The Golden Rule In The Creation Of Unique Surfboards

16 Nov 2015 12 Share

There's divinity in everything, Photo by Taras

There's divinity in everything, Photo by Taras

SURFING WORLD MAGAZINEIssue 368

Story by JJ Jenkins

Dan Thompson and Kelly Slater explore the golden rule in the creation of unique surfboards.

There’s a sublime ratio that exists, one that mathematicians have used and observed as far back as 500 BC. This ratio is shown to exist in art, nature and science. Numerically it is (1+Ö5)/2 or 1.6180339 … and it has many names; the Divine Proportion, the Golden Mean, the Golden Rule and Phi are a few. It is a ratio seen in the seed patterns of fruits, the family tree of bees, the pyramids of Egypt, Renaissance paintings, the human body, shells, on Rasta’s boardshorts… the list is endless. It’s also found, intentionally, in Dan Tomo’s surfboards.

You know the boards, we’ve all seen them – Vaders, Evos, and Nanos – models pumped out by Firewire and made available on six continents. The outlines of Dan’s epoxy and PU creations are unmistakable, with their chiseled and beveled noses, unorthodox tail configurations, parallel looking rails and intriguing hulls.

These shapes are no accident. It’s not like Dan snapped the nose off a standard thruster one day, rode a couple extra waves and thought ‘gee, this feels alright!’.

These designs – with their reduced swing weight and measured Phi injections – are the evolutionary products of Dan’s own shaping lineage which dates back to his days as a pre-pubescent grom in the mid-80s. Or as Phi and universe law might dictate – the beginning of time.

Dan’s dad, Mark, is a bit of a character. He gets around Northern NSW in a shiny, black BMW X5 that he has converted to run on chip oil. To the chagrin of local council he recently tapped the water table 400ft below his property to give his family access to unlimited pure, fresh H20. And if you’re visiting don’t ever expect to get away in a hurry. Before you can say “I’ve missed me dinner”, there’s a good chance you’ll have witnessed a demonstration flight of one of his custom-built hi-speed long-range drones, had an impromptu one-on-one fauna and flora tutorial or been privy to a hands-on materials and textiles compatibility review (military-grade black carbon is one of Mark’s personal faves and because of his funky creations he has a bit of it lying around). Additionally, you can count on a good cup of tea.

SEE ALSO: Wave Of The Week, Advantageous Autumn

Perfect ratio full rotation from the half octogenarian - Slater throws Tomo's angles three sheets to the wind, Photo by U-ske

Perfect ratio full rotation from the half octogenarian - Slater throws Tomo's angles three sheets to the wind, Photo by U-ske

Like us all, Dan is a product of his environment. Thirty years after his dad first threw him a foam off-cut and surform as a distraction to his own tenure – the purest applications of Mark’s ceaseless experimentation, design and backyard eccentricities have manifest in Dan’s globally recognised, functional and forward designs.

Designs that are now produced under license by Firewire, designs that occupy rack space in surf shops from Huntington to Hossegor and designs that most notably have found themselves beneath the feet of the world’s greatest surfer. Kelly Slater.

Like most of us, Dan was surprised when Kelly switched to one of his crafts mid-heat during the Quiksilver Pro last year. He’d just bumped into him at the Snapper Surf Club a few days prior, started rambling about design and next thing Kelly’s walked off with one of his boards. “Obviously hooking up with Kelly has been an incredible opportunity,” says Dan.

“I showed him some of the stuff I was working on and he was super hyped on it. He asked if I could give him one of my boards to surf, so I did and he loved it. He was frothing. We hit it off and have been on the program ever since.” Many months have passed since that semi-auspicious meet-up at Snapper and Slater has spent many days of those months hanging and surfing with Dan down around Lennox, touching base during his travels and they shared a decent stint together over in West Oz during the Margaret River Pro.

