Illustration: Noa Emberson
I’ve always hated weird boards. This has everything to do with my upbringing.
In my formative years, I didn’t surf because I liked the feeling of the glide or because it made me feel connected with the wild infinity of Mother Nature. I surfed because I wanted to beat the shit out of waves. I wanted to do airs. I wanted to win contests. I wanted to replicate what I saw Andy Irons do in surf movies.
So when it came to choosing a surfboard, I was like your typical red-blooded, casually xenophobic American choosing dinner. I chose to keep things as traditional as possible. I wanted a cheeseburger. Or a steak. Or a 5’11” x 18.3” x 2.25” thruster, with mashed potatoes on the side. You could get the f–k out of here with your Vietnamese food and your bonzer — I wanted to have something familiar because I knew exactly what it was and how it would work. Straying away from that was wandering into the unknown. And wandering into the unknown certainly won’t get you into the quarterfinals at that Pro Junior coming up.
So, mostly, I thought of weird boards as a self-imposed handicap. They were making more surfing difficult for the sake of making surfing more difficult. Pointless. A tyranny.
But today, I ride a 5’2” quad and refer to it as the best board I have ever owned. Its nose is round like a whale. The tail is as wide as an Amish woman’s hips. It’s covered in carbon fiber and might even be somewhat hollow in its core? It’s about as weird as weird can be.
So, uhh, what happened?
There’s a simple explanation.
I borrowed a friend’s 5’6” Haydenshape Hypto Krypto for a session once, enjoyed it and decided to order my own in order to diversify my quiver. I loved that board and I found it easy to transition back and forth from my normal shortboard.
As time passed with the Hypto, I started riding it in waves that I would have normally wanted my shortboard for. And as more time passed with the Hypto, my 5’11” saw less and less sunlight. The Hypto slowly became my answer to everything. The next board I ordered was a 5’2” Fling from SUPER. My favorite board ever.
There’s a not-so-simple explanation, too. It has less to do with a meticulous change in foam and fiberglass, more to do with an unplanned change in the cerebral cortex.
I used to think that weird boards were made for weird surfing, and that weird surfing was bad surfing. But I realized something during my transition to the 5’2”: Weird boards don’t force you to do the things you do on a normal board only worse; they enable you to do them differently.
And that’s a weighty word.
Weird boards make you sit in a different place in the lineup. They make you draw different lines. They make you try different things. In a way, riding a weird board can be like taking acid for the first time — your eyes blast open to a new world, a world where all these foreign possibilities are glaring at you in an exciting, colorful and sometimes confusing way. (There are, however, notably fewer kaleidoscopes.)
It made me realize that surfboards aren’t just a means to an end, even if that end is a very elusive Pro Junior Quarterfinal. Surfboards can be conscience expanders. They can change the way you interpret and interact with your favorite pastime. By thinking a little bit differently when you put pen to paper on a board order form, you’ll end up thinking a lot differently when you put that custom-tailored rail to a wave.
It’d even be fair to say that weird boards will bring us the future. Simon Anderson’s thruster probably seemed like the stupidest thing ever at first — I’m sure 1980 me would have hated it. And just look where it led us.
Sooner or later, somebody in this generation is going to shape us something that unlocks the maneuvers that currently exist only latently in the corners of our imagination.
And that just can’t happen without a little bit of weird.