A Matter of Choice

By Nathan Scharn

The guy bullying the peak isn’t necessarily someone who left his “Old Guys Rule” shirt in his Land Rover or an angry-faced local who couldn’t even spell thruster. He’s probably your average Bro-Six-Pack sitting on something a little shorter than you’re used to seeing.

The shape of shortboards is changing, and I’m not talking about a squirrelly swallow-tail with two fins. Naturally, shapers and shops have been the first to notice.

“People want alternative boards,” said John Ennis, manager and board buyer for SurfRide Solana Beach, one of the largest retailers of surfboards in Southern California and a barometer for board sales in San Diego. “We’re starting to see shapers err on the side of more foam. They’re gearing boards toward your average surfer, who can get out maybe three or four times a week, so they want to make every wave count. If you’re on more foam, you catch more waves.”

According to Ennis, in the last year, sales of shorter, wider tri-fins that are more rounded on the nose and tail have increased, while sales of traditional thrusters have dropped. These boards are designed with good waves in mind, so many are using them in place of their staple thrusters, not as a halfway point between a longboard and a shortboard.

“People who have been riding them have been really impressed,” Ennis said. “We’ve gotten more calls from people saying they like them than ever before. Normally when you get people calling it’s usually ‘this board sucks,’ so that’s nice.”

Surfers and shapers tired of the traditional shapes may have realized that the science of the shortboard has not been completely exhausted when Dane Reynolds won the expression session at Lowers on his Channel Islands Dumpster Diver, a stubby, wide-tailed tri-fin originally carved from a piece of foam wrestled from the garbage man.

Across the board, the new shapes are getting shorter. “It’s neat to see guys thinking outside of the box,” Ennis said. “We’ve been seeing the same shapes in the shop for the last 15 years, so it’s refreshing to see new shapes coming in here.”

Though sales of differently shaped boards are up, surfboards were not out of the recession’s reach.

“More people are definitely looking at the used market or for package deals,” Ennis said. “Boards under $600 are selling best. But these boards [the Channel Islands alternative models] are $780, and we’re selling about two a day.”

Surfers are just as tired of the traditional shapes as shapers are and recognize that they can advance their surfing by mounting a new chunk of foam that performs like a shortboard even in small surf. They want changes more drastic than an inch or two in width, a rocker adjustment, or glassed-on fins. They want boards that might give them an edge. They want to see what happens to their surfing when they switch things up.

Ennis said sales are coming around now, and that he was never really worried, because surfers always need boards.

“It’s therapeutic for a surfer...if you get a new board and you’re liking it, you’re looking good for the next six months.”

RETAILERS WEIGH IN

Channel Islands Surfboards / Santa Barbara, CA “We’ve mostly been selling Flyers and the Whip. Also, our specialty boards, like Pods and Biscuits, have been selling really well, too. They’re just fun boards—a lot different from your standard shortboard. Especially around this area, they’re good boards to have in the quiver.”

7th Street Surf Shop / Ocean City, NJ “It’s been all over the place: Pattersons, Sharpeyes, JSs. But right now, it’s thrusters. It’s seasonal, obviously. It’s different in summer—we sell a lot of fishes then.”

Hanalei Surf Company / Hanalei, HI “This time of year we’re selling winter boards. Just sold a 9'6" gun, so boards like that. Boards are the slowest category of things that have slowed down in the recession. We’ve been selling a little bit of everything—cheaper boards by our local shapers, Al Merricks, and Surftech boards.”

Maui Surf Shop / Kahului, HI “It’s probably not legal for me to say this to you, but stand-up boards. The stand-up thing is just going off here. The sad reality is that surfboard sales have gone down as a result of stand-ups going up.”

Bert’s Surf Shop / Surf City, NC “We still sell a lot of longboards. It’s small as sh-t most of the time. A lot of people are just getting started. And we always sell a lot of regular thrusters.”