Skip Frye Interview - 2005
19 ~ November 2011
Extract from All About the Speed a 6000 word Skip Frye interview first published in Ether 2005
Interview by Richard Kenvin and Andrew Kidman
In 2005, Richard and I sat down with Skip, at his shaping bay in San Diego, to talk about his surfing and shaping life, his relationship with the fish and his take on its resurgence. This interview with Skip is one in a series of interviews that Richard has collected during the making of Hydrodynamica.
Richard: I’d kind of like to get your take on Simmons and Greenough and McTavish, and the ‘baby board’ and all that.
Skip: I’d just say that, back in the longboard days, things were pretty basic - mostly just rails. Rails would fatten up and thin out. In fact, right at the end of the longboard era, rails got really knifey. They were tryna get release; they almost pointed them to an edge, so they’d go faster.
Greenough was definitely the guy that stimulated the change. That was just him, going to Australia and the Australians seeing what he was doing on his shell. He was a pretty hi-tech guy, and he was the first guy to cut fins down. I would read the Australian magazines and I got pretty stimulated by what I read, but mainly fins. In fact, I was one of the first guys around here to cut some area out of the fin, to get it to flex a little bit. Which really helped the board a lot. The first flex fins were really raked a lot; they could have been more pivotal but, still, it helped the board out so much, compared to the big rudders we were using.
Stevie Lis was probably motivated by Greenough. He was a kneeboarder; he was the best kneeboarder round here, by far. I didn’t see many, but I saw Stevie a lot. And Rex Huffman, Skinner… there was a number of other guys that were really good. But Stevie… All I know was: the fastest that I ever saw anybody go, probably to this day right now, was him riding a kneeboard. He’d chop off a turn and do a hyperspace across a wall, way faster than anybody else.
So, with the fish, I’ve always been attracted to things with speed. The fish looked fast, or went fast, so I was definitely attracted to that. So, I kind of just learned from Stevie and pretty much adopted, closely, what he was doing with the fish. I made a fish pretty much like he did and I had a quiver of them - about four or five fish at one point - and they really went good.
Later on, the fish kind of disappeared and it was really Derek Hynd… If I had to point to one guy who was responsible for the stimulus and the resurrection of the fish, it would be Derek Hynd. He had a twin fin background and he liked real short boards. The locals at Jeffreys told him about when Bunker Spreckles came through and rode the fish. I guess Bunker impressed them pretty much and it stimulated Derek’s interest. I knew Derek before that point, and he knew that I did do a little work with the fish, so he approached me and had me build one for him. I think the first one was 5’10” and pretty standard; it was 9 x 5’s on the keels, like the old ones.
He took it back to Jeffreys and Tommy Curren rode it. It got in the movies and Derek definitely talked it up, so that is the beginning of what we see now. Ten or twelve years later, it’s probably the most prolific shape being made on the planet.
Andrew: How was Lis in the shaping bay?
Skip: He was the man. He was the Godfather of the thing. He still hasn’t gotten enough credit for it. He was the original man. I know there was a little controversy: that Nuuhiwa and Brewer might have made the first fish. And there was a thing where the locals hung Nuuhiwa’s fish on the OB pier, in the ‘68 world contest, because of that controversy. All I know is: that Stevie Lis was the first guy I ever saw on a fish, and he went faster than I ever saw anybody go. That’s all I know. I never saw anybody else in that realm. He’s it; everything I know came from what he did. Stevie Lis needs more recognition for what he’s done - in that respect, especially. He’s still designing different stuff.
Richard: What do you remember about McTavish and those guys, coming over here, and the experience of riding the ‘baby board’?
Skip: Well, the ‘baby board’ was when McTavish and George came down one day. It’s actually the only time I’ve ever sat with George and talked with him a little bit. The ‘baby board’ was a balsa board - single fin, at that time; it might have been a twin fin at one time but they didn’t talk about it. I think it was a 7’6” and I rode it at the South Jetty, at Ocean Beach. The surf wasn’t real good, but it felt pretty good. It rode good.
Richard: What year was that?
Skip: Early seventies, probably - it was definitely after the shortboard revolution. In fact, I got a letter, right before we went down to Australia with the Windansea club, in late ‘67. The Australians were already going off on the shortboard thing. They were doing vee bottoms and everything, and McTavish sent me a letter, with diagrams and fly-paper. The letter got lost, but it was probably the most electric letter I’ve ever gotten, from any surfer since I’ve been surfing, on design and development.
If you’ve ever met McTavish, he’s just such an electric guy. You can’t help but be around him and not start going off yourself. He’s got this charisma and this electricity, and he’s always stimulated. He’s like this little gremlin, or something, and he just starts going. Even in his letter, I could see it. And then, when I met him, it was totally that way.