“Kelly will ride a board and really break down what works best and then want to work on new ways to improve that board which is great because that’s how I work, no matter how good a board is I’m always trying to figure out how to tune it,” says Dan. “And you can’t just shape a good board for him, it’s got to be a magic board. That’s been a really big challenge and I’ve been enjoying that challenge because a lot of the time it’s just been up to me to be free and create without much pressure or specific input from anyone else.”

SEE ALSO: The Best Surfing I've Ever Seen, By Matt Hoy

R&D Tomo stylez, Photo by U-ske

R&D Tomo stylez, Photo by U-ske

Slater’s seen, and more importantly ‘felt’, enough to keep digging, keep trying, keep hanging with Dan, to keep pushing things along.

“I liked his dive into the alternative of shorter/less swing weight and thinking about boards from a fundamentally different angle based on math and theories. I also enjoy surfing with him and just hanging out in general,” says Slats.

“I’ve probably had about ten boards now. Mostly small beach breaks with him and Stu Kennedy. A little at Lennox. Best surf on one to date was at a fun river mouth type sandbar runner. Probably only two foot but plenty of speed and this board locked into what the waves were that day. Really fun.

“I’ve had some great feelings for sure. On the right waves the boards lock into something really fast and tap the energy easily. And they’re usually small so you don’t have to move around much on the boards. I’ve probably struggled a little to work out barrels on them so far cause I’m used to moving forward on boards and these are generally quite short. But I had an Evo of his I rode (and broke) in tiny waves that I couldn’t imagine something being better for the conditions. Flattish and slow and this board just dug into the energy and used it.”

Dan shaped his first board at about 13, during his early years in high school. He’s pretty modest about the number of boards he reckons he’s shaped. Somewhere around a coupla thousand he says. While his estimate may or may not be accurate, he does have the numbers to claim Firewire’s most successful selling model (3000 Vaders in one 12 month period) and he’s just now realising a little financial comfort from the arrangement. He left Lennox five or six years ago to try and set himself up in California. It was an intentional move, to try and break into the industry and make a name for himself.

His biggest breakthrough came at the annual Sacred Craft surfboard meet in San Diego. His shapes – “innovative and functional boards that stand out, are unique, haven’t been copied and are hand shaped” – won the vote of the shaping pool two years running.

In Dan’s words; “It’s definitely a kind of credible achievement. I think it probably helped with Firewire and drawing their attention. It’s not just seen as wild and wacky designs, it’s got more cred. Like, ‘Hey, these things work!’”

SEE ALSO: The Best Surfing Fails At The Superbank

Dan does some hand surfing for inspiration tracing nature's divine equation, Photo by Taras

Dan does some hand surfing for inspiration tracing nature's divine equation, Photo by Taras

Around home, his most reliable test pilot is long-time mate and QS stalwart, Stu Kennedy.

“I’ve been working with Stuey Kennedy a bunch. I shaped for him when he was a kid. It’s been fun working with him over the past three or four years, he’s been super open to trying more of my more wilder designs. There’s a level of trust on my shapes where most guys are a little bit hesitant, he’ll jump straight on anything I build and he’ll rip the shit out of it. It’s great to get feedback from guys like Stuey.” And now, of course, there’s the great KS too.

Listening to Dan talk about his influences – physicists such as Nassim Haramein and science engineers like Maurice Cotterell (he watches Youtube clips on these dudes) – and his references to fighter jets and the confluences/consistencies, comparisons between their behavior in the sky and the way objects, surfboards primarily, move through water – is cool.

