This article has been in the pipeline for what seems like aeons. But why, you might ask? What a simple subject to talk about? It can’t be that difficult to find out more about boards with one side that has nothing to do with the other? You would be wrong.
Firstly there was the problem that I understood pretty much next to nothing about asymmetrical surfboards. I thought they looked cool and I knew that the possible ramifications could and should be great to the way one ‘kook’ like me views surfboard design.
Secondly, the only people who really understand these ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, love or hate, Marmite looking boards is the very craftsmen that shape them.
Thirdly, asymmetrical surfboard shapers it turns out are as slippery as a freshly hooked mackerel covered in axle grease. Trying to get one of these dudes to talk to me was, to say the least, difficult. Appointments were made and missed, timezones and geography got in the way time and time again. I was beginning to develop a complex.
I mean how hard can it be to find out more about these multidimensional, possibly groundbreaking and evasive mother-flippers of surfboards?
Hitting the Jackpot
Trawling through the mountains of rubbish (trash) on Marky Zucker’s Face Platform is not something I relish but has become a necessity of office life. It’s a way of finding out what’s going on, I kind of liken it to finding a single breadcrumb in a huge cow pat. It, however has to be done and sometimes, just sometimes, you hit a golden nugget.
It was one very such day of sifting through the above mentioned bovine waste when my mouse finger struck asymmetrical surfboard twenty-four-carat gold.
All this time, I had been scouring the globe for more info on asym board shapers and it seemed that there was one on my very door step. Well, at least in my timezone. Will from KIN Surfboards makes very, very good looking asyms and he does it from Worcester in the UK. I know, right… this had to be worth finding out more about. And it was.
Via the power of the binary net, I contacted Will to see if he would mind me tapping into his asymmetric grey cells, he didn’t, we spoke and my world got bigger. A lot bigger.
This non-symmetry thing made more sense the more I learned, in fact I was starting to think why anyone would buy a ‘normal’ board. It just makes sense. Instead of trying to impart some of my newly absorbed knowledge and strutting around like a cockerel getting it all wrong, I asked Will if he would mind asking a few questions.
The short answer is that he didn’t mind and the heavens have opened as, not only does Will make the desired type of surfboard, but does it well and is blessed (as not all shapers are) with vocal eloquence. Double bonus within a double bonus.
Let’s get on with it then, prepare to put your knowledge absorbing hat on and have your world changed.
SB: Hey Will, thanks for sparing the time. How did you get interested in asym boards and shaping them?
Will: Coming from a design background, I’ve always been fascinated by how different boards work and how they might be improved. Unable to find what I was looking for in the surf shop racks or having the money to order a new custom board every 5 minutes, I decided to start shaping. I quickly became addicted to researching and exploring alternative shapes and eventually, I came across Carl Ekstrom’s 1965 patented asymmetrical surfboard. The simple logic behind the design appealed to my practical side. There is no symmetry to your foot or stance, so why would you design a symmetrical board? After years of trying to build 100% symmetrical boards, it was kind of a trip shaping my first asym, but the improvements I was seeing were so great I couldn’t ignore the design.
SB: What are the advantages and disadvantages of riding asym boards?
Will: For me the main advantage is maximising potential. Due to the biomechanics of the foot, often people will favour different boards riding front-side to back-side. A common example of this is would be someone who favours the projection and speed of a fish riding front-side and something more forgiving, such as rounded pin when riding back-side. With symmetrical boards you have to make a compromise between the two, but with an asym to have the opportunity to fully exploit the strengths and counter the weaknesses of how your foot controls the board.
The basic principle that most asymmetrical surfboards are based upon, is you have more control on of your toe-side than heel. Due to the positioning of the ankle, the toe has the ability to leverage and lift while the heel does not. This superior control means fast reactive attributes can be introduced to the toe-side, such as straighter lines and harder edges. While the heel-side can benefit from increased outline curve and softer edges, to help make up for the lack of control and increase predictability. This approach really allows you to cut the fat off a design and optimise performance around the foot.
Some people may argue that asyms are only made to go one way and this may be true in some cases, but if the design is properly considered it should considerably help both frontside and backhand surfing. For me it’s less about going right or left and more about giving you the control need where you need it.
In all honesty, I can’t see any disadvantage, other than it can make mid-surf board swaps a little tricky if your don’t have the same stance as your surf buddy.
SB: Do you ever play around with finless asyms?
Will: Not currently, but this is something I’ve been increasingly thinking about, so I guess it’s only a matter of time before I start sketching something up.
SB: How important is fin placement and how does that work with an asym?
Will: As with any surfboard, fin placement is key in dictating the personality of a board’s performance, this is no different when it comes to asyms. Alongside placement, it’s also important to consider the way surface area is distributed throughout the fin cluster. Generally speaking, I like to use one large aspect ratio fin on the toe-side and a quad on the heel-side to redistribute surface area from the toe to the heel. The single large fin toe-side reduces drag, provides free-flowing projection and vertical pivot off the bottom. The heel-side quad fins increases drag and control, delivering seamless redirections and an abundance of hold through hard turns. The overall fin surface area is similar to that of a standard thruster or quad, but reconfigured to better suit the foot’s natural movement. This general layout is by no means exhaustive, but in my experience delivers what I’m looking for through a wide range of shapes.
