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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