Richard: When did you first meet?
Skip: When I first went down to Australia. He had these space age boards… I remember, I went to Keyo’s and he had this one with all kinds of channels and concaves. At that time, it was so space age. There was a lot of boards kinda like that, but this board was the most radical board I’d ever seen.
She Was a Girl, The Windy Hills
15 ~ November 2011
Extract from a Conversation with Alan Byrne about Channel Pioneer Jim Pollard
07 ~ November 2011
Last year I took a trip up to Currumbin to visit Alan Byrne and talk to him about the influence Jim Pollard had on his life. Alan still shapes out of the old Hot Stuff factory - with the original sign. Alan made some of the great Hot Stuff boards in the late 70’s and early 80’s for the likes of Rabbit, Chappy and Kong. Most of Alan’s work from this period featured the Clinker Channel. When I walked in off the street Alan was taking a break, reading the paper and listening to the radio. There was a hand painted sign up on the back wall that read: Surfboards up to 6’11” - $650 - channels $700 up to 7’11” - $700 - channels $750.” His shaping bay had about six foot of foam dust piled up in each corner, “I still shape them all out of the blank mate,” he told me. “That’s just a reminder to people I sill use a planer.” I talked to him about Pollard for a while, ordered a board from him (a period 1980 single fin, double flyer swallow, channel bottom) and left him to his business. Legend.
AK: In your opinion was Jim a masterful shaper? Because the foil of the orange board is just beautiful, for the period it’s very modern.
AB: I think he was. To conceptually come up with something like that and then to apply it and to make it work as well as it did. The boards just looked beautiful, you know how there’s boards down the beach and you’ll notice them from 200 metres away and you go “Whoa, look at that one.” Jim’s boards had that. I think he was a brilliant shaper. It’s sad that he didn’t step it up and take it further because obviously mentally his brain worked right, he was just one of those people that was outside the whole fucken loop.
It’s weird because I stood in the shaping room with him and he talked to me about the concept and I swear I’ve never heard anything of him ever again. I’ve never managed to contact him ever again. I never saw those boards evolve into anything else. They got to the one third back from the nose phase and “Bang” he was gone. It’s a mystery in a way what happened to him. He was a skinny little eccentric surfboard maker - you could almost mistake Chris Garret for him…(laughs)
When he lit up on the theory and application of them it was just mesmerising.
AK: Did he have a theory?
AB: Oh yeah, he knew everything about what he was talking about, there was no confusion with him. He was saying that utilising the nose to tail and the flow of water that would run down the board. he was explaining how water approached the front of the board and proposing where the water is going as it travels under the board and how do you store some of the energy and release it. If you start thinking about the way the water would run through the bottom of that orange board you can see there that he is effectively taking water from the front and then squeezing it Venturi Style and doing it over a three barrelled setup so there’s not a concentration of too much water building up, squeezing it fractionally and then letting it run out through the tail. He was analysing the flow over the whole bottom and then he put the dome between the middle of your feet where the action was and that gave the board the rolly-polly feel and then he’d stored all this energy in the channels and was squirting it out through the tail.
The thing that is frozen in my mind is the dome: it’s easier to visualise it than to put it into words. It makes complete sense, when he told me this light just came on, his explanation was brilliant, to this day everything in the bottom of what I do is applying those same principles with a different process.
He said that surfboards aren’t like any other thing in the ocean: they don’t have a motor, they don’t have a sail, they are not driven by any other thing other than the fact that you rise and fall on the face of a wave, so it was brilliant the way he developed a way to use all that water running down a surfboard and to not waste it. He was just so enthralled by what he was doing and no-one wanted to listen very much.
He was so convinced that he was right that he went to the Naval Institute in Tasmania to talk to these people about it. He spoke to an admiral there and he told them this is a concept applicable to global ocean going vessels because there’s always swell running, and that those boats should be able to utilise the power of a running swell and use the surfing aspect of it to save fuel. He told them that this idea will enable a hull to utilise the speed of a swell. The admiral said he’d never seen anything like it, that it was totally revolutionary and that they’d look into it and low and behold Jim disappeared.
AK: How important has his influence been on your shaping?
AB: That moment where he explained it to me, that was one of those moments in my life where I was at the crossroads and he made me turn and follow a different direction away from everyone else.
AK: Have you got any idea where he got the idea from?
AB: I think it was just a flash of intuitive brilliance. The fact was that Smitty just blew people’s minds in Hawaii, but I think people struggled with what Jim was doing and it was too left of centre, like “That’s pretty weird man” even with the clinker channels there has always been naysayers like, “Why don’t the pros ride them?”
AK: Anything else?
AB: If he’s still alive tell him fucken thank you. He was one of those bright stars that flitted through the night sky and disappeared again. He changed my world.
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