You guys are picking up in act 3 of the design process. I didn’t want to share until this last trip to Costa Rica and testing the 5th and 6th prototypes for what I’m calling the Barra. The brand name is Portal, the board model is The Barra.
In the video I’m riding a 7.4 x 25.5 at 84L and a 7.9 x 28.5 at 107L (deckpad and slow mo). Damo is riding a 6.1 x 22 at 39L (which I’m riding as my shortboard, actually making a 5.8 right now for our next trip!)
The idea behind the Barra, and my impetus to design it, has it’s foundation in my ideal of standup surfing. I see standup, and I’ve talked about this countless times in the journal here and on the podcast, as the perfect blend of stylish longboard/midlength surfing and radical progression of shortboard surfing. Done correctly it is the most complete, highest form of surfing, although I doubt many surfers would share that viewpoint, at least at this time.
If we break down the components, the dichotomy of what makes paddle surfing beautiful, you come up with a unique set of parameters that makes design a challenge.
The essence of long rail surfing, longboards/midlengths, is an ease of speed. Using the wave to generate speed through positioning and enjoying the ride. In shortboard surfing the surfer enforces his will on the wave, riding in the most critical sections, with the most radical lines. The two endeavors require different crafts in paddle-less surfing as the combination of rocker, rail, template and volume for either goal is mutually exclusive from the other – some boards do come close, retro twin fins, hypto krypto…
Generally speaking in surfing (without a paddle), a board that has glide will have a length, weight and volume that won’t perform well in the pocket, and a board that can fit in the pocket and surf radically won’t have amazing glide.
Ideally you would have a board that didn’t compromise.
What changes this equation is the paddle. The paddle allows you to enforce your will on a much larger board than you’d ever be able to turn without a paddle. It’s having the ability to immediately, for an instant, double, or even triple your weight. So, your board, which at an incredibly large volume for your weight if you’re thinking in shortboard terms, momentarily becomes a shortboard when looking at forces.
The addition of the paddle allows you to surf a board with a large volume both optimized for glide, while not using the paddle, and optimized for radical maneuvers, while using the paddle.
The design challenge was to create a board that is optimized for both glide/trim at normal, non-leveraged, bodyweight and radical surfing while leveraging the paddle. While, seeing as it is a standup board, and you need to be able to paddle it, meeting the volume requirement, which I tried to separate from surfing.
At this point I won’t dive into all the details and how we arrived at the Barra model, or give away the secret sauce, but I will say that what you’re seeing now is the result of 5 months of work, over 60 designs, input from 2 acclaimed shapers (one in the standup world, one from surfing), and lots of prototypes and testing.
I tried to add up all the influences that have have gone into the Barra and landed somewhere around 50… There are a lot of good boards out there and this was not designed in a vacuum.
Some examples of influences and the process –
Mid rocker theme is based on feelings from a 6.10 Howard Special, a 6.10 Rawson, the feeling of the Hypto Krypto in good surf, the L41 Popdart in small surf, the Lost Rocket v.1 and the way Torren Martyn has been surfing on his twinnies… I also looked at 4 boards that I hate for how they carry speed (which I won’t name) and compared those to what I loved. I studied the combinations that seemed to work and extrapolated from shortboard to standup lengths/volumes and made educated guesses on what might be ideal. From there the elements and combinations were drawn out to test – rocker, rail, bottom design.
The first rocker designs were spot on for glide but lacked performance, or more precisely lacked rail surfing performance. The middle third of the board was great but I missed the balance between where mid and tail rocker needed to transition and how much was necessary. This was a 2 week dive that I might write about, but the gist is that I wanted a board that can drive/glide from the front foot and tap into incredible turning off the back foot, without moving foot position. There were some long conversations with a one of my consultant shapers and through reframing the question we arrived at a more correct solution. This changed entry rocker, mid and tail rocker to get both the desired feeling and performance. I don’t think we’ll refine much from this point on this model.