SB: What other factors impact a asymmetrical boards?
Will: In addition to fins, the outline, rails, foil and rocker all play their role. This opens up a world of options and it can be easy to over think when designing an asymmetrical. My general practice is to control the variables wherever possible by making asymmetrical improvements to proven symmetrical designs. A good approach for anyone wanting to try an asym is to take a board that you love riding toe-side, then reconfigure the back 1/3 to make it more user-friendly on your heel. I look to the promote speed on the toe and control on the heel by altering the plan shape and volume distribution. This is done by drawing out the curve on the toe side rail to create drive and projection, I also like to thin out the rail and add plenty of hard edge to aid release. I do the opposite on the heel, increasing the outline curve and softening the rails. This increases hold and encourages smooth transitional turning once weight is applied to the heel.
SB: Why do you think asyms are not more popular?
Will: I think the reason why we don’t see more asyms in our line-ups comes down to two main factors, aesthetics and commercial.
The relationship between symmetry and aesthetics is a complex one. It is ingrained in our subconscious that symmetry is beautiful, safe and familiar. However, if objects are too symmetrical we can perceive them as boring or uninteresting. Most people favor simple symmetry with enough complexities to keep them engaged, but if asymmetrical elements become overly complex we can find them too challenging. In short, it’s easy to make an odd looking asymmetrical surfboard that our minds can dismiss on aesthetics alone.
As discussed, If we are strictly talking performance, then I see no reason why you would design a symmetrical board. However, it's a different story when it comes to commercial viability. In manufacturing stock asymmetrical boards, you instantly half your market between regular and goofy footers, meaning you need double the number of boards and in-store rack space, to fulfil customer demand. Also, the vast majority of shaping machines can only be programmed to cut symmetrical boards, making large-scale production labor intensive and costly. It is for these reasons the vast majority of leading brands don't have an asymmetrical offering, despite many shapers exploring the design.
It's hard to get the surfing populace to buy in without the backing and promotional content created by these brands. Surfboards are expensive and it can feel like a leap into the unknown. Watching elite surfers reviewing and ripping on the latest shapes gives people the confidence to part with their hard-earned cash. This content is fairly limited when it comes to asyms. Although the industry may be set to change, as I’ve hear that CI are currently working with Donald Brink to introduce asymmetric model into their range. With CI’s wealth of experience in mass market surfboard manufacturer and Donald’s incredibly forward-thinking approach to surfboard design it will be interesting to see what they come up with.
From an aesthetic standpoint, I make a concerted effort to appeal to our subconscious, by striving to harmonise the proportions of my boards, so they both perform well and please to the eye. To do this, I look to forms found in nature and the golden ratio to the formulate the curves everything I shape.
SB: Who is making the best asym boards in the world at the moment?
Will: That’s a tough one. There are so many forward-thinking shapers out there doing incredible work it’s impossible to judge. From a personal viewpoint, I love what guys like Donald Brink, Ryan Burch, and Matt Parker from Album are doing, since much of their work parallels with my own design philosophy.
SB: Why be based in Worcester?
Will: Work and life. Graphic Design pays the bills and allows me to develop KIN without the financial pressures that might steer my designs down more traditional or commercial routes. This offers me the luxury of being able to explore paths without the limitations of the current surf industry model.
At times my location can feel far from ideal. I climb the walls as I watch midweek swells pass by, but living away from the coast gives me drive to maximize my precious time in the water, and this naturally influences the boards I shape. Like most people I want to catch lots waves and have fun, and that’s what my boards are all about. On the positive side you’re never far away from the coast in the UK and the central base means Wales, Devon, Cornwall and the North East are all workable surf missions.
SB: What would you charge for shaping me a 6’6 with all the bells and whistles? How long would that take?
Will: Well that depends on what bells and whistles you’re after, but generally speaking a EPS/Epoxy with hand-foiled glass-on fins will set you back £570 and take a couple of months to get out to you.
SB: What is the single biggest plus of surfing an asymmetrical board?
Will: For me, asyms unlock a connectivity and synchronicity I haven’t felt with other boards. They seem to harmonize with the way we transfer energy to the board, and make for a lively yet dependable ride. That for me is the holy grail of surfboards design.
SB: This has been one of the biggest learning curves for us at the Bunker. I kind of liken it to discovering there is a pot of gold on your doorstep that you had been stepping over on the way to work for a couple of years.
We will be doing a lot more research and testing with asyms as the year goes on and hope to bring you more knowledge and findings on this exciting way of thinking and building boards.
Right, a huge thanks to Will at KIN surfboards for the eye-opening chat and now back to straining the Face Pat for more nuggets of gold.
Editors Note: Since the writing and publishing of this article the office has been buzzing with talk about asyms and what Will has said. The 'board porn' pics have changed a bit and there is more salivation about these boards of mystery. We have decided our next test board will be an asym and who better to make us one than the man who changed our minds and opened our eyes. Stay tuned to find out how the story ends. Check out more from KIN here.