All Photos: Peter Taras
Daniel “Tomo” Thomson is like a lab scientist, constantly dissecting the best parts of his designs and cross-pollinating to create new prototypes that he then tests on frequent trips to Australia. At the foundation of all he does remains his inspiration—the golden ratio, which forms what has been identified in mathematics as the golden spiral. This application of the Fibonacci sequence has been used to explain the shape of most everything found in nature from nautilus shells, ratios within the human body, the pattern of how tree branches and twigs grow, an ocean wave, and even spiral galaxies: “They are all fractal scales of this geometry,” he says. “It’s a common thing you can find in all areas of nature, not just within surfing, so why not try to apply it? It’s used in creation so why not use it to be creative?”
For those who didn’t excel at math, you’re not alone. Thomson, self-admittedly, was never a fan of the subject in school. He is also quick to point out that he doesn’t have all the answers, and that his theory could be interpreted as arbitrary. But he holds strong in the fact that — whether scientifically proven or not — his shaping method has helped push the discussion around progression. And that’s what he finds most inspiring.
“Whether it’s all in my head or not I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter because it’s just a source of inspiration for me that allows me to not follow the herd at all,” explains Thomson. “Someone comes out with something new and everyone is on that. I always knew I’m never going to make a breakthrough in my career doing it that way.”
Inside a shaping bay at Firewire headquarters, amongst tools and foam, Thomson keeps a notepad and pencil handy at all times, constantly sketching the latest curve he’s working on. Never happy with staying complacent in his craft, he’s taken up studying fluid dynamics, concentric spirals, vortices, and even aircraft technology as it relates to the shape of his boards. All of his shapes can be applied back to different scales of the golden ratio’s universal geometry, and it’s those tiny details that keep Thomson on a steady path of refinement. All of the best surfboard curves, he maintains, have a direct link to spirals. The curve around a rail or found in a rocker, for example, are very “spiral-esque,” he says. “Some are too rounded; they don’t accelerate the water properly, they drag too much,” he explains. “The littlest things can change the efficiency of a curve.”
When asked if he thinks the industry has accepted his work, Thomson says it depends on who you talk to. While breaking through to the world of professional contests is an entirely separate pursuit that requires a very formulaic and almost conservative approach, the shaper says his boards are resonating with surfers on a different level. “My surfboards have a better experience in the ocean, more free and pure,” he says. “I think most people understand that and the feedback is good. I get so much feedback. It changed my whole view on surfing.” –Kailee Bradstreet