It would be remissive to suggest Dan is the only shaper in the world thinking about and incorporating such things – but the tactile manifestations of his designs, which are selling publicly and being used by Slater (and Stu) and thousands of surfers around the globe, are proof his applications are materialising, with scale. If you can imagine yourself, for a few moments, sitting in the lounge room of his dad’s house (along with his mum, Janet, and a couple of squawking birds and the family mutt, Raja) and listening in, this is how Dan described his design progression:

“I think my success has been in not following the status quo, having the confidence and belief in choosing a different direction. I started by riding fishes, by jumping out of that shortboard/contest circus, and getting back to just enjoying the purity of surfing a twin fin and a keel-fin fish. From there it was about trying to get a more controlled high-performance ride out of a fish. Then I was hybridising fishes and shortboards for a few years and getting some cool results with that. Then from there I got into studying F16s and supersonic, military jets. I found the relationship between a jet travelling at Mach 3 – which is more or less the speed of sound – and the air around it, is similar the experience of a surfboard fin moving through water at 20km/hr. It’s the density of fluid (air) around the plane and the density of fluid (water) around the fin that is the only difference but the experience and the relationship is the same. So studying jets was a big breakthrough and gave me a different way of looking at design. That’s where the angular tails came from, to reduce drag, to release the water flow.

The channels and multiple concaves channel the water, help you accelerate, create lift... that was a few years of just getting super into fluid dynamics. Then I started looking further; what comes next? Where can you go? And just naturally I just started to get into the sacred geometry stuff, watching a few of the theoretical scientists and astrophysicists and those super high-level thinking guys that are trying to come up with newer and better ideas of reality and the nature of protons and trying to re-explain what the Universe is and stuff like that. So that’s super interesting and inspiring to just sit there and listen to that stuff.

That led me into the scared geometry and that was an obvious connect for me with spirals and the barreling wave which is what we’re constantly seeing and seeking in the ocean. So let’s use that as a building block as a surfboard design. Then I tried to figure out ways how to do that, I started plotting ratios in the wide points in my board then the curves of my boards. Then straight away I noticed significant improvements in how a board performed. Then looking at other classic designs from the past from other shapers like Lopez and Greenough and his spoons and all these classic outline curves are actually very close to spiral-like curves. So I’ve made that connection and it’s really tuned my eye to what a good curve is and what a good curve should look like. So I think that helped the curves in my boards get a much more pure look to them. Then getting more and more accurate and less arbitrary with the use of the Phi ratio. Instead of just going, ‘It’s kinda like that and it looks like that,’ I’ve figured out how to make it perfectly in alignment with the geometry. That’s where I’m kinda at now.”

Then Imparts that curvature into foam to create unique and functional surfboards, Photo by Taras

Then Imparts that curvature into foam to create unique and functional surfboards, Photo by Taras

Slater wants to hook Dan up with Rodney Mullen.

“Rodney is the most technical skater of all time and also a kind of mathematical savant. He’s like the Good Will Hunting character a little bit. He knows things other people will never think of. So I think it could be a good idea to get Tomo to decipher design from Rodney’s ideas,” says Slater.

If you consider Tomo’s boards are the surf market’s closest resemblances to kin sports like skateboarding, kiteboarding and snowboarding – near symmetrical shapes that allow for backwards landings, minimal swing weight and minimal surface area and least resistance – it seems like a super smart, logical move.

“I know Kelly really enjoys my little planing hulls, the noseless ones and I think he’s just looking for a certain feeling that can allow him to surf in a sense that’s perhaps good for his competitive career and getting scores and also coming up with something new and as well to be marketable as a board for him to sell. So that’s been the balancing act and super tricky.

“He’ll also have ideas about boards and we collaborate on certain things and he might have an idea that I didn’t even think of and he says ‘What about this, or I like that idea’. Then I’ll do my interpretation of what he’s trying to describe. So we’ve done quite a few boards and taken different angles at the creative process to try and get the result, but each time is different and all have varying results. It’s just a new process. We’re also just getting to know each other so it’s pretty early days.”

More angles than a six pointed star, but ask passing Nautilus to run his tentacular sheath over these bad boys and he'll be all "Damn this feels mean, golden mean!" Photo by Taras

More angles than a six pointed star, but ask passing Nautilus to run his tentacular sheath over these bad boys and he'll be all "Damn this feels mean, golden mean!" Photo by Taras

Tags: surfing , world , magazine , jj , jenkins , dan , thompson , kelly , slater , seeking , divinity (create Alert from these tags)

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