Plus One Asymetrics– back to the future!
Way back when surfing was in its first growth phase in California in the 1960s – when Lower Trestles was a (somewhat) well kept secret and surfing it came with the threat of arrest by military police – a guy called Carl Ekstrom from San Diego began thinking about how we surf differently on our backside as opposed to our frontside – and more particularly about how he could get the most out of his time in the water at his local break Windansea. The time of free love and peace also spawned a lot of free thinking – something the present day surf industry could do with a healthy dose of – and Carl Ekstrom was in amongst it. His original premise was based on the way we load up differently between our heel-side and toe-side when we go into and out of turns. Ekstrom’s solution was to create a board which counteracted the flat rocker lines of the time by shortening the heel side rail and also making that rail more curvy than the toe side rail which was much straighter allowing for a very drivey board on your frontside. Ekstrom himself had an enviable pedigree, working with Bob Simmons in his younger days. Since Ekstrom patented his design in 1965 – and perhaps because of the patent itself – the idea of an asymmetric surfboard which could work equally well both frontside and backside has dwelled on the sidelines of surfboard design, shifting into almost total obscurity.
Ekstrom’s idea of an asymmetrical surfboard is probably not the one that most of us think of when and if we do think of asymmetric surfboard design. Many of us would be most familiar with the idea of an asymmetric surfboard designed to go only left or only right which was an idea that really took off in the world of windsurfing – a board built for a particular spot and allowing the rider to surf as critically and radically at that spot as possible. Recently, the legendary Victorian shaper Maurice Cole has adopted this idea, making a number of boards for Bells and Winki and doing a pretty good job of ripping those two waves apart on those asymmetrics.
Check some of our stock of Maurice Cole Asymms HERE
Strangely enough, MC played a pretty big role in getting the Plus One asymmetrics into Zak Surfboards. On Zak’s first trip to the states with MC, he was introduced to George Gall and Joe Virgilio who were making boards for Maurice in the US at the time. Zak was pretty amazed at the asymmetrics these guys were shaping for a bunch of the local custom order crew around San Diego. As it turns out, George and Joe along with a number of other San Diego shapers had been working closely with Carl Ekstrom and further refining that original idea that he had started with way back in the 60s.
Fast forward a year or so, and Zak and I are back in the States – Zak recovering from a decent bout of food poisoning courtesy of a disturbingly average chicken enchilada and both of us suffering from a lack of sleep. We got the chance to go and see the boys at Plus One again with another San Diego surfing legend, Jeff Baldwin. Zak wanted to show me the asymmetrics they were doing and how sick they really were. I’ll admit to being more than a little skeptical before walking into the Plus One factory as the last asymmetrical board I’d seen had been a windsurfer one of mates had back in Western Australia in the 1990s which brought with it all sorts of horrible memories! The first thing we noticed when we entered the Plus One factory, aside from being pretty damn busy, was a 5’6/5’8 custom asymmetric that was awaiting pick up. I flipped out – it looked sick and felt amazing under the arm. It was immediately noticeable that a heap of thought had gone into these boards and there was a lot going on not only in terms of the board’s outline but also in relation to its rocker line, bottom contours, rail shape and fin placement. Zak and I really wanted to listen to the boys from Plus One give us a run down on how they worked.
Carl Ekstrom, in a recent interview with Surf Science stated that “What really got me back [into shaping asymmetric boards] into it is the fish.” By contrast, the Plus One asymmetrics tip their hat much more towards modern high performance short boards and listening to George (one part of Plus One and once a mechanical engineer with NASA) explain the idea behind the boards, I got the feeling that the whole idea might actually find its fullest expression in a high performance shape. George and Joe have retained the basic premise that Carl Ekstrom began with – that we essentially load up through turns differently backside and frontside or heel side and toe-side respectively. However, from that basic premise they have taken the idea in a different direction, designed to suit the way individual surfers actually surf. For example, contrary to Ekstrom’s original idea that a board shaped for a natural footer would be hated by a goofy footer and vice versa, the guys at Plus One have actually been finding that in a lot of instances this isn’t necessarily the case: some people prefer the longer rail line on their heel side and that super tight snappy bottom turn on their toe-side. From there, the rail shapes and rocker lines of the boards are shaped according to which side the shorter rail line is on. The vee through the middle of the board is shaped slightly to the side of the stringer, closer to the longer rail line and the centre fin is also shifted towards the longer rail line side of the board. The offset centre fin also reduces drag (yes, this has been scientifically tested in tanks) when paddling.
All this produces a board that goes rail to rail very smoothly despite one rail line being around two inches shorter than the other (you will notice on our online store that the Plus One boards have two length dimensions – one for each rail line, for example: 5’10/5’8). Factor in slightly different rail shapes and rocker lines either side of the board and you have something that can work in such a massive variety of conditions that you may never surf your other boards ever again.
On top of this, George and Joe have shaved a good 6-8 inches off the nose of their boards arguing – not unlike Al Merrick years ago – that a pointed nose on a surfboard is not a necessity, resulting in a squared off nose. The overall aesthetic, at least from a distance, probably jars with most of us who are familiar with smooth outlines, symmetrical curves and classical shapes. Get past that initial reaction – which many in the surf industry are probably not capable of – take a closer look and you’ll begin to appreciate how precise the Plus One workmanship is; pick them up and I reckon you might have the same reaction as Zak and I and want to ride one. Zak bought one off George that day in San Diego. It was one of George’s own boards that he had made in EPS/epoxy and is now available for demo in store. We also ordered a bunch for the shop and a custom for myself (which, by the way is mental – thanks George and Joe!)
Do yourself a favour and come have a peak into what at least one version of the future of surfboard design might look like and ask me for a demo of mine or Zak’s. Alternatively check out our range of PlusOne ONLINE
Here is some footage of Asymmetrics in action – San Diego pro Ryan Burch shredding on some Asymmetric crafts he made himself