Evolution or revolution, will Tomo & Firewire Surfboards break into the mainstream with their latest super quick, uber responsive Modern Planing Hull Surfboard Design, the Evo?
Are we on the verge of witnessing an EVO-lution Revolution as Daniel ‘Tomo’ Thomson and Firewire Surfboards (don’t forget newly minted Firewire co-owner / brand advocate Kelly Slater) push these different but amazingly capable surfboard designs?
This is ‘EVO-lution Revolution? Odd History of the Modern Planing Hull’ surfboard design.
Are we on the brink of a Modern Planing Hull revolution? Let’s talk about it in the comments…
History of Modern Planing Hull Surfboard Design
by guest writer/frother, Bob the Bob
Gather around my little surfers and listen to a tale, a tale of surf knowledge gained and surf knowledge lost, of the Mafia’s financing of an exceptionally smart naval architect named Lindsay, who’s book of hydrodynamics ended up in the hands of one, odd ball surfer/shaper, Bob Simmons. Whom, before his young death, shaped this salty tale… “EVO-lution Revolution? Odd History of the Modern Planing Hull.”
Our unusual story begins with the flickering light of a 1920’s black & white “Gangster” movie. When America’s prohibition of alcohol spawned an enterprising network of businessmen… errr the Mafia… to import illegal rum from Cuba. Many of these marketers of evil spirits turned to one man, Professor Lindsay Lord of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to assist them with eluding an army of federal and state law enforcement agencies sworn to stop them. It was Lord’s expertise in the field of planing hulls or:
“small craft that skim the water”
…that helped the Mob out run J. Edgar Hoover’s G-Men and kept “Dry” Americans soaked in Havana’s sweet, golden rum.
Happily, in 1933, “Dry” America regained her spirits and ended prohibition, yet this was not the end of Lindsay Lord. His country would come calling again.
That time came as our globe descended into World War II (WWII). The US Navy contacted Lord and bestowed upon him a naval commission to build fast load-carrying boats that could quickly maneuver while maintaining speed in various conditions. He was stationed in paradise, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and given unlimited resources by Admiral Chester Nimitz to design faster than $hit planing hulls… better known as, naval warships.
Lord’s WWII naval shop included many simple forms, even a few from his indigenous surroundings, like surfboards and paipos from The Land of Aloha. He tested these models to determine the best aspect ratio for planing.
Author’s Note: Aspect ratio is related to the size and proportion of the hull’s length and width. Now, I know when you started surfing, you were told that there would be no math involved. Well, those people lied to you; because, as you have probably noticed, within every great soul surfer is a genuine mad scientist waiting to be released! According to what shaper/mad scientist Rusty Preisendorfer wrote in Surfline:
“Aspect ratio is a proper width and length ratio. Naval architect Lindsay Lord said the most common factor in a good planing hull was the width in the stern. If you divide the width into the length you’ll get the Aspect Ratio. It will be a decimal number. Good numbers are .3 to .5.”
This simply means, for things to plane well, there must be a good ratio between length and width… Math class is now dismissed!
Lord tested several models in Pearl Harbor by towing them to measure resistance. He did this with the help a of a newly minted device, an Electric Strain Gauge; which was invented by Edward “Dewey” Simmons in 1938. A member of the same Simmons family that claims our soon to be discussed surfer/shaper Bob Simmons.
After the Allies crushed the Axis Powers, and Lindsay Lord returned home, he published a book that detailed his work titled, “The Naval Architecture of Planing Hulls” (1946). It is at this point, Lord’s work becomes important to us surfers; because of one surfer in particular, Bob Simmons. Lord’s book was often seen in the Simmons clutches; he was even known to shared it amongst a few of his advanced crew of waterman.
According to Matt Warshaw’s Encyclopedia of Surfing, Simmons was a high school dropout, that “nevertheless passed the admittance test to the California Institute of Technology, and was a part-time engineering student for nearly five years, earning straight A’s.”
Needless to say, Simmons was a very smart cat. His body encapsulated a mathematical mind that understood many of the hydrodynamic, as well as aerodynamic, theories that Lord based his work on. Without a surfer like Simmons to interpret the teachings of Lord, surfboard design might not have ever exceeded Tom Blake’s keel fin or the Hawaiian Hot Curl designs.
