With 30 years' experience making surfboards and a team of riders that includes Mick Fanning, Steph Gilmore, Matt Wilkinson, Owen Wright, Ethan Ewing and Bronte Macaulay, you might think Darren Handley knows all there is to know about making a surfboard. Yet, just as for the surfers, the Surf Ranch provides a new challenge for shapers. After spending a week with his A-team in the basin he walked away with plenty to think about. Here's his key findings.
Same Models, Different Dimensions
"We brought all the models that we had been working on with each surfer but within a few days it was apparent that they all preferred to ride shorter boards. Most of them dropped down an inch from what they consider their normal shortboards. Owen was the most drastic. He normally rides a 6'2" or 6'3" but went down to a 5'11 1/2 by the end. However across the team none of the surfers preferred their epoxy models and stuck to PU."
Two Waves, Two Boards
"The surfers decided to use different boards for the left and the right. On their backhand they were able to generate more power. So the were riding boards an inch longer than on their forehands. On the forehand they wanted to be tighter in the pocket, so they used a smaller board."
No Such Thing As A Favorite Board
"With events at Snapper, Bells, Keramas and Tahiti, the surfers only go either left or right, so they may adjust their equipment for those events. After a week at the Surf Ranch the idea that they had a favorite-sized board went out the window. It changes according to the wave."
There Was Cross-Pollination
"It wasn't until almost the last day that Owen had a go of one of Wilko's boards and had his mind blown. They were shorter with a bit more volume than what he is used to, but they worked for him. So I'll tweak that model for Owen for the Surf Ranch Pro. Steph too decided that Mick's J-Bay six-channel swallowtail worked best for her on the right. The wave has a lot of power. I snapped a board and a few others were creased but she loved the drive that the channels provided. It's rare for surfers to swap boards, but it worked over there."
There's No Better Way Of Testing Surfboards
"I did six months worth of testing in a week. Even growing up and living on the Gold Coast where we get consistent quality waves, it takes time to get surfers on their boards, receive the feedback and then implement it. That week the surfers had 24 waves each day; 12 lefts and 12 rights. I was either on the jetski, watching from the water (and hoping they would fall off the wave so I could catch it) or watching on the big screen. Add the video footage and all the surfers having their coaches on hand for immediate analysis and you could see the progression hour-to-hour."
It's All In The Fins
My gut feeling is that you need way more flex in the fins. That's maybe due to surfing in freshwater and the power of the wave, but playing with both the density and size of the fins will be a huge factor.
This Is Just The Start
"With surfers not needing to paddle, the volume in the boards will decrease. They'll be riding smaller, thinner boards. That means the equipment will be way more refined and responsive. That will be one of the biggest adjustments that shapers and surfers will make. When they do, the performances will raise again. This is just the start and it will be fascinating to see where it all goes."