It started with a simple conversation about surfboards between two friends.
"Are there any holes in your quiver right now?" asked Akila.
Kelly noted that he was looking for that fast, loose, twin-fin feel he remembered from his Florida grom days.
The chat took place a couple of years ago now, and after much work in the water and the shaping bay, Akila Aipa and Kelly Slater have just released the new Flat Earth model with Slater Designs. The thing's a rocket ship, and early surf shop sales would indicate it's prepared for liftoff.
The WSL just caught up with Akila to talk about the new model, the art of the twin-fin and what shaping surfboards means to him today:
You and Kelly have known each other since you were kids and you've been making some boards for him lately, how did this latest collaboration for the Flat Earth model come about?
We've been friends for a long time, and he's always had relationships with the shapers he chooses to work with. For a long time that was Al [Merrick], and as close as we were, he never really had to ask me for boards. And I've been really respectful of his relationship with Al.
But with his new endeavor it's all on him and what he wants to explore. He's traveling the world and chasing titles and is looking for specific things. And now, with a little more time, we've been able to explore some of those ideas together. I asked him if there were any holes in his quiver and that's what got us looking at twin-fins concepts.
How does the design process with Kelly work? The process is pretty organic. I'll build things, he'll try them out, then we basically start refining from there based on on what he's looking for. And then we discussed what we wanted to share with the general public in terms of more user-friendly dimensions. Kelly and I are both very sensitive to micro changes in volume, so we wanted to eliminate those sensitivities and make something more stable for a wider ranger of surfers. We wanted to make something fun for the everyday surfers.
This design is really fast, loose and fun. And in terms of performance sensibilities, we can control that through what fin package we choose, whether that's as a twin, twin plus trailer or thruster. My philosophy is that none of those fin packages will slow the board down because we have such a stable platform. Think of it like a skateboarder with loose trucks, it's that freedom and ability to control the sensation that we're trying to replicate. You can't make a slow board fast just by changing the fins, but you can take a fast board and add stability by altering the fin package. So that's how we're thinking about it.
You've spent a lot of time in your career building and refining twin-fins, what are some of the fundamentals of a good twin?
It's been an evolution for me. It's a learning process, really. If you look at a lot of fishes on the market, the fins are pretty far back and set out wide. This gives you this wonderful sensation of high-line, down-the-line speed, but the moment you want to change direction and go vertical in the pocket it kind of hinders that, so we're taking these retro designs and modernizing them through different curves, concaves, fin placements, that sort of thing.
Look at what happens when a pro surfer gets off their normal shortboard and onto a good twin-fin. It's sort of like a revelation. And you see what's happening in the market and there's almost this renaissance of boards where they're able to blend these fun characteristics with the ability to perform and surf at the highest level. The idea is to bring out the best of all the designs and modernize them. It's all an evolution in design. I'm trying to stay true to the classic designs, but also update them and bring them forward. That's where my mind is at and what challenges me.
You talk about making surfboards as your art form, but it seems to me it's also a craft and a science. How to take your art form and apply that to somebody that's so analytical and demanding of their equipment like Kelly?
That's a wonderful question. As a designer, I'm not just worried about my art form. I'm worried about my bottom foil and what it's doing under high and low pressure. I study fluid dynamics and propulsion. I'm trying to create lift under there. I don't know what the f--k everyone else is doing, but I know what I'm trying achieve. So, I pay a lot of attention to math and science, which ultimately equates into feel.
Then I can articulate how to refine that feel. As a designer I don't just stop at night. My mind is constantly going. So each new board, each new design is a new equation using math and science. What inspires me, being a modern Hawaiian, I want to honor the roots and traditions that I come from, but I want to use math and science to stay at the forefront of this design evolution. It's a crazy balance. None of it is easy.
It's been said the best surfboards are the ones you don't have to think about when they're under your feet. Do you agree with that?
Yes and no. The best surfboards are the luck of everything coming together, the concaves, the fin angles, everything. And it's timing. But it usually comes back to does that board perform the way you want it to every time? That builds a surfer's confidence and allows them to perform at their highest. That's really what I'm trying to achieve with my boards.