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!