Where did your “Vaquero” concept come from?
Well, we’d been riding stubbies and hulls since they were first invented in the mid- to -late 1960s. Prior to that, Joe Quigg and Bob Simmons built boards for themselves with the ‘hull’ principles, and George Greenough made his spoon kneeboards based on those principles, too. But nobody made them for other people. In the late ‘60s, a lot of us starting building and riding boards modeled after Greenough’s kneeboard. So fast-forward to 1997. Kirk Putnam calls me and says, “You know, we’ve made and ridden almost every board that was ridden in The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun. Except there’s that one scene where the guys are riding the stringerless square-tails, about 8’3” or 8’4” long. What about those?” It’s the segment in the film where they sneak into that air force base and they’re camping under the trees, and there’s a little sand point there. These guys were just ripping on those boards, so Kirk suggests that we try to make one. I lived in Northern California and he lived in Southern California, so we met at the Yater shop in Santa Barbara. For some reason, he had a 9’3” longboard blank, which usually had too much tail rocker and not enough nose rocker. So I said, “Well, just bring it and we’ll see what we can come up with.” We met at Yater’s, and at that point, we hadn’t really decided what the exact board would be. We talked for about 20 minutes, then drew up an 8’3” with an arc tail on it, and I cut the whole foot off the end of the blank, tried to straighten the back out and added rocker to the nose. I put a nice roll through the center, which flattened off in the tail and in the nose and had a nice round hull all the way to the center. It was a little crude-looking because it wasn’t planned and I didn’t have that particular template. We made it up right there.
You just drew it on the blank?
Yeah. Well, I pieced it together with the templates that were laying around and ones that I brought with me. I intersected them and blended them the best I could.
How did the board turn out?
Fantastic. Kirk loved it. He said, “You won’t believe how well it works.” So I borrowed it for a few months and I couldn’t believe how incredible it felt. It had a real smooth transition where when you’d lean the thing over, it rolled up onto the rail and simultaneously accelerated, and the harder you pushed on it, the harder it would accelerate out of the turn. It had this deep, carving drive sensation. The hull let the board roll up onto the rail and stay there; you’d come out of the turn, and it rolled back onto the outside rail and came off the top. But it didn’t come back down and run across the wave. It just fit into the pocket beautifully with that rounded bottom.
A bunch of other guys rode it, and they all loved it, so we said, “Okay, well, let’s make one that looks a little better, and try a shorter length.” I think we made some 7’10”s and 7’11”s, kind of cleaned up the bumps on the outline, settled on just a simple round-tail instead of the arc tail. Although none of them worked better than that first board, they looked a bit more refined.
Where is the first board now?
I don’t know. It sold used out of the Beach House, and I hear rumors and have had a couple of guys tell me that they bought the original Vaquero. I don’t know if they did or didn’t. It could’ve been one of the first two or three.
You probably wish you still had the first, eh?
I wish we did, really.
How did the logo and name for the Vaquero happen?
That’s almost as much of a mystery. Kirk is an artist—he’s a Western artist, and he loves anything that’s cowboy art. He heard somebody talking about vaqueros, which are Mexican cowboys. Kirk thought it would be cool to have “wave cowboy” as a slogan, so he asked how that would be said in Spanish. They thought was olas de vaquero, and Kirk said that that sounded cool, but not quite right. Then somebody else said that you’d say it vaquero de las olas—cowboy of the waves. So, Kirk wrote that on his board just because it was a neat slogan. Then he drew an upside-down horseshoe with wings on it, like Arlen Ness’s wings that he would put on his motorcycle tanks. It was just a really cool-looking piece of art. He drew that on his board, and he call it his ‘Vaquero’, and from then on that’s what we referred to it as. We made another few, and each time he’d draw the artwork on it, and we said, yeah, it’s Vaquero #1, #2, and #3. It just kind of caught on from there.
