5 Surfboards for Summer: L.A. Shapers Share Their Favorite Designs
Mike Riggens Jeff Ho takes his favorite board into a hollow Venice wave.
For Angelenos, summer is a siren's call to the beach, with sun-splashed visions of long days on the sand, the scent of sunscreen in the air, and the sound of the sea.
For Angeleno surfers, summer means something else: total boredom. Between May and August, the Pacific lies flat and lifeless, featuring warmer temps but few waves. Memories of winter's swells have faded faster than a tan in September, and the surfboard that suited bigger days now stands useless in the garage, no match for summer's slow-moving, mushy waves.
Luckily, local shapers have a handful of surfboard styles for beginner and advanced surfers alike to get the most out of summer waves with a minimum of effort. Take a look at five to try, from designers of boards designed with one goal in mind: to make surfing more fun.
Ian Wright - Aftermath Surfboards, Gardena
Aftermath Surfboards owner Ian Wright has shaped for some of surfing's biggest stars, but believes that the surfer who's catching the most waves is having the most fun.
To that end, Wright's Wizzard's Slipper (photo below) is designed for the office rat whose typing speed surpasses that of her paddling. Armed with more volume in the chest and nose, enough rocker (angle of the nose) to drop into steeper waves, and a handful of subtle components, the board allows weekend warriors to paddle into waves with ease, and carve it up like a pro.
Wright's roots on the coast of South Africa, his experience shaping for the pros, and as a ghost-shaper at Spyder Surfboards, have informed his approach to making a user-friendly board for the desk-bound masses, whose custom orders now comprise 75 percent of Aftermath's sales. From the Slipper's rounded squash tail with a subtle V (allows for stability and maneuverability), to the spots along the board's outline that abruptly cut inwards like a serrated knife (to release water and allow for more momentum through a turn), and a double concave bottom contour (for more lift and drive through the water), every element has both comfort and performance in mind.
For the fins, Wright -- a self-described "plain Jane kind of guy" -- prefers a classic three-fin set-up under the board (known as a "thruster" style) for his own surf sessions. "I like the stability and the drive. And because of the way I situate the fins, it runs better because of the [wide] tail." For the more adventurous surfer, the Slipper allows for both a four-fin and five-fin set-up, which change the way the board will glide through water, and how it feels under a surfer's feet.
Wayne Okamoto - Oak Foils Custom Surfboards, Lawndale
"It doesn't matter how beautiful a board is. If it doesn't work properly, I've failed as a surfboard shaper," says Wayne Okamoto, founder of Oak Foils Custom Surfboards. "I like to see my boards in the water, guys enjoying them. When I see my boards all yellow, dinged up, [I know] it's lived a good life."
This focus on functionality is infused into Okamoto's process. Before he designs a custom shape, he asks clients to bring in the board that they ride the most. "You've got to read between the lines" of how people describe their own abilities and surfing style, he says. "I have to go on a surf trip with the person mentally, and visualize where they're at."
The shape that many of his clients like for tackling gutless conditions is the Pynzer and its smaller sibling, the Mini Pynzer (pictured). "When you're surfing weak waves," says Okamoto, "you're not taking off late and then dropping in [on a steep section, which requires a deep rocker]. Everything is more lateral. So when the board's got a flatter rocker, it allows you to maintain the power of a weaker wave. It's planing more efficiently."
Along with a flatter front-end, the Pynzer also features a five fin set-up designed for stability and responsiveness. The arrangement features bigger main fins with smaller fins toward the front, and a tiny canard fin in the center back, which breaks turbulence for the main fin (similar to those on super-sonic jets, Okamoto notes). The set-up, he says, allows for a freer, looser ride for easier speed generation in weaker waves, but with bigger fins for control in juicier conditions.
"What I'm doing is figuring out a crutch for each individual," he says. "When you get on a board that clicks, your life changes."
Jeff Ho - Jeff Ho Zephyr, Santa Monica
As the owner of the Jeff Ho Zephyr, a skateboard and surfboard brand, Jeff Ho played a key role in the emergence of the modern surf and skate industries. His work helped inspire the 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, and he remains an advocate for the culture locally, and globally.
