Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Surfing into the Future

Surfboards are an ancient design. Nobody knows for sure when pacific islanders first started riding logs in the waves, but it was a while ago. And the recipe has been fairly consistent. Sure there have been variations in nose and tail shape, and various fin configurations, but that basic canoe-shaped slab with convex sides that the ancient Hawaiians invented has held up pretty well.

One of the things I love about surfboards is that they are still largely made by hand, one at a time, by skilled artisan builders. These designer/builders are largely guided by their eye and guesses supported by their experience on the water. So I was really excited to see Thomas Meyerhoffer's work on designboom. (Check out this article in the NYT as well.)

Here is a guy who has worked as a designer at Porsche and Apple, taking a crack at this ancient archetype. This is a classic form as function problem, approached by someone who is clearly facile in both areas. The breakthrough of his design comes from dividing the surfing experience up into two parts; tail riding and nose riding. By redefining the problem, he can see answers that nobody (that we know of) has thought of before. And people have been working on it for a while.

Clients sometimes balk when I suggest that a naive but inquisitive outsider can often see things that established experts miss. Surfing experts know what the acceptable range of surfboard shapes are. A naive outsider can create something unique, and sometimes groundbreaking, because they don't know any better.

Here's Thomas talking about the design in his own words.

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