Some Background on the Design Process of the Barra model by Portal

Some Background on the Design Process of the Barra model by Portal

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 – My Thoughts on the Popdart and Video

Summer Glide – My Thoughts on the Popdart and Video

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.


Hobie and L-41 – Stability on 83L boards at 85kg

Hobie and L-41 – Stability on 83L boards at 85kg

Hey there folks!  It’s good to be back.  We’re back at home in Nosara, the movie is finally out and the new site is finished.  So, that’s a lot off my plate and the focus can be put back where it should be, understanding paddle surfing.

Before I dive in to meat of today, I’m sure a lot of you are wondering about the switch from paddlewoo to progression project.  I’m going to be putting out a complete statement at some point, but the gist is that I came up with paddlewoo before I knew where all this was headed.  I just wanted a generic term that encompassed paddling, and that it was.  But through the evolution of this past 2 years of paddle surfing focus I’ve realized that these seemingly disparate endeavors, the podcast, journals, video contests, coaching, retreats and movies, all do have a singular focus.  Progressing the sport and athletes in paddle surfing.

Progression Project aligns 100% with the mission and future of what we’re doing.


Ok…  Let’s get back to talking paddle surfing!!!

I brought some some new boards from Cali.  The L-41 and a Hobie.  Both are 83L and that’s all they have in common.  The L-41 is a 6.10 x 26.5 and the Hobie is a 7.7 x 24.  Volume in both boards is pack in the middle and both board have thin rails, but the L-41 uses a step-rail and the Hobie has a domed deck.  The Hobie has the smallest tail I’ve had on a paddle board, almost a shortboard tail, while the L-41 is the widest.  Hobie is a thruster, L-41 a quad.  If you want to equate the boards to popular shortboards the L-41 with be a Rob Machado quad fish, like the fishcuit and the Hobie would be an early 2000’s Channel Islands Kelly Slater model.  Apples and Oranges.

Today I’ll break down my thoughts on stability as it relates to the shape.  This is an accurate comparison as both boards have equal volume.

First, on either board, at my current weight of 188lbs. or 85.5kg, I’m well under water while not paddling.  I sink both boards to my knees if the board is horizontal.  If I keep the nose up, which I’ve found is much easier and we’ll explore that later, I sink my back leg to the thigh.

I came into this experiment with some preconceived notions.  One was that the L-41 would be much more stable given the 2.5 inch width difference; and wider tail.  And, yes, it is more stable in clean conditions, but the advantage is quickly overridden by chop.  The low rocker profile and short length (6.10) make front/back balance as challenging as side-to-side.  The margin for error front/back is minute.  Too far back and I lose speed and sink back into a hole and too much weight up front and the nose buries and I’m squatting, waist underwater, waiting for the recoil to give me enough momentum to pop back up.  This compounds in chop where with forward velocity and chop over the nose, the board gets buried.  I’ve paddled the L-41 now in choppy conditions about five times, and I’m getting the hang of front/back balance.  Here’s what I’ve discovered:

  • Surf stance is a must and as conditions deteriorate, wider is easier.
  • As stroke hinges forward more weight needs to be on back foot than other boards.
  • Weak side wave entry difficulty is a 10/10.  Any little chop, combined with wave push usually results in a fall, catching toe rail (also tough on the hobie, but for different reasons, rails up front are like a shortboard, so margin for error is extremely small)

This said, I didn’t buy the L-41 to surf in choppy conditions.  I envision her being perfect in waist to chest high, light offshore surf – the same days that I’d favor a quad or twinnie retro fish.  And on those days she’ll be stable as can be.


The Hobie is a whole different feel.  At 7.7 wide and with lots of rocker, front/back balance isn’t much of an issue, in fact, once up and paddling she feels stable.  The difference between the two boards is that even when paddling the Hobie at a good clip, my feet are still under water.  And when you stop paddling the sink rate is much faster.  I find that in choppy conditions I can relax more on the Hobie than the L-41, here again because of length.

I’m sure a 7.4 popdart at 83L wouldn’t have the same issue.  I’m only discussing the length of what I wanted shaped.  I’d also say that for 120% V/W ratios and up, the L-41 would be a much more stable shape.

Of my whole quiver, the Hobie has the least amount of float.  The F-One, 7.5 is 82L and the Starboard 7.4 is 78L.  But both feel to have more float than the hobie.  My guess is that’s where you feel the width.

Paddling the Hobie is surf stance to pop up, but then I can go into my normal chambered back foot right behind front foot stance.  There’s no real tricks, just more focus needed.  As in paddling any small board, it’s all in the transitions, which I’ll be writing about a lot more in near future.

Good to be back folks!  Enjoy your day!

Back in Paradise! – First Reactions to the Hobie

Back in Paradise! – First Reactions to the Hobie

What up folks!  Thanks for hanging in there while I was on walkabout for the last 7 weeks.  We had a blast showing the Progression Project film around the country and hanging with friends and family.  A huge thanks to everyone that hosted events, came out to see the project, lent me surfboards in strange places and shared food and drinks with the family.  It was an amazing experience for our whole clan.

That said.  Damn! it feels good to be home!!!  After touring half the US, and there are some beautiful places, I am 100% stoked on living here in Nosara.  There are some waves I loved, great people, cool towns, and warm water, but there’s nowhere that puts it all together.  So, you’ve got a stoked E writing today.

It’s gonna be a short one, as I’m working to prepare the release of the Progression Project.  I’m coordinating with some sites/mags and we’re shooting for Monday!  But I did take some time to surf the last 2 days.

Here’s some progression notes –

The new Hobie 7.7 x 24 is magic.  It’s as close to the board I’ve been dreaming about as I may ever get.  Going narrow and pushing volume to the center was 100% what I expected.  You don’t notice the volume but you fully feel the thin rails and thin width.  And with the center width at 24 we were able to get a small tail without too much pull on the rail.  (Think the 7.4 JP, where you have a small tail but it’s 27 wide so the template pulls in too far and the board is too loose, there’s a disconnect between center rail and tail)  The board feel amazing and with the hard rails and smaller tail I think I’ll actually be able to surf it better with smaller fins.  I’ve been using the Colin McPhillips set, which are my favorites for most SUPs, but on my next session I might try some AM2s or the like.

I’m also giving this first reaction to the Hobie 12 pounds heavier than what I had her shaped for…. Yep, I put on a whopping 12 pounds in the states over 2 months.  The combination of awesome food, awesome beer and not too much surfing did me in, and I enjoyed all of it!   That was a sidebar, but the fact that I’m paddling the 83L  at 86Kg says a few things.

  • That the techniques I drilled on for the last few months really did work, and anyone can learn them.
  • That surface area is more important than I thought for riding smaller volume boards.  I’m sure that the 7.7 factors in heavily to my ability to paddle a -3L board.

My hypothesis going in to having the L41 and Hobie shaped was that all volume isn’t equal.  That depending on where you place volume it will have different effects on surfing performance and that what really matters are the outline and rails.  You can pack volume into the center of a board with little consequence to feel.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be breaking down pros/cons of these 2 very different boards.  The idea was same volume, distributed very differently.  7.7 x 24 at 83L  vs. 6.10 x 26.5 at 85L.  It’s gonna be a fun project!

Progression Project feedback

Progression Project feedback

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.