Surfing: Alternate Crafts and Getting Weird

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by Christian Stutzman

In September of 2013 I was approached by a man named Rick Mildner. He told me that he had created a new experimental surfboard, and he was looking for someone to try it for a magazine shoot for Ocean Magazine. He had approached the local surf shop and asked the owners if they knew of anyone who would be interested and, since I had made somewhat of a name for myself around the shop for trying weird boards, they pointed him to me.

The goal of this board was to be a five-foot long noserider. Yes, you did read that right and no, it was not a typo; the board was a noserider that was over a foot shorter than myself. Rick called it the “Hammerhead Noserider”, and for good reason, as the board was shaped to look pretty much like a hammerhead shark. It had a swallowtail that gradually widened out into a wing about a third of the way up the board, but the wing extended out about two inches on either side, making the widepoint of the board maybe about 27 inches wide. From there the middle of the board curved in like it was going to be the nose of the board, but after hitting about 13 inches wide, it had another extremely wide wing into the nose, filling the board back out to probably 25 inches wide, before finally coming to a very rounded nose at the front. The board had almost 100/0 rails and weird channels running all along the bottom, and had a trifin setup where the fins were equally as strange as the board itself.

I took one look at the board and thought to myself: “this board is insane and couldn’t possibly work…I’m in!” We took the board to Oceanside Pier for the shoot, and sure enough, the board pretty much didn’t work at all. It could barely turn, was difficult to pop up on, didn’t really noseride, and to top it all off the rails were so sharp I ended up slicing my hand from duckdiving. We all reconvened on the beach and instead of being disappointed in the way the board worked, we were stoked. We tried something that had not really ever been done before and tried to push the limits of what surfboards could do. We were absolutely stoked in the exploration and experimentation that had just happened.

I see so many people in the water today who are stuck in what they believe works. I have never understood why some people choose to take out their 5’6” high-performance Kelly Slater thruster when it’s two foot and high tide. I see them get frustrated and in the end they leave with a bad session, when all they really needed to do was to take out a board that might have suited them better for that day. The key to having fun is not always to be the one who shreds the hardest, sometimes riding boards with features that you are not used to can make for the best sessions. There is a point to be made for dialing in one specific type of board, but the best surfers in the water are those who experiment with all different types of boards, and from that they learn how to adapt to anything that is thrown at them.

A couple years ago I learned the sad news that Rick Mildner had passed away. Many remembered him for his kind heart, through their friendships with him, or through his surfing. However what I remember him for most is being a man who was not afraid to take chances, to push the boundaries of what could be done. Rick was not afraid of failure, rather he embraced it because he knew that with each failure he could learn what did and what did not work. I think that this is an extremely valuable lesson for the surf community as a whole. We need to be a community that embraces experimentation through surfing, because that is the only way to push the boundaries of board design. Next time you are getting your new magic board, try picking one that has something a little different about it, because the only way to know what really works for you is to experiment.

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