After 1948 Simmons appeared at various breaks with radically new surfboards that he would call “hydrodynamic planing hulls”. He would exclaim, as document by his friend John Elwell, of The Hydrodynamica Project, “surfboards are planing hulls! And these are my latest machines!”
Richard Kenvin, also of Hydrodynamica, wrote about how the combination of Lord’s planing hulls and Simmons shapes marked a unique moment in history where ancient concepts allied with modern science, “The most efficient planing models tested in the Naval Architecture of Planing Hulls appear on pages 14 and 15. They are essentially neat, tidy, and carefully constructed versions of the paipo boards that Hawaiian surfers have been riding for generations. Simmons’ use of the information provided by these simple planing plates marks the moment when Western science merged with the mysteries of ancient Hawaiian wave sliding.”
Most California surfers of the 1940’s rode lumbering planks that were about 10 ft long and weighed in excess of 60 lbs. Made of varnished redwood and balsa, these boards were unresponsive, pearling monsters that were beyond difficult to ride in anything but easy, crumbling, mushy surf. Once Simmons learned the fundamentals of board building, from Gard Chapin (the stepfather of surfing’s black hat, Mickey Dora), Simmons felt compelled to innovate better equipment that could handle more difficult wave conditions.
Influenced by Lord’s book,
“the typical Simmons board was wide (around 24 inches), with a thin, squared-off tail, finely turned and calibrated rails, and a broad spoonlike nose,”
…as described by Warshaw. He only used balsa wood and was among the first to wrap his boards with a layer of resin and fiberglass; he was also the first to employ a twin fin set up (Mind blowing stuff at the time!). A Simmons’ boards weighed in far less than the contemporary kook boxes of the day… A Simmons Spoon weighed about 25 lbs!
Simmons creations were far faster and much more nimble across the face of the wave, causing many of the best board makers of the day to utilize his design features in their own crafts; though most shapers of this time did not understand Lord’s architectural concepts behind Simmon’s designs. All of this innovation, spurred on by Simmons, led to the much collaborated Malibu Chip design of the early 1950’s, which became the precursor to the modern longboard.
Tragically, on September 26, 1954, Simmons died at the young age of 35 while surfing at San Diego’s Windansea. Somehow, he was hit in the head with his own board and drowned. In the years after his death, boards changed in many ways – shorter, thinner, one fin, two fins, three fins, concaved, double concaved, channels, etc… and most of Simmons’ planing hull machines went lost, as did the knowledge that produce them.
Modern Planing Hull Renaissance
That is until the mid 2000’s, when a few sun crusted sliders became fed up with surfing’s stagnancy. Restricted to riding the industry’s same old, same old – CAD-CAM pop-outs – these surfing odd balls started looking for new ways to trim the light fantastic. People like San Diego’s Richard Kenvin, who had grown tired of riding the same 6’0” type thruster everyday, every session, began researching various board designs he had witnessed growing up in Southern California. With the help of a few collaborators, he successfully mined the local cracks of Cali’s coastline to find Simmons gold. The nuggets they uncovered influenced a new crew of young sliders who began to experiment with Lindsay Lord’s planing hull ideas.
This all culminated in 2009, when Encinitas surfer/shaper Ryan Burch began riding a simple blank of closed cell foam he came across. This blank was an almost identical replica to Lord’s planing plates tested during wartime Pearl Harbor.
Video and pictures of Ryan’s fun little experiment stunned the surf world. The speed and maneuverability he showcased while riding this simple piece of foam floored most surfers! And caused many to re-exam Simmons’ work. Shapers like Burch, Tyler Warren and Daniel Thomson began to embrace this old school technology as today’s new school; with Thomson… aka. Tomo… becoming the most recognizable Simmons convert. Tomo Surfboards (leveraging Firewire Surfboards technology) entire line of boards, and his vision for new, draws inspiration from Simmons’ 1940’s planing hulls. His Firewire designs, like the Vanguard, Vader [Read the Tomo Surfboards Vader surfboard review…] and Nano [Read the Firewire Surfboards Nano surfboard review…] are powerful links to surfing past and future.
So my young, stoked filled grommets, this tale must come to an end. As there seems to be a fresh south swell rolling in with this afternoon’s tide and I must not keep my oversized Tyler Warren – Bar of Soap – waiting much long. Hey, while I am out trimming my planing machine, be sure to share your thoughts with us in the comments below about modern planing hull designs or better yet – tag us in a photo of your freshly shaped machine on Facebook or Instagram.