Archive for July, 2009

The wave grab’s the board?

July 19, 2009

I’ve heard surfers talk of surfboard design features that help the wave “grab” the board and pull it into the wave for easier take-offs. This sounds to me like it might be a misconception by those surfers.

Many of us might think that the water in the wave is pushing us along, but if we examine it, we will see that there is no significant net movement of water in the direction the wave is going until the wave actually breaks.  In an unbroken wave, the water particles of the wave actually make a vertical circle, returning to their starting point after the wave passes (for a fascinating study of this, get the book “Waves and Beaches” by Willard Bascom). Until we get into the breaking or broken lip of the wave, the water is not moving in a favorable direction to pull or push us forward, but the wave energy is.

 We can set up a simple experiment to study this on a table top. Pin a table cloth to opposite ends of the table such that the cloth is snug but not too tight. Place a cylindrical object (like a rolling pin) under the cloth near one end; we now have a crude wave. If you move the rolling pin across the table, the “wave” flows across the table, but the cloth does not move in the direction of the wave. Now place a toy car and something like a matchbox in front of the wave, and move the wave; the car will surf along without ever touching the rolling pin, but the matchbox will stay put, while the wave moves under it. Essentially the car is rolling down the “hill” that the wave forms. The hill however, keeps moving forward so the car is constantly rolling down the same hill. You can experiment with different wave steepness by adjusting the tension on the cloth, and discover that objects without wheels will “surf” the wave when the steepness is great enough to overcome the friction of the cloth surface.

 We all know from experience that the water is moving up the wave face, while we are paddling to get down the wave face. We don’t want the water of the wave grabbing our surfboard at this point or we won’t make a successful take-off. Either we’ll get passed by the wave, or if our take-off is late enough, we’ll get pulled up and over the falls. So what is the real trick? We want the board to feel the wave and get picked up by it early; board length counts and longer is better. We want the board to paddle easily; again board length and also volume (for floatation). Rocker can help by getting the trim optimized for the take-off, and proper rail and overall board shape will help make the board paddle faster and plane easier (wider is better). Unfortunately some of the features that help make the board take-off easier, might not be the best for the way you want to ride the board, so you will probably be looking for the best compromise for you.


Fin boxes

July 12, 2009

My best advice for anyone getting a surfboard is to get one with fin boxes (for every fin). Fin selection and position is a critical part of surfboard design, so the ability to change fins and change the position of the fins can make the difference between an ok board and a great board. Yes it is possible to grind off a glassed-on fin and replace it, but I consider that to be a last resort, desperation effort.


There are a variety of fin box systems out there; some allow for adjustment, some don’t. If you have a fin box that doesn’t allow for the adjustment of the fin position, here is the solution; you will have to offset the base of the fin forward or backward as desired. Hopefully the manufacturer has done that for you, by providing a series of identical fins in which the base is positioned differently, so you can select the offset that positions the fin best for you. If he doesn’t, then you will have to make (or custom order) a fin with the correct offset position for you. This can even apply to adjustable boxes if you run out of adjustment before you get to the correct fin position.

I have read and heard complaints about fin boxes that include; some fin box systems are not adequately strong and are easily damaged, some surfers don’t like the fin “wiggle” (slight shift to the side under pressure) and so prefer glassed-on fins, and of course most fin boxes use a retainer screw, which often becomes a problem (stripped threads, lost screws, etc).

While I never used a commercial fin box, I did watch what was available. Not long after I started making surfboards I started making my own fin boxes (naturally I’d been making my own fins all along). I tried various designs, eliminating screws early-on; I tried friction (wedge boxes) and other fastening methods, finally settling on a positive lock, snap-in box (no moving parts). I also ran into the common problem of tearing the fin box out of the board when too much force was applied. I redesigned my box to eliminate that problem and arrived at what I’m currently riding.

The box has a better strength to weight ratio than other systems. You can break the fin out of it without damage to the box or the board. The fin is solidly retained eliminating any fin “wiggle” in the box. Also the fin base is easy to make, so custom fins are as easy as making the fin itself.

I’ve done a preliminary patent search and this system is patentable, so I’m looking for commercial interest. If you or someone you know would like to make money producing a superior fin box and fins, email me at:


Unbreakable, High-performance, Surfboard-in-a-Suitcase

July 5, 2009

Over the years surfers have struggled with the size of the surfboard when they weren’t surfing it, and transporting a surfboard can at times be a struggle. In earlier times surfboards were often left “in the bushes” at the beach, thereby eliminating transportation hassles. With the exception of a few remote areas, those days are long gone. Today, when we’re driving our own vehicles, transporting our surfboard is a minor problem, thanks to car-top surf racks, etc.

 Surf trips to locations that are distant, usually require the use of public transportation and once again taking that surfboard can be a hassle and added expense. We might travel by taxi, bus, train or plane and by even more exotic means. Those of us traveling by airlines usually have to pay increasingly expensive excess baggage fees, and at times our boards have been damaged on our flights. Let’s face it, the airlines really don’t want to see your surfboard; it’s bulky, fragile, requires special handling and is a pain for them. The only reason they tolerate your surfboard is because they want you to pay for a seat on their plane.

 Is there anything we can do to make this easier? Of course with enough money we can pay someone to take care of the hassles for us, but for most of us, earning that kind of money would be an even bigger hassle; we need a better solution.

 Over the years inventive surfers have attempted to solve this problem by making surfboards that can be taken apart for travel. This started in the mid sixties and continues today, but the technology has not been refined enough for wide appeal. If you search the internet for: sectionalized surfboards, two-piece surfboards, take-apart surfboards and similar terms, you will see what’s available.

 The real reason take-apart surfboards have not become popular is function. Those of us that are not riding take-apart surfboards are not riding them primarily because they do not function as well as the surfboard we do ride. The primary problems are added weight and a shape that is different than what we want. Other problems can include different flex/stiffness than we want and added expense.

 What if it was possible to make a surfboard that was of any shape desired, was light weight, was “unbreakable”, and could be taken apart to fit in a suitcase for travel? Note that the shape and light weight will provide a ride equivalent to what your current board provides. The fact that it’s “unbreakable” makes it better than what you are currently riding, and the fact that it fits in a suitcase means that you have no hassle or added expense when you travel by air or other public transportation. By eliminating excess baggage fees you will save substantially when traveling by air, so even though the surfboard might cost a bit more; just one trip is likely to more than pay for the difference. Additionally, if your regular surfboard were to break, this surfboard, which didn’t break, would be much less expensive, especially if you were at some remote surfspot.

 Is this possible? Yes! Does it exist? Yes! Can I get one? Not yet, the board exists in prototype form only at this point. I am looking for someone interested in getting this into production, so traveling surfers can benefit.

 If you have an interest in this or know of someone who might, email me at: