Could It Be? A Performance Craft For The Every(wo)man!
Joyriding the Channel Islands Happy.
The Pope is Catholic. Bears shit in the woods. Jet fuel can melt steel beams. These are concepts that were once considered unflappable truths, but in the internet age they've become subject to severe scrutiny.
What does this say, then, about Channel Islands’ ability to produce a quality high-performance shortboard? For decades CI has been known as a—if not the—premier provider of sharply cut blades. Kelly Slater famously won 11 Titles on Merricks through the ‘90s, 00s, and early ‘10s; Dane Reynolds renewed their popularity amongst the millennial gen with Young Guns, First Chapter, Marine Layer, et al; and to this day, nearly one-sixth of the Men’s CT surfs with a triple-hex beneath their feet.
But in this age of faux enlightenment, we would be remiss to take any long-held belief as a veritable truth. For all we know, Slater could have won 20 titles if he’d stayed on the Kechles; Dane might have captured an event (or two) with Mayhem; Zeke Lau might be secretly riding Arakawas with a CI logo plastered over the top. It wouldn’t be the first time a pro had used sleight of sticker to dupe the general public.
So we contacted Channel Islands and asked for definitive proof of their shaping supremacy, specifically in the form of their most coveted performance shape.
“We’ve got just the thing,” was Britt Merrick, son of Al,'s response. “We designed this new shortboard for Dane, but now the whole team is riding it. We’re calling it the Happy, because when people surf better, it tends to make them happy. And just about everyone has felt improvement with this board.”
If Mikey Feb rides it, it must be cool. (And for those who are wondering, that little blue patch on the tail is just s-cloth fiberglass. It's got some supposed performance advantages but comes in color to differentiate the Happy from other CI models)
My Happy was thin, narrow in the nose, and had plenty of tail rocker, indicating that the board was designed for waves with a steep face and push. It was also relatively flat up front, leading me to believe that it would paddle well and retain speed more than Channel Islands' "elf shoe" designs of the early noughts (we'll blame Slater, not CI, for that thankfully bygone era). The Happy was also two inches taller me, making it a "proper" shortboard by most modern standards.
With these characteristics in mind, I waited for quality waves to ride the Happy—this only seemed fair. Channel Islands had been challenged to make me the best high-performance craft, so to ride their board in anything short of crisp, emerald corners would be a breach of the unwritten shaper/tester contract. If I was to disprove decades of presumed knowledge that the Merrick clan made a premium water sword, it would have to be done in pumping surf.
Finally, the day came.
It was six-to-eight feet on the face, steep, fast, and with a light offshore flattening any residual bump. The swell was from the southwest, meaning rights would be the predominant feature (this was fine by me). Tubes were there if you wanted them. Air sections if you dared. The sun beamed from over the dune, then, as time wore on, directly overhead. It was about as fun as my glorified closeout of a homebreak gets, and the ideal conditions to test the Happy.
I won't lie. It went fucking amazing.
Some boards just work. The Happy is one of them.
From the first wave I felt an effortless connection with the American-made craft, its foam well-balanced beneath my feet and rails coursing seamlessly through the morning glass.
There was no learning curve with the Happy. No need to adjust my stance, line, or general approach to the wave. The Happy did exactly what I wanted with limited backtalk. It's a submissive surfboard in the very best sense.
Due to the Team-Lite glassing and general "chippiness" of the board, I was able to turn tight and quick in the lip. Forehand snaps, which are a clear weakness in my game, became much easier to execute. I still don't produce any spray, but that's just a reality I'm forced to endure.
I was able to set the edge with control, even at times of great speed, carving like a has-to-prove-himself stepdad at Thanksgiving dinner, the wave my sacrificial turkey.
The Happy felt at home in the tube. Set your line, shimmy up to the front, and allow the balanced rocker/simple outline to guide you toward the exit. If you find that sweet spot in the center of the board (back foot just ahead of the traction and front foot on the logo), you can control your speed and line with ease. It's a tunneling cheat code that more amateurs should employ.
At this point, you're probably looking for a criticism.
Surely there's a downside to this board. Does Stab really think we're that stupid? Ad!
I hear you, conspiratorial commenter, but you're wrong. In the stated conditions, I found no faults whatsoever in the Happy. It didn't bobble, stick, slide, bog, bark, snap, crackle, or pop. Any errors made were those of my own. Most successes could be attributed to the craft.
