design forum

Rise of the Stub

Rob Machado and the search for the world’s most versatile surfboard

| posted on June 30, 2014
Rob Machado, experimenting with smaller craft. Photo: Glaser

Rob Machado, experimenting with smaller craft. Photo: Glaser

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.

Machado and his stubs. Photo: Gilley

Machado and his stubs. Photo: Gilley

  • John Virata

    Donald Takayama actually developed the Scorpion some 40+ ago. DT actually rode the first Scorpion, a 4’11” in a contest in Malibu that was featured in the film Cosmic Children.

  • Tim Ellis

    from the Biscuit came the Gravy- one of the fastest, all round 1-6ft boards I’ve surfed. And I started on single fins 40 years ago !

  • Christie

    Personally I’m on Shane Stoneman’s program, specialist in twins. I’ve got one I call the “evil twin”, which has been my favorite board for a couple years. It was the only board I rode for an entire 8 month season surfing in Mentawai, and I rode it in every condition.

  • someguyfromlorne

    Further proof that no longer can the average joe ride a board identical to that of a pro surfer. And we should not feel bad about it. Many a guy of my demographic (born in the 70s) had their surfing ability (not to mention fun) stunted by trying to ride the ultra narrow boards of the 90s and onward.
    Although the ego does not like to admit it: unless you are a hot surfer or surf high performance waves, do not ride a high performance surfboard! You will sink. You will not catch many waves and the ones that you do catch will see you bog down and get frustrated.
    The chunkiness of these boards let you get into waves early and power through fat spots. There is a slight tradeoff in how quick you can turn the board but I hardly notice it.
    I ride a biscuit and it’s the best board I have ever owned (if I was picky I would just like a little bit more rocker in the nose). I am loving my surfing and I am probably surfing better now in my early 40s than I ever did.

    • Evan Saunders

      So true, all about having the best time on the waves that you have at that very moment. Joel Tudors Ductumentry is a great movie, he cant understand why guys are riding high performance boards on 1ft slop days, we should be riding Logs and minimal s to maximize the fun. I to also rode those thin twigs in the late 90’s early 2000’s with no progression.

  • Johnny Bee

    Bought a 5’4″ x 19’3/4″ x 2’3/4″ last year. Talk about a revelation! I hardly surf any of my other boards since then.

  • TomHouse

    The ’90s Parmenter Stub Vectors were maybe the best boards I’ve ever ridden.

  • Trader Joe

    I just learned Hawaiian surfboard history impressed upon others particularly one with a Korean tea bowl whom modeled a design not so dissimilar to their design and called it his own, retrospectively placing all history to be told by curators and museums, not at all my own. This is interesting in that these surfboards and their alienation can also be sold.

  • Trogan Fan

    enough about the boards, when’s Rob going to get a haircut and stop pretending he’s 20?

    • someguyfromlorne

      hmmm, might have been a joke but not real cool if not. Age is just a number and Rob can wear his hair any way he wants if you ask me.

    • Degree33 Surfboards

      When he stops surfing better than he did when he was 20 😉

    • bongo fury

      great thoughts from a crumugeon

  • Christian R

    Chemistry makes the best stubs in the market. I have three stubs, two standard short boards, and a step up, all of which are Jason Bennett Chemistry shapes. The latter three hardly get surfed.

  • Mark Jay

    I just got a stub style this is what I got:
    it feels really good and looks great I have only had it in 1-2ft but is definitely better than taking out a stick for those conditions.

  • StayxsieJohnson

    Brian Szymanski….thats a name I havent heard in a long time….used to deliver the paper to his parents house, in park place…..dont think Ive seen him since we graduated from high school… time flies…..Guess he is still in Enci huh?

  • Steven D. Smothers

    Evolution and re-invention. New becomes old, old becomes new. Nothing new under the sun. All that’s being done has been done before.

  • Seannyboy

    This is an oversimplification.

  • byron bay

    Have a look at the astron zot crafted by Geoff McCoy its just what your talking about

  • Kkelley

    Don’t forget Chene Horan rode a 5’7″ Laser Zap at Waimea and Pipeline in the 80’s..

  • Pasquale Fandango

    Looks like a short Fun board, blended with a Fish Shape.. 🙂

  • byron bay

    have a look at Geoff McCoy surfboards he does a astron zot board which is just what your talking about Check it out see what you think

  • gulli bull

    Was Tom Curren in the shaping room when they invented the microwave oven ?

  • Michael

    Also worth mentioning that Rob has probably been the most open minded pro surfer related to board design and materials. While others have been afraid to stray from the standard thruster, Rob’s passion and natural curiosity has him exploring all the options (and ripping on them), and it’s part of what makes him such an interesting guy.

    And besides unusual shapes or designs, Rob’s typically been first in line to test out (and advocate for) many of the newer, more “eco” materials like the recycled EPS foam, soy-based foam, plant-based resins, mushroom foam, etc. And he even kills it on just a straight up, ole skool, flat piece of wood…

    I’ve also seen that Rob’s stoke for surfboards has him creating his own line of custom boards called – Machado Creations. Worth checking out if you’ve got an open mind too 🙂

  • Gosurfn

    i was fortunate enough to score a stub vector and an 8 ft widow maker from
    Mr. Parmenter back in the 90’s, my quiver has been complete ever since…
    The End : )

  • whamo

    Wasn’t Randy Lewis shaping pig boards like this in the late 70’s?