Percy Spencer was a mid-20th century engineer who worked in Raytheon labs researching radar technology. One day he was tinkering with a machine called a magnetron when he noticed that a previously intact candy bar in his front pocket had melted into a hot, gooey mess. Being the observant and deductive type, Percy subsequently put two and two together and zap, one of the most useful devices of modern times was invented: the microwave oven.
Another accidental though arguably less-monumental discovery involves the story of a mistake made at the Channel Islands surfboard factory at the beginning of the 21st century. One of the workers there (who shall remain nameless) punched the wrong numbers into a computerized shaping machine, entering 5’2″ x 19 ¾” x 2 ¾” instead of 6’2″ x 19 ¾” x 2 ¾”. This rendered a wide, stubby, disk-like thing in the place of a more normal looking shortboard. The weird-looking board sat around the C.I. factory as an outcast until two people stumbled across it: Tom Curren, who recognized a potentially great learning board for his kids, and Rob Machado…who became intrigued with the idea of riding it himself.
This single-finned board, later dubbed the MSF, not only worked, but became Rob’s one-size-fits-all California board. More importantly, the board opened up a new, inspiring path for Machado in surfboard design, which led directly to The Biscuit—a top selling board for Channel Islands. But Rob didn’t stop there. With an open mind and the goal of finding a board that worked well in the most varied conditions, Machado even went so far as testing stubs in maxing Indo conditions. He eventually arrived at a three-finned hybrid stub/shortboard. It was a wider, shorter, thicker board that worked in diverse situations, flew through sections, and could turn on a dime. It combined rocker theories from the past with modern outlines and contours, and, in essence, possessed the function of a fish with greatly increased turning ability. This was a board that not only worked in small beachbreaks and mushy, high-tide points, but, as Rob found out in perfect, steep Indo barrels as well.
But that’s only one small fraction of the stub story. Rob may have refined the stub, but the truth is that surfers have been experimenting with stub-like designs for decades. In fact, the history of the stub is rich, from very early efforts by Steve Pezman to Dave Parmenter’s underrated Stub Vector.
It was only in the last few years, however, that stubs have become ubiquitous. Every major surfboard label has a well-received short, wide, blunt-nose board in its line: The Average Joe, The Bottom Feeder, The Fling, The Panda, The Sumo…the list goes on. But perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the stub story is what has happened on the longboard/alternative board side of the equation. In an effort to add spice to an otherwise less dimensional experience, companies like Takayama and John Wegener Surfboards began developing and refining stubs of their own, like The Scorp and The Dynamo. Essentially mini-longboards with pulled-in tails, these little “two-plus-one” boards work shockingly well, and have an uncanny resemblance to the stubs that Rob Machado has been refining on the shortboard side of things. Like convergent evolution, both approaches are getting closer and closer to a one-size-fits-all board that will allow you to have your cakewalk and not eat it too.