A board thoroughly examined.
Joyride: The Slater Designs Gamma Surfboard Review
In above average California surf!
Slater Designs fucked me up with their Cymatic.
It being the strangest craft I’d ever ridden – from its snub-nose all the way down to its bechanneled bat tail – I was shocked by how natural the Cymatic felt underfoot. Despite some initial reservations, this board became a favorite amongst my varied Joyride quiver.
So when it came to testing the Slater Designs Gamma – a board that looks as “normal” as a standard shortboard can be, minus its milky white complexion – I didn’t know what to think.
Would it meet my expectations, or somehow alter them entirely?
From the look of the outline, which included fairly straight rails, a slight hip near the tail, and a savage nose flip, I felt that the Gamma would perform best in high-quality surf, specifically where self speed generation was not required.
This hypothesis would prove correct.
Over the course of three perfectly divergent sessions, I was able to learn everything I needed to know about this Slater-approved craft.
It's a ruse! We actually only had one SD Gamma.
Session 1: High tide, overhead Rincon point
Nobody likes high tide Rincon, which is great for frothing scavengers such as myself. Paddling out around 7 am, I found the point relatively empty, with 40-odd persons from Indicators to Cove (about 500 meters for the uninitiated) and sets pulsing through on the reg.
While quite wonky from the five-foot high tide, the waves provided an opportunity to get acquainted with my egg-white Gamma.
The first ride provided a minor shock, with the board unnaturally releasing on a standard pocket wrap, throwing me off balance. Kicking out I had that sinking feeling of, “Oh god, did I forget to fasten one of my fins?”, but a cursory check proved that all three of my JJF Mediums were firmly planted in their boxes with screws tightened.
Alright then, we've got some things to figure out.
The next wave was a classic Rincon chip-shot, where you take off on a tiny piece of whitewater and traverse an expansive flat section before being thrust into a steep inside bowl.
The only problem was, the Gamma didn't want to move through the flat water. In fact it flat out sunk. Unable to weave my way to speed, I was forced to hop, hop, hop across the aquatic plain before reaching the bowl a second too late as some lucky bastard stole my snake run through the Cove.
Frustrated but not willing to accept this Slater creation as a dud, I started thinking of how, when, and where the Champ might find this design useful.
Uhhhhhh, hello... the wavepool of course!
I remember being surprised back in May of last year, when at the first “official” Surf Ranch event – the Founders’ Cup – Slater opted to ride a full-length craft rather than one of his little chop-nose numbers.
Because the wave boasts a steep pocket and stands about chest-high on most CT surfers, it seemed that something in the 5’2 range (Slater’s Cymatic length) would be a prime choice for the pool’s tight curves.
Nevertheless, Slater arrived on a pointy-nosed steed – a vessel on which he trampled the competition and nearly won the event outright for Team USA.
Of course it was a Gamma.
Curvy boards are made for curvy waves, and that’s where the Gamma would succeed. So after taking a few more swings on the bloated right point, I proceeded to scamper up the cobblestones and wait for the afternoon low.
Rincon's morning high did not suit the Gamma, but there were still harbingers of greatness.
Let’s talk about construction.
Like LFT – and all Firewire builds, for that matter – Helium is an epoxy construction that provides extreme durability. Unlike LFT, Helium has no center stringer (or synthetic replica thereof). Instead, its rails comprise a Balsa and Paulownia blend to manage its flex, of which there is plenty.
Helium Construction is also exceptionally light, which when combined with its rail-based flex pattern, creates a board that demands constant motion, like an ADD-riddled tween. This was the opposite feeling I got from Firewire’s LFT construction, which had very little “chatter” and felt more like a PU with some added epoxy benefits, such as speed and responsiveness.
Interestingly, Kelly Slater came to a similar conclusion when he tested the Gamma in both Helium and LFT constructions, stating: “The LFT is a little heavier and works better through weak spots and on the open face. The Helium is light and prefers tighter-radius turns, so I’d probably be riding it day-to-day at a beach break.”
Essentially, if you love the electricity of epoxy crafts and tend to be a fast-twitch, whip-inclined surfer (think Italo Ferreira), Helium is right for you. But if you, like me, prefer a steadier, more flowing feel to your ride, Linear Flex Tech is the superior option.
You wanted to know what's inside?
Session 2: Low tide, head-high Rincon point
Oh, what a difference the moon makes!
Returning to Rincon later that day, the same swell that had been crashing headlong into the end-section cliffs were now lapping gently upon a clear sand path, one which allowed surfers to finish their waves, return to the shore, and sprint gingerly back up the point.
But low tide does more than save the Rincon surfer’s feet. This daily water retreat turns the Cove into a long, tapered wall, upon which Tom Curren, Bobby Martinez, Dane Reynolds, and the Coffin bros earned their chops.
