The first time I tried to shape a surfboard, I approached the bottom of the board with only one thing in mind; rocker. Little did I know, I was ignoring a subtle yet crucial element of surfboard design.
Pick up your favorite board. Turn it upside down. Stare at it from the nose, slowly turn the board in your hands and let your eyes follow the slope of the rocker. Do you see what's happening to the bottom of the board? That’s called bottom contour. If you're smarter than me, you’ve known about this all along. I applaud you for not being an ignorant kook like me. If you've never noticed, don't worry. You can nod your head and pretend you already know. The guys at your local will still think you're cool.
There are important things happening under our feet, on the bottoms of our surfboards. Somebody could write an entire book about the fluid dynamics and the creative experimentation involved in bottom contour design. It goes without saying that I don't possess the requirements to write that kind of book. I studied English, not fluid dynamics. It would take many Surf Bunker articles to cover the minutiae of the bottom contour. How different conditions, different fin setups, different shapes, affect the way water is channelled through the bottom of our boards to create speed and drive. Sometimes, the bottom contour can help turn a board into pure magic.
In addition to shaping mediocre surfboards, I love borrowing and trading boards. I'll take every chance I can to try some weird, funky, new, or interesting shape. Learning how to ride a new shape reminds me of the stoke I had when I first learned to surf. Plus, it helps me cope with the pain of knowing I'll probably never surf a high-performance thruster with any style, or 'steez', as the hipsters call it. But rippers be damned. The right board, with some inspired bottom contour perhaps, can certainly go a long way in making me feel like a ripper.
I recently got my hands on a Mini Simmons inspired twin keel fin. Shaped in Wales by Howzi. My initial thought was that I had picked up a board which was the surfing equivalent of a knock-off handbag. James, the board's owner, told me the board was 'a little suntanned'. The rails were patched with Gorilla Tape, and I had to fill a few cracks with resin to make sure the board didn't sink.
The first few times I used the board, conditions resembled what my good friend Cei calls 'mushburgers', or 'not particularly inspiring'. I immediately noticed how easily it glided through flat, gutless sections. I swear, on my second wave, I surfed the board straight across flat water.
After a few days of 'not particularly inspiring' surf, I started to get a feel for the board. It really worked its way into my heart. I decided to ditch my thruster for a few weeks and really commit to getting this board dialled. I had some memorable days riding the board around Peniche. Dig the fat, round rails deep into the face and you'd be surprised at how steep the Mini Simmons can hold its line. But it certainly takes a different technique, only learned after many botched drop-ins and bogged rails. The horse has long been beaten dead, and many surfers have already figured it out; you surf a twin fin with the rails instead of the fins. The same principle holds true on the Mini Simmons. At 5'3, this thing resembles a wet cookie more than it does your run-of-the-mill shortboard.
I couldn't give this board a proper review if I didn’t try to surf it in as many different conditions as possible. I almost died surfing the board in 3-meter waves. I paddled into a large, choppy wave; carefully setting my eyes on a line before I made the drop. The board had other plans. It shot off like it was late for work. I think I only had one foot on the board when I flew over the shoulder where I belonged. Fine, I don’t have as much style as I thought, even on the twin fin. I'll leave it to Torren Martyn to surf twin fins in overhead waves. The sensation of dropping into that wave was something like stepping on a wet bar of soap on a tile floor... during an earthquake. I think it knocked the wind out of me.
On a nice head high day, the board makes me a legend in my own mind. Long, swooping, clean cutbacks. No missed sections. The tail couldn’t have any less rocker. It helps me catch waves that I probably shouldn’t catch. After a few weeks on the Mini Simmons, I thought 'wow! I am RIPPING! Maybe I should get the thruster out again'. After about an hour on the thruster, I realized my surfing was as flacid as ever, and swore that I will (maybe) never touch a thruster again. The Mini Simmons gave me the illusion that I might actually be a decent surfer, and boy what a feeling that is.
James tells me that speed control in little cover-ups is easy on the Mini Simmons; just run your hand along the inside to stall. Before the hair wash is over, the board will have no problems accelerating. You'll be getting sneezed out of shoulder high cover-ups like a stale marshmallow out of a blowgun. I think we all wish we could charge as hard as James. But I believe it. I'm probably an intermediate surfer on a good day, and I have such a hard time with speed maintenance. Speed maintenance on a Mini Simmons, no problem for a simple goon like me.
The magic is in the hull. The nose has a rolled-vee shape, blended into a single concave along the middle. The rolled vee parts the water like a sloppy drunk Moses, allowing the concave to plane immediately and easily. The board is fast. No flowery language, no poetic nuance. Just flippin' fast. It tears through sections where an HPSB would sink.
For the weekend warrior, the Mini Simmons adds some lucidity to each wave you catch. And you'll certainly catch more waves. This sun-bleached nugget from the land of leeks is one of the most enjoyable boards I've ever laid my mortal hands on. When the waves are shoulder high and gutless, I might be tempted to fall to delusions of grandeur. Maybe, just maybe, today is the day for HPSB. Then I remember, I'm not a high-performance surfer. The old adage is as true in the lineup as anywhere else; why be something you're not?
A quick nod to the photographer of Matts surfing shots. Cheers, Igor Andric.