I remember Kim (Robinson) telling me that one rides the board like a cowboy would. Is that the Western connection?
We never tried to define it, but we’re all part of Western culture—ranching and horseback riding, which is something I’ve been involved in for many years. My family is involved in ranching and farming, in addition to the insurance business. It’s just kind of a Western deal. The Hollister Ranch is a big part of all our lives. It’s where cattle ranching meets the surf, and that defines a lot of our beach life in California. I think the parallel would be the natural lifestyle of ranchers that they enjoy—the outdoors, the mountains, the natural beauty, the horseback riding. It’s just a free, natural thing, and there are a lot of connections between that and riding a wave. There’s nothing artificial or propped or staged about it.
People who are really good horse riders are very similar to really natural surfers because they have such a sense for riding that animal. It’s an intuitive exchange of the elements that you’re a part of at any given time on a horse or a wave. It’s really amazing to see a great horseman. You really appreciate it if you’ve ridden a horse, and can realize what a powerful, dangerous animal it is. When somebody can harness that, it’s a graceful, beautiful thing to behold, and therein lies the vaquero connection.
What differentiates a hull from the average mainstream surfboard?
The simplest analogy to draw is there’s a hull and there’s a hydroplane, the two basic hydrodynamic designs. A hull you would liken to a sailboat, which has a deep, rounded curved surface that extends down into the water, and the pressure that the vessel has pressing against the water displaces water from the heavy, rounded surface of the boat’s hull as it passes through the water. It creates forward propulsion. Hydroplane is a flat or concave surface which creates lift and brings the board immediately to the surface and planes on top of the water. The obvious differences are that one board quickly gets up to speed as it comes up on top of the water, but also quickly tops out, where you lose control once you get going too fast, so you have to put all kinds of fins on them to keep them in the water. Whereas a displacement hull reaches a terminal speed after a series of driving turns, and you build speed from one turn to the next. Another analogy is driving a stick-shift sports car, when you accelerate and power-shift though the gears to gain speed.
On a hull you’re driving from one turn to the next, and the object is to connect yourself down across the wave into the pocket and bank off that angle and create additional speed. Unlike a hydroplane, you never reach a point where the board loses control. It’s always attached to the water, and you maintain control at any speed. It’s a more fluid, natural design that goes through the water more so in the way that a fish or a dolphin or a tuna would, as opposed to taking a flat stone and skipping it across the water, where it’s detached from the surface.
A hull gives you a sensation that’s not necessarily the speed itself, but there’s a sensation you feel that you can’t see on film. You watch film of a guy riding a hull and you say, “Oh, that guy’s just kind of trimming along.” Then you see a film of a guy on a thruster and he’s doing aerials and jumping all over the place, and you might say, “Wow, that looks amazing.” But the sensation of a hull isn’t something that’s visual as much as it’s personal. You feel a connection to that wave because you’re attached to the wave. You’re not skimming up on top or apart from it. You’re driving through the water and there’s a feeling of satisfaction.
If I can get just one good, driving bottom-turn out of an entire session, I consider that worth 30 top-turns on a multiple-fin board. I’m out just to look for that long, flowing ride, the connection to the wave, and that sensation you get from driving your board through the board rather than on top of it. That’s what draws a lot of people to ride hulls. It’s not what it looks like from the beach, but what it feels like as you’re riding them.
Hulls aren’t for everybody.
No, they’re not for everybody. You don’t have that instant response. They don’t ride the wave for you—you have to know where to be on the wave. Whereas a flat-bottomed multiple-fin board, you can turn them at will, and it’s always got a fin in the face of the wave. You don’t really have to be positioned properly. Beginning surfers typically prefer them because they’re easier to ride.
Who rides hulls?
Either the more experienced surfers who are looking for something different, or people who just don’t care about doing a lot of dramatic maneuvers and just want to be part of the wave. If you’re at a lower skill level and want to go out and look like you’re just destroying the place, hulls aren’t going to give you that.