The step deck was a natural evolution because as rail thickness increases my like of trim/highlining and front foot drive (pivotal in that glide feeling we were trying to get and response off the bottom) decreases. In all the board mapping I did, there was a definite correlation between thin rails and a effortless trim which equals free speed. Thin rails doesn’t equal trim, but trim does equal thin rails (at least in standup terms). So, thin rails were a must, and the question became how to get them.
I’ve owned both highly domed deck (Banzaii, Hobie) and step deck boards (early Stretch quads and the Popdart). The first models of the Barra were domed. Paddling stability suffered because of how much volume we were packing in the center and the steep angle of the dome. To hit the mark on rails, volume and length the boards are thick in the center but from my testing you don’t feel at all. Not all volume is created equal. I wasn’t sure if stability issues were because of thin rails (low volume on the rails) or the angle of the dome itself. I found in further prototypes that it was some of both, but that with a step/flat deck it offset some of the balance and with the thin rails you could actually opt for more volume, better stability and paddling speed, and still surf better. (after the last round of testing I’m increasing volume 8L on my standard board to 92L)
The Barra isn’t quite ready yet, but we’re close! I have four new Barra prototypes, each with slight variations for testing, waiting for me to finish at the factory tomorrow.
I’ll post some photos in the next few days of how the shapes are looking!
Summer Glide – Costa Rica on a Popdart from The Progression Project on Vimeo.
I’ve been sitting on writing the full review of the Popdart from L-41 for a bit now. I didn’t want to write it until I felt that I understood the board, and have always felt that the board had so much more potential than I was getting out of it. It did, and after the breakthroughs I have had on the L-41 and in my paddle surfing in the last week, I’m stoked to give you my thoughts.
To understand the process, we’ve got to jump back a few months. When I bought the board I was envisioning a shortboard feel. Thinking about the 2017 contest season, focused on “performance.” My hope with the short size, it’s a 6.10 x 26.5, and the stepped rails, was that I’d be able to drive it hard through turns, and fit in smaller spaces. And while using the framework of surfing like I would on my small Hobie or the 7.4 Starboard Pro, the L-41 was faster, but lacked the drive to draw the tight lines that either of the other boards could draw. I got out of the water frustrated on a few occasions, and then put the board away.
That was late November and the next few weeks I was running retreats and coaching, which means I’m not focused on personal surfing. The sessions I did have on all boards felt flat, and I knew that my surfing was stagnant. Stuck in old lines and mental frameworks. This is about the time that Fisher Grant, who was here for 3 weeks in December (and coming back on Thursday for a few weeks of helping with the retreats) said I should hop on single fins for a bit. I bought Donna, the 6.9 Takayama, and for the next 22 days, only surfed that board. For the first few sessions I was stuck in the framework of shortboard surfing. It didn’t work.
Extrapolating on that point, my paddle surfing model has always been shortboard surfing. I come from a shortboard background and I’ve modeled the best in our sport, but their styles are largely shortboard inspired. (Not Colin, Kalama, Fisher and a few others).
When I dive into a new skill, my approach is to start with consumption. I’ll watch every relevant video, try to talk to anyone who is farther ahead on the learning curve and use that knowledge to prioritize my focus. In this case, on the single fin, with the goal of learning to draw more true lines, I went back a few decades. Gerry Lopez, Buttons, even old longboard videos. Modern inspirations were Colin McPhillips, Fisher Grant, Alex Knost and Devon Howard.
My goal is to add a new framework through which to see waves.
I’m not a martial artist, but there are so many similarities that martial arts provides a good analogy. If you had trained in Muay Thai for decades, you’d interpret a fight in a Muay Thai framework. If you decided to learn boxing, at the beginning you’d see boxing through Muay Thai, relating techniques and principles. Then at some point you’d see boxing from a boxing framework. The beauty happens when you transition back to Muay Thai and can analyze it with the boxing framework. Now you have a new framework in which to interpret your true passion.
