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Rocket-Powered Surfboards

Mythbusters investigates the myth of the landlocked surfer

| posted on October 04, 2012

Surfboards, rockets, and the ineffable Kari Byron. What more could you ask for? In the season premiere of Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel, the show’s team puts to the test a myth about a rocket-powered surfboard. Tory Belleci, Grant Imahara, Kari Byron, and their mannequin named Buster strap a haul of explosives on the back of a longboard, essentially just to see what happens.

Belleci, a native of Monterey, CA, and a surfer himself, drew the short straw and was the crash-test dummy for the second rounds of the experiment. Without giving too much away about whether the myth was busted, Belleci spoke with SURFER about the project, which at the least is proof that he survived.

SURFER: What’s the story behind this particular myth?
TORY: We got a myth about a surfer who moved to the Midwest and was homesick because he didn’t have any waves. So he decided to strap rockets to his surfboard and surf across his local lake.

You guys are kind of into rockets, huh?
Yeah, we work with rockets on the show all the time. We know they have a quick burn life, and a lot of thrust within three seconds, but then they’re spent. So we had to figure out how we were going to be able to extend the surf ride with the rockets to make it like we’re riding an actual wave.

How’d the first launch go?
Well, the first thing we did was attach a single rocket, a foot long and three inches in diameter, a pretty good-sized rocket. We stuck our crash-test dummy “Buster” onto that, and shot it across the lake. It was ridiculous. Buster shot up in the air, did a flip, and crashed headfirst in the water.

Your reaction?
We were like, ‘OK, there’s no way you can extend the ride for too long, we’re going to need some multiple-stage rockets.’ It was just way too dangerous, because Buster flipped, shot up, and whipped around. With these big rockets, if they go wrong they go wrong in a big way. They explode. It’s like riding on top of a pipe bomb.

So what was Plan B?
We decided if we’re going to put a person on this, there’s no way we’re going to use one of those aluminum rockets. So we switched to the cardboard, hobbyist rockets, which are much smaller and in cardboard tubes, in case they exploded. We redesigned the whole thing: lowered the center of gravity of the surfer and lowered the center of thrust for the rockets.

This guy likes to blow things up and he also likes to surf. Tory Belleci, just another day at work on his dream job.

How do you end up as the lucky one who gets to try out the rocket board?
Well I was the only one that surfed out of the group. I grew up surfing down in Monterey. That’s how I got chosen, and I was so fired up. Well, that and the fact that I was the only one that was stupid enough to jump on it.

Did your experience as a surfer play into it at all?
Actually yeah, we found that the rockets were so heavy that we had to extend the back-end of the surfboard. I’d done basic shaping, whenever I would ding my board or whatever, and I had tried to make my own surfboard in the past. So it came in handy when we extended the back end, created this pear-shaped surfboard; because there was so much weight from the rockets, we had to keep the buoyancy up, so we redesigned the longboard into this weird, hybrid shape.

Any other surfers on the crew?
Actually our main camera guys are surfers, one from Santa Cruz and the other from Sydney. We busted a myth a few years ago about surfing with dynamite, from a viral video where they threw dynamite in the water, it made a wave, and they surfed it. So for that episode, the whole crew got to go down to Santa Cruz to surf for the day. The day when I was about to ride the rocket surfboard for this myth, all the surfers were dying to jump on the board. Then again, all the people who don’t surf kept saying, ‘You guys are stupid, that thing is going to explode, you’re an idiot, you’re going to die,’ etc.

Are there any disclaimers to throw out there, before we watch the episode?
Yeah, I’d say don’t try this at home…though if you’re going to try anything, try this one…wait, I probably shouldn’t say that. Definitely don’t try this at home.

Watch the season premiere of Mythbusters this Sunday, Oct. 7 on the Discovery Channel.

Kari, Buster, Tory, and Grant, the Mythbusters team.

  • Da Cat

    A fine example of retardess kukess.

  • Jo

    Mythbusters used to be so good. Now it just uses “science” as an excuse for a spectacle i.e. guns, explosions. I miss the good, old days.

  • Gregg Mouritzen

    When surfing, you start from the prone (face down) laying position., not the seated.From that position the surfer would be able to hold onto the board and be able to sustain higher “G”s. Also, that would place the center of gravity lower (as in the multistage tests with the weights) allowing more stability for the rider. This could either cause the board to submerge with the forward momentum, or keep it on the surface with a slight upward angle.

    On another note, this board would have to be ridable on regular waves. No balast or extra keel. The size of thebox for the motors would make this board very unridable as it is.
    The single rocket with a prone rider would be much easier to ride as well as more stable. Perhaps a smaller rocket if that one is too strong.

    Also, was there a test run without the dummy? Buster, not Tory

  • thd

    jaime needs to shave that thing off his face. he looks like a longboarder for gods sake.