It’s a flawless canvas for maneuvers and one that, on the right type of double-up, can even provide a half-decent tube.
For the next three hours, I tested my Gamma in the most Ranch-similar surf the natural world had to offer.
The board felt several degrees better than it had in the morning, as the inexistence of flat spots allowed me to maneuver without fear of sinking, while the realization that this board required a back-footed approach (not my natural tendency) deterred any future slide-outs.
The Gamma banked precisely off oncoming lips and reverted to the pocket with ease. My only points of contention were the board’s general jitteriness and its pea-sized sweet spot. Looking back at the clips, it’s clear my front foot was too far back for the majority of this session, but we live and learn.
With less water on the bank, the true Gamma revealed itself.
Let’s talk about fins.
I started the Gamma testing with Futures' John John Florence fins in Techflex construction. These were used throughout the morning and afternoon Rincon sessions in order to establish a “control” between surfs, which allowed me to conclude that the Gamma performs better in more curvy and concentrated walls, irrespective of skegs.
If you’ve been paying attention to these Joyride board tests, you’ll know that Futures’ JJF template is my go-to for any thruster setup. I find these fins sturdy and reliable, while still allowing for the entire range of maneuvers in my repertoire (now three!). I can ride ‘em in two-to-eight foot surf and they even look pretty cool.
Hard to go wrong with the Johns.
Having teamed up with Futures on the Joyride (you might have noticed the Futures fin grid in this video), I decided to make use of the other wonderful options they provided, switching the fins for my third and final session on the Gamma.
John Johns out, AM1 Honeycombs in.
The Al Merrick template has a significant amount of rake (rake: how far the end of the fin extends beyond the base), which is typically used to create hold through carving maneuvers. However, I opted for Futures' medium flex construction, being the Honeycomb, which allows for more manual speed generation. Perhaps the most important feature of the AM1 Honeycombs is that their center fin is slightly smaller than the sides, which allows for more whip and release out of the lip.
I chose this fin because the Gamma likes to turn fast and hard in the pocket, while maintaining a degree of whippiness and speed and maneuvers. These features, in theory, matched the AM1s to a T.
One final session at a hollow, wedgy beachbreak turned that theory to law.
Our preferred fin in the Slater Designs Gamma.
Session 3: Low tide, chest-high, wedgy beachbreak (with tubes!)
If low tide Rincon provided a superior Gamma experience than the morning high, then a steep, short-interval beach break should be the ultimate canvas for this sled.
With the AM1s inserted and my tube senses tingling, I spent the next two hours going positively ham, taking off on anything that moved and throwing fins to the wind.
This, my friends, is precisely what the Slater Designs Gamma in Helium tech is designed for – mid-sized waves with a surplus of curve and short interval, like the ones you’ll find on eastern-facing shores around the world.
While heading toward the lip, the Gamma’s rocker felt custom-molded to the cuppy wave face, allowing for a variety of maneuvers off oncoming sections. I could cut through the wall, snap off the lip, and even perform my little dodo airs on a few special occasions.
Late drops were made and tubes were navigated with a level of success.
The Gamma had peaked.
Match this board's curve to the wave and together you will soar.
Below we’ll break down five specific criteria of the Slater Designs Gamma:
- Pedestrian Scale
- Preferred Size
The Gamma is not designed for manual speed generation, meaning that in weak surf it feels something like a wet sack of potatoes. But an increase in steepness creates another gear for the Gamma, which if wielded correctly can go into overdrive. This board is lightning-fast off the lip and turns tighter than a female pant pocket, making it an optimal choice for whip-inclined surfers.
Make no mistake: this board is built for the experienced surfer. It has a small sweet spot and requires deep wave knowledge to get it humming. Missteps in timing or positioning will sink the rider along with his or her ego, which is not something we want for our readers. If you can’t blow your fins out the back, this ain’t the board for you.
Because it’s not designed to generate speed, the Gamma isn’t naturally inclined to soar. However, with the right amount of curve in the face, this board has proven capable of flight – even for circus freak bearded children like myself. The Gamma is certainly not an “air board”, but it doesn’t apply ankle weights either. In fact it’s incredibly light!
I’ve found that wave size is less important than wave shape when talking about the Gamma, but if I had to choose an ideal range it would be chest-high to slightly-overhead. Enough space to do a proper bottom and top turn, but not so big that you’re counting m-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-is on the way to the lip.
The Gamma is plenty good on rail, but for the type of waves you’d want to ride it in, carves aren’t of the utmost importance. Nevertheless, a proper meat hook is well within reason on this Slater-designed craft. Just remember to turn off the back foot.
If you’ve got the hutzpah to scrape under the ledge and stick your arm in a wave’s throat, build your own Slater Designs Gamma here.
If you want the optimal rudders for this bladey little number, get the Futures AM1 Honeycombs here.