I want to learn the single fin framework and bring it back to paddle surfing. And for 22 days I went about as deep as it’s possible in that short window. I averaged about 5 hours in the water per day and studied video another 2-4. I’m at my happiest in the middle of a binge learning session, and it was a great few weeks. (It’s not over, but has to taper a bit as we’re running retreats and I’m coaching for the next few weeks.)
And this all comes back to the Popdart as the board provides an amazing platform for the lines I’ve been trying to learn on the single fin.
So, my review on the Popdart is that it’s an incredible surfboard. I’ve already written about how solid the build is, top level, but I’ve waited to talk about the ride. Once you learn the board, and stop imposing the shortboard framework, it’s one of the best paddle boards I’ve ridden. The glide and carry in flat sections is unmatched. The board smooths out choppy paddle surfing.
The Progression Project East Coast tour has given me a glimpse of the real folks who paddle surf. It’s been hugely beneficial to see where you are in the progression curve and hear what you love about the sport.
I’m stoked that a resounding theme has been embracing the race to the bottom and flattered that many paddle surfers have said the show and journal have inspired you to push your limits.
I’m looking forward to Charleston on Saturday night and Atlanta on the 21st. Then… I got to get some surf!
Board update – It’s torture to be getting these photos in Thomson, GA.
Yeah… I’m frothing to surf this baby!
Kirk recommended 2×6 glassing on the deck, 1×6 on the bottom and carbon rails. I don’t mind pressure dings on the deck, actually kind of like a bit, lets you know where you are, so no carbon or weave on the deck.
The show last night in St. Aug was great. Stoked to meet the local paddle surf crew. Some passionate folks. Tonight we’re in Jacksonville at Black Creek Outfitters, then this weekend at Mex 1 Cantina on Sullivan’s Island in Charleston after the Chucktown Showdown. Hope to see you.
Alright folks! I’ve finalized the design. First, I’d like to say a huge thanks for all the help with the decision. You all have sent me photos, videos, feedback on what you’ve done and what you wish you would have done with your boards- it’s been an incredibly fun process. I’d love to keep it going, but to have the board ready for Sept. 20th, Kirk said we’ve got to decide now.
So… Here it is!
She’s a 6.10 x 26.5 at 85L.
I chose the Popdart because I surf good waves most of the time. Everyone who chimed in said the TV Dinner was great in bad conditions, and weaker surf, and I might pick one of them up in the future, but for now, I’d like a board that I can ride the majority of my sessions.
The common thought was that either the TV Dinner or the Popdart would be stable for the size and at 85L and 26.5 wide I am well within my range. I am comfortable paddling the 25.5 starboard at 83L and even the 24 wide starboard at 78L, that one just requires more work. I like boards that are a bit of a challenge to paddle, and I don’t like being on top of the water.
Sidebar – During the process of getting this board designed, I went back and used a few older boards. If you guys follow, you know I do this from time to time to see if I notice anything about the shape. In riding the 90L JP and the 95L JP in choppy conditions, I realized how much that makes me bounce around, and I actually fell a good bit more than on my 83-85L boards (but you do make up for it in glide). This will get a full journal soon.
So, I want to be just a touch under the water while paddling. 85L is my perfect volume and my guess is that big nose will pop right out of the water.
I pulled the length back from 7.0 to 6.10 mainly because I want to test increasing thickness for volume and reducing swing weight. My hypothesis is that once you get used to paddling a thicker board it won’t be much of a difference in stability. And with the step-deck and thin rails she should still drive off the rail. If both of those thoughts hold true, then the reduced swing weight should make her come off the top and come around much faster. And she should be much easier to surf in offshore winds. I really notice, and hate, how bigger boards get pinned to the lip when we have an offshore wind. After a few months of slack winds, and having a stiff offshore yesterday, I fell 3 times because I couldn’t get the board around on routine turns or floaters. It forces you to put your surfing more on the face, which isn’t as much fun.
That’s the decision. I can’t wait to surf this beauty!