Despite having professional clients like big-wave surfer Garrett McNamara, and sponsorships by Vans and Body Glove, Ho is still at home on local turf: Between shout-outs from passers-by in Santa Monica on a recent Sunday morning, he described his favorite design for summer at local breaks, the single-fin squash tail (see first photo in this post).
In contrast to the shorter, high-volume boards that are dotting the lineup these days, Ho's design can take a longer length, and bigger, single fin -- and be modified for surfers of any size and skill. Part of the board's versatility stems from the front end, which is pointed enough for paddling into steep-sloped waves in Venice, but wide enough for noseriding -- when a surfer rides a wave on the very front tip of a board -- in Malibu. The other keys are the softer, rounded edges (known as rails) of the board outline at the nose, designed for an easier wave entry, while the board's transition into a harder rail at the tail and bottom "gives it a lot more speed and bite out of a turn if the waves are hollow," says Ho.
Translation: Get ready for a faster, more stable ride when the ocean revs up.
Like his colleagues, Ho is a proponent of custom shapes over shop purchases, where the cool-factor can intimidate the uninitiated, and boards aren't tailored for each person. As a shaper, he says, "It's my job to make sure a surfer gets the perfect board."
Timmy Patterson - T. Patterson Surfboards, San Clemente
With deep roots in Orange County's surf Mecca, San Clemente, Timmy Patterson built his reputation at Hobie Surfboards, and launched his own label, T. Patterson, in the early 1980s. While his brand boasts team riders from veteran Christian Fletcher to Gavin Beschen, Patterson's favorite board for summer, the Rising Sun, is embraced by novices and pros alike.
"It's a board that starts off good and gets better," Patterson says. "There's not a big learning curve on it."
Designed for an easy paddle into waves but packed with performance attributes, the Rising Sun is a good bet for the surfer who has mastered the fun-board shape, and is ready to turn their slow turns into hard-charging cutbacks. "There's a flatter deck, so there's a little more magic area [for paddling]," Patterson says. That means it's easier to paddle the board, and it will catch more waves -- making for less frustration, and more fun. "The rails are just a hair turned down so it can still perform. We ride it four-fin or tri-fin, and the bottom is designed for speed and ease of surfing with a lot of easy take-off."
In other words: It's time to trade in your Honda for a hot-rod.
Patterson, like a handful of colleagues, has shifted from a retail-heavy business model to one focused on custom designs, and using a local shaper like him means access to boards designed for the nearest beach. "The mainstream brands are great," he says, "but there's that local guy [like me] that you can count on [to shape for the local waves]. It's important that people get to try the different flavors of the area."
In essence, Patterson's view takes buying local beyond the ethics of supporting nearby businesses and the environment. When applied to surfing, the ethos boosts the chances of buying a board that's best-suited for the nearest surf break.
Bob Mitsven - Mitsven Surfboards, San Diego
Shaping boards began as a side-business for Bob Mitsven, who started designing his own after completing high school. In 1988, he went full-time with his own brand, and has since been shipping his boards worldwide, as well as designing custom shapes for local, San Diego clients.
This summer, Mitsven has put a decidedly modern spin on a board with roots in tradition with the S.S. Round, a model based on wider fish shapes that take over the lineup on mushy, summer days. The board has a round tail, with enough width to maintain stability for the surfing naif.
For the nose, there's a flatter rocker for an easier paddle in to waves. Plus, "[the board] comes to a point, but it's evolved into a really clean short board, that's dialed in for all-around waves," says Mitsven. Read: This whip will handle well in small conditions and on bigger days -- that is, when the surfer is ready to go big, or go home.
In keeping with the board's retro feel, Mitsven hand-shapes all of his boards, and the wooden fins are designed in-house. Like Okamoto, Mitsven also encourages clients to bring in their boards before he begins a design, to get a sense of their level and specific needs. "Almost 100 percent of the time [the board that] they get [from me] is better than what they envisioned in their head."