot-6. It’s full to the rail with rolling vee to help power you through the mush with a bumped pintail to pivot for more aggressive surfing,” said Marco Grasso at Wave Hog Surf Shop, “Every surf instructor I have is riding it. Matador doesn’t have a lot of marketing budget, so all our sales are word of mouth. Friends tell friends about them. We’ve sold over 400 of them in the past few years.”

“It’s a wave thief,” offered Michael Lisiewski of Brighton Beach Surf Shop, “It’s a forward-volume board with an emphasis on catching waves and quick entry. The Bandito is made from a fish blank; it’s flatter than a typical shortboard. Every cubic inch of foam is put to use. It has a single wing at the front fins to loosen the tail, disperse water and help it drive deeper. It’s an East Coast board made for the East Coast.”

Matador’s “little brother” label, Boneyard Surfboards, offers the Shrunken Head, a similar shape offered as a convertible or “five fin.”

The big news this summer at Surf Unlimited is that Forked River board builder Bill Kretzer is back to mowing foam, and he’s doing it right out of Surf Unlimited’s converted garage. You actually can go watch him shape. (Call the shop for details at 609-494-3555.)

Kretzer has been working on some summer-specific boards that his brother and test pilot Chris is riding. The model is called the “Olasito” (“sito” being the diminutive suffix in Latino; the literal translation is: small wave.)

Terry Deakyne at Island Surf and Sail recommends the Lib Tech “Bowl” for smaller waves. As you may know, Lib Tech is a snowboard company, but it has deep roots in surfing and has developed some unique and very durable materials for surfboards. We will talk more about those when they arrive in the shop later this month.

The Surf Shack South, which is primarily a skate and skimboard operation right now, still has ties to Kechele, Orion and Cannibal Surfboards, all out of Florida, and can order custom boards. Matt Kechele seems to have the Diamond Cutter well dialed this year.

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So, there it is. We’ve got about a month left until the season really starts to change and water temps drop from their mid-70s comfort. Make the most of that time on something fat and fast.

And speaking of changes, it would be nice to have a new forecast scenario instead of five days of knee-high waves with one morning of stomach-high and then a day or two of flat, repeat, repeat. Someone has finally plugged in the tropical storm machine down on the equator. We’re entering into what is known as the “Cape Verde season,” when storms come off the west coast of Africa. These tend to be the most exciting of storms, although perhaps it’s just all that anticipation as they slowly work their way across the Atlantic.

Hurricane Ernesto hit Mexico last week, and right on his heels, two systems came off the coast of Africa. Let’s keep in mind that this was predicted to be a slow-to-average year for the tropics, so while the storms spitting off Senegal like a machine gun may look favorable, the problem is when they get over open waters. We’ve entered an El Niño phase, (brace yourself for this winter) which is known for stronger winds along the equator that can shear apart storms. Regardless, there’s at least something to watch for those of us who aren’t consumed by Fantasy Football drafts.

The surf this week was courtesy of one of the more significant low-pressure systems of the summer. I know it’s not ideal if you only have a one-week vacation, but I’ll take that rain and wind we had on Friday over that kill-yourself heat anyday.

Saturday brought 2- to 3-foot surf with south winds and a bit of a south angle. If you got it at the right spot, there were a few chest-high rights running down the beach. These were more sections than lines. You’d find yourself taking off on what looked like a nice peak, and then it would be a giant mushburger on the shoulder. Or you’d push in and find yourself on the backside of the next section with no hope of connecting. You really had to work to find a sweet spot, and that was short lived.

This swell cleaned up on Sunday for some fun waves. The wind never went true offshore, which made dawn patrol rough. It died enough for mostly glassy conditions, but then got funky at low tide. A light sea breeze kicked up in the afternoon. The morning was decent, although this swell was pretty weak in a lot of places. Still, it was very fun for a longboard, and if you found the right spot where it was breaking closer to the beach, there may have been a punchy pocket or two. We’ve had a handful of similar days this summer, and while it’s easy to complain, LBI tends to work better this time of year than most of New Jersey.

The rest of the week is looking pretty lackluster, although not completely dismal. And when you’re in August without a significant hurricane on the horizon, that’s all you can hope for.

The big environmental news this weekend was the Clean Ocean Action-organized “Tour for the Shore,” a paddle and bike rally from Cape May to Montuak, N.Y. The paddling was handled by activist/endurance athlete Margo Pellegrino. You may remember that she paddled an outrigger canoe from Miami to Maine in 2008 and then did other West Coast and Gulf paddles. Last year I had the pleasure of paddling half the LBI leg of her non-stop Jersey Shore trip on a SUP; that involved Beach Haven to Ship Bottom from 1 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The pedal portion was handled by Clean Ocean Action’s attorney, Peter Dixon. They did somewhat simultaneous trips by land and sea. They made the trip up from Atlantic City on Sunday morning and had a press event in Holgate. Then Margo stroked on the ocean side, passing through Ship Bottom at around 2:20 p.m. up to Barnegat Light, where there was a rally at Van’s Marina. They were supported locally by the LBI Foundation of the Arts and Sciences, Kubel’s, Viking Village, Jetty, Alliance for a Living Ocean, ReClam the Bay and the Garden Club of LBI. Several local paddlers cruised out to paddle with Pellegrino. But she’s on a distance touring board and she’s fast. A 6 mph pace doesn’t sound like much, but try keeping up with her and you’ll get it. Meanwhile, the pedalers did 80 miles around Great Bay. It seemed to go really well.

And while this is a very cool way to raise awareness for the health of our oceans, it was quite a bit more than that. Right now, Clean Ocean Action (with a network of grassroots enviro organizations like our own ALO) is pushing for real legislation called the Clean Ocean Zone, which would ban testing and drilling for oil off the coast of New Jersey and New York, as well as irresponsible development of our shorelines and ocean.

A bill called HR 6082, the latest attempt to bring offshore oil and gas drilling to the Atlantic Ocean, just passed in the House of Representatives, by a 253-170 margin. But in a show of bipartisanship (which is as rare as seeing the Jersey Devil eating from your tomato plants), New Jersey’s congressional delegation all voted “no” in an attempt to protect our ocean. That means all the Republicans, LoBiondo, Smith, Lance, Frelinghuysen and even our representative, John Runyan, turned it down. This is the kind of action we need if the next generation is going to swim, fish and benefit from tourism on our coast. Thankfully it is not expected to pass in the Senate, and the president would likely veto it if it did.

There’s another paddle this week, although it’s more the competitive type. This Friday, Aug. 17, a collection of long-distance masochists will be paddling around the island of Manhattan in the sixth annual Surfer’s Environmental Alliance NYC Paddle, presented by O’Neill.

This started as a fundraiser, which it still is. But now it also includes a very competitive race. And by attracting some of the best distance paddlers in the world, they also raise the exposure and hence, raise more money. There are seven beneficiaries, and they all are involved with autism. I went on the chase boat the first year they did it. And while jokes about bodies in the East River and “Coney Island Whitefish” never get old, around Manhattan by water is truly beautiful. Maybe it’s because the summer vegetation covers up some of the urban eyesores, but the water, the greenery and the architecture from the boat are really gorgeous.

There are three different events for the 2012 paddle – the recreational SEA Paddle, the Elite Paddle, which is the race, and the West Side Paddle, which is a non-competitive, 4-mile paddle.

There are several guys stroking around Manhattan this year with ties to LBI, the most obvious being Ship Bottom’s Billy Mehl, an engineer at Lakehurst Naval Base. If you’ve been sitting on the beach in the evenings or weekends, you likely saw Mehl out training on the Atlantic. He took second in the Men’s Elite last year to California’s Rob Rojas, a game warden by trade, and one of the best paddlers in the world. He is sponsored by O’Neill and set a new NYC paddle record at 3:56.

“I’m trying to put in longer training sessions when I can. It’s tough with a full schedule. It’s hard to know what to expect from the pro paddlers since this is one of the few events on the East Coast that brings them out, and I haven’t made it out west to compete,” said Mehl.

Mark Temme, who grew up in Surf City, now lives in NYC and does SUP tours and lessons on the Hudson for New York Kayak Co. He has beaten Mehl three years in a row in the Dean Randazzo Cancer Foundation Paddle for a Cause around Absecon Island and had the edge over Mehl in New York in 2010. But last year, Mehl got the best of him.

Then there’s Billy Webster of Ship Bottom, one of the best longboarders on LBI, who won the Prone division in 2010. Mehl has been training with Digger Atlee and Terry Deakyne, who are also preparing for the excruciating ordeal again. When you start talking about times and who finishes where, you tend to forget that these guys are just gutting it out for 26.5 miles. Think about that. Good luck to all the boys.

The latest project at Swell Colors Gallery in Haven Beach is about to be unveiled. It’s a stained glass series called “Primavera,” 92 nature-inspired pieces created by artist Mary Tantillo to coincide with each day of spring. All the windows will be on display at a reception open to the public on Aug. 16 at 5 p.m. with appetizers and live music.

And I know I’ve been mentioning this every column for weeks now, but this Saturday, Aug. 18, is the Alliance for a Living Ocean LBI Longboard Classic. Yes, it’s finally here. All classic longboards, and there’s a skimboard event, too. And the reason that I’m bringing it up is that it’s a local nonprofit organization that benefits all who enjoy a clean ocean and bay. And in these lean economic years, such organizations have it pretty tough. ALO is relying on this contest to get it through the winter. If paying a couple bucks to go out and surf an old longboard with some Island characters is too much to ask, then I don’t know what to tell you. ’Nuff said. And bring your cross-step skills – monkey hopping is frowned upon.