|Slater in 2009.|
(A brief Q&A I just found in the bowels of my hard drive.)
Michael Kew: Is it true that you challenged Slater to ride his self-shaped boards exclusively for the entire 2009 WCT?
Al Merrick: Yep.
What’s that all about?
Well, he and I had been in the shaping room working and he had been shaping some of his own boards, or finishing them, and they looked good, and I said, “I think it would be pretty cool if you were able to win the tour on boards that you had finished.”
Winning both last year, do you think his getting 17ths in the first two events this year had anything to do with him riding his self-shaped boards?
I don’t know. I mean, his equipment is pretty different as far as the reconfiguration of volume. He’s surfing a lot shorter boards. Surfers are really slow to accept new things, I’ve found. And so, you know, it’s a subjective system and maybe judges look at it and want to see certain things. There could be a possibility. I really don’t know what the other possibilities are, that he’s not getting the waves he needs to get…I really don’t know. His equipment is a lot different from last year at this time, but look at what he won the Pipe contest on. That was a 5’11”, had the reconfiguration of volume of a 7’0”, and with it Kelly did some pretty astounding tube-riding.
How different are his boards from a year ago?
He’s really interested in a project that we’ve both been interested in for a long time, which is reconfiguring volume, shortening up the surface area of the board, so he’s really into doing that with his shorter boards. He just did a couple of boards yesterday on the computer that were different, different ideas in them. So it crosses over, actually, back and forth, but he definitely has his own ideas, things that he’s thinking of. He’s been around it for so long now, and he’s able to use some of the tools and stuff that really opens up his creativity, I think.
How long has he been tinkering with shaping?
He got really interested in it a year-and-a-half, maybe two years ago. I’d been making Pods and Biscuits and stuff like that. And he took one to Australia with him and he really was impressed with the way it surfed, and so he kind of got the bug then to start thinking of reconfiguring the volumes of his equipment. And now that he’s shaping, of course, it makes it a lot more interesting for him, so he can go in there and express his creativity in the shaping room.
How much is he actually shaping? Is he mowing foam or is he just plugging numbers into the computer?
He’s not really mowing foam, per se, with a planer too much. Well, you know, I guess he’s doing a little bit, maybe on the decks and stuff, but he’s mainly shaping stuff off of the computer, reconfiguring it, and then also going up with the programmer and sitting down and using it, because I have a library of 70 designs and you can pull out and mix and match rockers and concaves and outlines and you can pull anything out of that inventory and mix them together and make something new. So that’s how that works.
What about fins?
He’s playing around with quads a lot.
What are his ideas?
Well, just normal ideas in surfboard design—different ideas with rocker and concave combinations, or rocker and vee combinations, or reconfiguring volumes differently. We can do some neat things on the computer. We can do volume comparisons of different shapes. That’s kind of handy when you make a 5’3” that it can float like a 6’3”. Reconfiguring the outlines, the volumes, and the thicknesses to retain more of the volume in the board. You can go a whole lot shorter and have a whole lot less surfboard water surface; the only problem is paddling into waves, you know. I mean, look what we do with tow boards. Most tow boards are around 5’6” or 5’4” and guys are surfing 30-40’ waves with them, but they have a machine to pull them in. We don’t need the volume that we always thought we did. A lot of it is just being able to get into the waves, so reconfiguring the volume, you can still have the same amount of volume if you can have the board be 5’10” and it floats like a seven-footer because you have less rail to change directions with. You can make tighter arcs and go different places on the face.
Could this be the start of a new sort of trend?
Well, that’s kind of always been my vision. I don’t know. I think that’s the way surfing’s going to go. I think that there’s a whole lot more that can be done on a wave. Just sit on the beach at Pipeline and look at the rights—look at the portion of the wave that’s not being surfed. You go, “Gosh, you know, equipment is really holding us back.” So I think something needs to occur.
Maybe it’s a sort of return to the surfer-shaper concept on tour. Might Slater one day ride his boards exclusively for good?
I have no idea (laughs). I don’t know what direction that’ll go. He’s just having fun and working with new ideas. Surfboard shaping is going to really take a different direction; a lot more work is going to be done off computer programs and actual designing on computers—that’s what we do. Kelly can go in there, or I go up there with him, and we can design a board, we can get it down and be cut, five minutes later it can be finished, and it can be in our glassing room, and he can be surfing it the next morning. It’s a whole other direction, the way things are going now.