Behind the Brand: Al Merrick doesn't make claims. He's far too humble and soft-spoken for that. Truth is, he deflects most of the praise thrown his way. But facts are facts: No shaper in history has dominated the top of the charts the way he has. The 20-plus world titles racked up by his team riders is a testament to the fact that he's been operating at the forefront of high-performance design for more than two decades now, with no signs of slowing. Merrick started his Channel Islands label back in 1969, just a few years after Australian Bob McTavish blew through Santa Barbara surfing his new shortboard. Merrick was a witness to the action at Rincon, and the heralded design revolution that followed swept him into board-building fray. His primary influences were John Price of Surfboards Hawaii and the legendary Dick Brewer. "Has Brewer been inducted into the hall of fame yet?" he asks, deflecting yet again. "It's ridiculous if he hasn't." By the early '80s, Merrick was a regional powerhouse. But when a humble Tom Curren returned America to a leadership position on the global stage after 10 years of Aussie dominance, Merrick became a nationwide hero. The subsequent rise of Kelly Slater set the table for Merrick's enduring global dominance. In 2006, he decided to join forces with Jake Burton of Burton Snowboards. The move took day-to-day business pressure off of Merrick, allowing him to focus on the future of design, where he sees technology playing a much larger role. "With the level of test pilots we have on our team, and the resources we have now in our new factory, it's very exciting. I think we'll see all kinds of new construction methods."
About his Most Popular Models: While Merrick offers a plethora of signature models backed by every one of his team riders, he considers his Flyer model the best small-wave board he's ever designed. The Flyer is a hair wider, flatter, and fuller than his pro models, adding forgiveness in all areas. It's supposed to be two to three inches shorter than a conventional shortboard. "The rocker configuration and volume displacement make it the ideal board for the average type of surf."
Taking the Pulse: "Shorter boards are actually working a lot better in bigger waves. Kelly and I worked a lot in the shaping room this year working on that concept, which has been a vision of ours for a long time. We'll see more of it in 2009—maybe even at Pipeline."Shop Talk
What's the most common thing people forget to factor in when purchasing a board? "In most cases it's the reality of what size waves they'll be riding it in day to day, but also what kind of wave—a pointbreak vs. beachbreak."
What's the most rewarding part of your job? "The number of talented surfers I've been able to work with and get design feedback from. It's been a huge part of our brand's unwavering focus on performance and quality."