Nick Carroll: Don Brink and the World of Asymmetric Design

23 Mar 2019 6 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

Photo: YouTube

Photo: YouTube

COASTALWATCH | NICK CARROLL

"I look at them as beautiful"

You won’t have to wander around in the Shaper Shack area of the Vissla Sydney Surf Pro for too long before you’ll bump into Donald Brink.

Actually, what am I saying? You won’t bump into Donald Brink. Don is far too polite to bump into anyone.

He’s a slightly built, serious, intelligent and very precise surfer and boardmaker, originally from South Africa but now a resident in California, who in the past few years has helped drive a quietly remarkable trend in board design.

Asymmetrics – boards made to ride differently off either rail – have really taken off among some US west coast surfers. Not pro-level crew, generally, but competent surfers who are finding new life in their performances, on craft that look like they’re kind of a risk for the customer.

Don is here as part of the Vissla Creators and Innovators program, assisting with the event’s five day on-beach shaper-fest (and glass-off – shaped bards are being laminated next door in a small bay with epoxy bio-resins). I went wandering after him because I wanted to know a couple of things about this trend. First: how did he get started down this most complex design road? What’s the advantage? And second: if it’s getting to be a deal for Californians, why haven’t Australians gone there yet?

According to Don, the answer to number one is kinda geographic. When he moved to California, two things confronted him: the amazing availability of history in the shape of classic older boards, and the surf. One was a thrill: “It was like walking into a museum, and they were handing me boards to ride.” The other was a little harder. Waves in southern California are fun and consistent, but softer and mushier than South African surf. “The variety was what I missed,” he said. “I found riding those wide-tailed fishes was really refreshing, but they limited your ability in beachbreak surf.”

What that did was cause him to think about curves. “Now I understood the straighter and longer the curve, the faster it’ll go and the harder it’ll be to turn. Once you understand that, I can help you go faster, but how do I also help you turn? I can (add curve and) make you turn really well, but then I can never give you enough drive. Once you break those ideas down and see them as the bookends of design, well how about I make a couple of adjustments?”

Don’s asymmetrics are designed around stance, not around wave direction. They’re made for natural-foot or goofy-foot, not rights or lefts, trying to balance the design against the human body’s own asymmetry. He sees the toe rail as the drive rail, and the heel rail as the difficult one, the side needing a little extra help in releasing turns. The heel is a blunt instrument; pressuring the heel rail on and off to modify a turn escapes many an otherwise OK surfer.

“Most of the changes I make are to improve the backhand bottom turn, to stop it sticking, and allow you to go straight to the backhand high line,” he told me. “People want to not blow waves … If you build to make boards more forgiving of mistakes in one place but that don’t get in the way in others, that’s going to help anyone’s surfing.

It’s super tricky stuff because, as Don says, while the board’s rail lines and rockers are different on either side, the board still has to work as one. “People have said to me, well we’re only ever on one rail at a time, but the board still has to move from that rail to the other rail. No part is really separate from the whole. You still have to look at the whole board and bring the elements together.”

Don is very aware of the risk in producing something unusual in the surfboard market. “If you can’t please someone within two surfs, you’ve probably built a dog,” he says bluntly. “That’s a challenge to every surfboard brand.”

Yet Californian surfers have really embraced this surprising note of forgiveness, and Don is far from the only practitioner of modern asymmetry on those shores. Ryan Burch, and San Clemente’s Album label, spring to mind. There’s been plenty of asymmetric boards in Australia’s design past, so I ask him: why haven’t modern Aussies gone there yet?

Don is hesitant to sum up a surf culture he’s only briefly swum in but wonders if it’s just a matter of time. A designer has to work on the tricky nature of asymmetry for years, which doesn’t fit a big boardmaker’s program, and in any case, when it comes to general stoke and thus board sales, Australian surfing is thriving. “Why add cans of worms to a busy industry? But I honestly think everyone is going to have a crack at it over time and that excites me.”

At the same time, Don doesn’t come across as a proselytiser for his ideas. He feels he’s on to something but doesn’t feel that makes everyone else wrong. One reason for that, he says, is any board might find the right home with someone – who is anyone else to judge?

Another is that he just loves surfboards, full stop. “I look at them as beautiful. I don’t care if it’s symmetrical. I’m always trying to learn how to make boards better. If we advocate for design and good surfboards that work well and last, that’s a more important task.”

LISTEN: Nick Carroll on the Surf Splendour Podcast with Don Brink

Tags: (create Alert from these tags)

blog comments powered by Disqus
More From Nick Carroll
Nick Carroll: Oh My God, I Forgot About Point Break

Nick Carroll: Oh My God, I Forgot About Point Break

How many 50 year storms have there been?

1 25 Apr 2019
Nick Carroll: Kanga's Massive Life

Nick Carroll: Kanga's Massive Life

Volume Two Of Ian Cairns’s bio has been released, but does anyone know what it means?

9 14 Apr 2019
Recent

How a Teenager Took the Best Surf Photo in Years

A must watch film about surf photography in the modern era.

24 Apr 2019
BL's Blasting Off In Bali

BL's Blasting Off In Bali

15 Apr 2019
Win VIP Passes to The Margaret River Pro

Win VIP Passes to The Margaret River Pro

5 8 Apr 2019
Holy Crap: Kelly Slater Just Got Knocked out of the Quiky Pro In Straight Sets

Holy Crap: Kelly Slater Just Got Knocked out of the Quiky Pro In Straight Sets

4 Apr 2019
The Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast Gets Going – Highlights from D-Bah

The Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast Gets Going – Highlights from D-Bah

4 Apr 2019
Latest News

How a Teenager Took the Best Surf Photo in Years

A must watch film about surf photography in the modern era.

BL's Blasting Off In Bali

The Barton Lynch Blast Off event is an incredible grom event like no other.

Win VIP Passes to The Margaret River Pro

Joe Blow at the Pro is back!

Popular This Week

4WD Gets Caught On The High Tide

When you're stuck at Double Island Point on the high tide

Mitch Parko's Miracle Snapper Pit

Local knowledge is a must just to navigate the backwash on a day like this. Mitty Parko has it on lock.

From The Archives: David 'Baddy' Treloar And The Boys

Sharing his local with mates Dan Ross, Brendan Margieson and Austin Langridge in the year 2000

Crescent Head Local Dan Johnson Can Ride A Log!

Beautiful lines and fancy footwork

We're Back at Bells! the Ain't That Swell Live Shows Are Surfing's Hottest Ticket, and Is 2019 Kolohe's Year?

Ten Things From Surfing & The Internet On The Week That Was April 19, 2019

Go to Top