In fairness, if you ride this board in smaller, weaker waves, you might have some problems (speed generation and bogginess being chief among them). But you wouldn't bring an F1 racer to a track made of dirt and potholes. That's what a rally car (ie groveler) is for. The same principle applies here.
Don't shoot the messenger.
Let's talk about fins.
My first session on the Happy, detailed with great enthusiasm above, took place on Futures' AM1 Techflex. I chose this fin for a couple of reasons, foremost being that its extended rake, refined tip, and relatively low flex seemed a worthy match for the power and speed that the current waves provided. I knew I'd want to be harnessing energy rather than creating it, but that I'd also want to be able to let loose if/when the opportunity provided itself, and the AM1 Techflex did just that.
I also rode the AM1 because 'AM' stands for 'Al Merrick', who is, of course, the founder of the Channel Islands Surfboards. I'm a sucker for serendipity, and on this occasion, my eternal lameness produced a match made in Helsinki (the capital of FINland).
Session two, the waves got bigger.
It's difficult to tell in the video, but the sets (most of which I avoided with fervor) pushed 10-12 feet on the face and wore an unfriendly demeanor. So I did what any timid, weak-legged gnome would do and grabbed the stiffest fins in my collection—the Pyzel Controls—which are made almost entirely from the fiberglass.
The fins did exactly what I'd asked of them, gripping hard off the bottom (even at what felt like terminal velocity) and redirecting off the lip without so much as a hitch. There was no give, slide, or bobble. They were completely reliable. Just what any surfer needs when the waves are pushing his/her mental and physical limits.
Between the two sets of fins, it would be impossible to pick a "favorite". The AM1s provided more performance and flare when the waves were playful, and the Pyzel Controls held strong amongst the Pacific power.
Two fins every gent(ress) should own for when the surf goes boom.
Unlike the bear, Pope, and steel beams, it appears Channel Islands' legacy is free from historical inaccuracy.
This once mom-n-pop brand (now one of the biggest distributors in the world) from the broader Santa Barbara region does, in fact, make a damn fine performance shortboard—arguable the best in the world (Mick Fanning did pick their model as the winner of last year's Stab in the Dark, after all).
Not only does the Happy provide great control and maneuverability, but the thing is so damn easy to ride. As far as a "proper" shorty goes, it's probably the most user-friendly I've encountered. None of that one-hero-turn-then-bog-the-rest-of-the-time bullshit. It's flowy, fast, and only sticks when you do.
I've yet to have a negative experience on the Happy. Granted, I only ever surf it when the waves are pumping (which they do quite often in Central America), so please consider your local conditions before making a purchase.
Florida boys, this one's probably not for you. California and Australia, ya'll are in business.
Channel Islands, you win!
And now to break down the Channel Islands Happy in five specific performance categories:
With medium entry rocker and a light tail flip, the Happy is both quick on the gas and sharp on the clutch. The board gains speed with a basic front-foot lean and turns strictly off the back foot, so to maximize speed and control you'll need to find the correct seesaw of pressure. You'll know when you get it right.
The "performance shortboard" has gone largely out of style in recent years, replaced by shorter, wider, easier-to-ride crafts made popular by Dane Reynolds in the early-2010s. As a result, a greater number of surfers are able to surf relatively well in a wider range of conditions. Also as a result, most surfers aren't maximizing their skills when the waves are fully torqued.
Enter the Happy—it's a "performance shortboard" that can be ridden with an equal level of comfort by pros and the every(wo)man. A craft that will bring out your very best surfing on the very best days. A sexy little number that you stow away for special occasions.
Does the Happy have a passion for flight? I wouldn't say that, exactly, but where there's a will there's a way, and if you ride your Happy in head-high+ conditions, there will almost always be a lip to loft off. Whether or not you try to land it is entirely up to you, as I will not be held responsible for broken limbs or craft.
One thing I will say is that the Happy's rocker allowed me to land an air that I almost certainly wouldn't have on a flatter deck (see 1:25 in the clip). The board's natural curve matched that of the wave's transition, allowing me to spin friction-free toward shore rather than catching nose or tail.
While my first session (in 6-8 foot faces) seemed like the sweet spot for the Happy, I was genuinely impressed by how well it held in even bigger surf. Once on the open face, the Happy seemed totally unbothered by size and power, however it lacked the necessary foam to negotiate a beachbreak lineup of significant energy.
Though at a pointbreak or reef, I feel this board (in shortboard dims) could be ridden in 12-foot faces, easily. Check the monster Kayu Vianna caught on his 5'10 Happy.