Stab Magazine | FAQs: Stab In The Dark (Plus BTS Imagery Of SITD With Mick Fanning)

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FAQs: Stab In The Dark (Plus BTS Imagery Of SITD With Mick Fanning)

The most captivating, titillating, and nauseating questions hurled at us on our biggest project of the year.

style // Jan 29, 2019
Words by Stab
Reading Time: 8 minutes

For any media, the internet is more or less once massive, critical Red Team.

Make a claim online, or pursue a path of enquiry, and some brave keyboard Olympian will surely poke holes in any project you put forth.

So it has always been with Stab In The Dark. Why is the surfer secret? Why is there so many boards? Why aren’t there more boards? Why didn’t all the boards get ridden in the same wave? Why not do this in a wave pool!?

Oh, for fuck’s sake!

Here’s some of the most common barbs sent our way.

Let’s call it a Socratic Stab In Dark Dialogue.

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Line ’em up, sign away.

Do shapers try and find out who the surfer is?

Shapers sometimes ask, but they typically narrow down the possibilities on their own, based on the height and weight in our instructions.

Sometimes they nail it, right away. Other times, you’d be amazed how off the mark they are. When Darren Handley shaped the winning surfboard for Julian Wilson for our first Stab in the Dark, DH thought he was shaping for Dion Atkinson.

This year, many shapers guessed it was either Mick Fanning or California’s Griffin Colapinto.

Why’d you choose Mick?

He was fresh off his final world tour event and we’d been talking about a big project with him for a few years. As a three-time world champ who was still doing his career-best surfing it was an easy decision.

But, Mick’s air game isn’t what Dane or Julian’s is. Is that fair?

What Mick lacks in air, he makes up for in rail work and work ethic. We knew Mick would give us meaningful feedback and we’d heard about his surfboard knowledge in advance. He proved he was indeed the “surf nerd” we’d heard about.

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Air game? Check!

You told shapers to make surfboards for Mexico/Central America and you ended up in Japan. Are they bummed?

Each year we’re faced with shapers who feel like they didn’t get a fair go. When there’s only one winner and a handful of finalists, you invariably have shapers who are disappointed. This will always happen.

Our shoot window was near flat in Mexico/El Salvador, and it was Mick’s idea to chase a typhoon to Japan, where with the exception of a few very massive days, we got similar conditions to what you might find somewhere in Central America with a proper swell.

We tested 11 boards this year; three made the final. That means we should have exactly eight shapers who aren’t stoked, regardless of where we filmed.  

Why are there so many boards? Surely that’s too many to legitimately test! (Alternately, why not have 20 boards? Give more shapers a chance!)

On the first Stab in the Dark, Julian Wilson was comfortable with testing a dozen boards. That number was his decision. That year, the board Pyzel made never made it in time, hence us testing only 11 boards. Julian said that when a wave is powerful enough, that even the first time he stands on his feet on a board, it gives him “Feedback.” He knows almost instantly whether it’s a good board.

He chose West Oz for the power of the waves. Each surfer since has been given a number and all have been comfortable with over 10.

The only true fair test of a surfboard is a wave pool. Why don’t you do it in a pool?

Because a small portion of our audience have access to surfing wavepools.

And, we feel it’d sanitize the project too much. Turn, turn, tube, turn, barrel to maybe an air. We still love the unpredictability of the ocean and the fact that some boards are ridden in worse conditions than others (and often shine in those everyday conditions).

Do you tell the surfers the entire list of shapers?

No, there’s no list shared but the surfers have a sense that it’s likely some of the biggest name shapers in the world based on previous years.

This year, we assigned the boards numbers but didn’t bring the corresponding sheet to identify board numbers with us—so we had virtually no idea what he was riding. When Mick was going through the board reveal and making his guesses, we had literally no idea at the time if he was right or not.

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Possibly the largest vehicle you can rent in Japan.

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We encountered a few days of large, unruly surf. Mick didn’t hesitate to challenge his batch of 5’10 1/2 epoxies to the elements.

Do the surfers pick what boards that might work best in what conditions?  

Some of the guys have in the past, based on how a particular board looks. Mick didn’t want to forecast what board he thought would work best in each condition, and just methodically worked through the stack of boards.

The boards all look near identical. Don’t all work pretty well?

We asked Mick the same question. He said that the way each shaper does a bottom curve or rail shape is so open to interpretation, that he likened it to how we all draw a love heart differently. It’s so varied.   

Do you share the surfer’s typical dimensions with the shaper?

No, just the length and the surfer’s size. In Mick’s case, 5’10 ½” shortboards. Width, thickness, rocker, rails, bottom curve and volume are completely open to interpretation by the shaper.  

Why are they black this year?

Mick’s been critical in the past about epoxies or alternative construction. Unbeknownst to him, we ordered every board in the proprietary tech that each brand owns.

We specified no wooden stringers, using Sustainable Surf’s guidelines to EcoBoard construction. Our sense was that someone who doesn’t like the technology would be the best to test them.

As Mick said on location: “a good board should be a good board, regardless of what it’s made of.”

Given how identifiable each technology is, we sprayed the boards black for anonymity.

When can we expect a similar stature, average joe to compare the boards and pick their favourite? (You presumably can’t translate a ‘good’ board across individuals and skillsets)

Never. We have our Everymen in Dooma Fahrenfort and Mikey C, who do Stab’s board tests.

Trust us, you think you want to watch us Average Joe strangle these boards across a wave, until you actually see it. You can’t beat the best in the world.

That said, we will have all the boards available to be ridden with Awayco. So have at ‘em. We’ll wait.

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Rail work? Check!

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Mick’s ability to guess who shaped what board based off look and feel was truly impressive. Thus far, his strike rate out of 11 has been the most accurate in Stab in the Dark history.

Does the order the boards are tested in effect Mick’s opinion of them? Fatigue etc.

Mick never wanted to be flippant, without a proper testing. Jordy did a huge amount of surfing for the previous Stab in the Dark; then, we were crippled with crowds when the waves got smaller. It was insanely hot, our window for the event was closing, the waves were shitty for Indonesian standards, and I think the critique may have been heavy-handed and not due to the performance of the boards. Just cranky.

But Mick was a fucking workhorse. Every surfer has put in those six hour sessions but Mick has been our hardest worker so far. On the big unruly day, he paddled for hours on hours with little reward. The next morning, the DMs rolled in thick. Two hours up the coast featured perfect four foot barrels while we dealt with sideshore slop. Our little production team were deflated. These were the kind of conditions you’d fly to Japan for and absolutely the perfect canvas for testing boards.

The blame game ensued within our camp until Mick shut it down. “I should be the one who cares. I stopped thinking about it five minutes ago so you guys should to. We made a call and we tried our guts out. That’s all we can do. Let’s not speak of it again.”

So we didn’t.

How long does Mick test a board for on average?

Depends between each board. One day was windy with a big sweep and Mick paddled a total of 21 kilometres. He’s wearing a Rip Curl GPS watch so we’ve included all those stats with each board this year. He made sure he gave each board “a fair go.”

Does water temperature effect the boards? Do they perform differently in Japan compared to Aus.

The only difference would be that of wearing a steamer/full suit and boardshorts. Otherwise, no.

How much does shaper pay to be involved in Stab in the Dark?

It’s free.

We ask for three boards from each shaper, but let the shapers know we’re actually taking a single board away with us and, if it breaks, those replacements won’t be on hand.

That way we can give some away to our readers, or send them around with our friends at Awayco for y’all to ride, etc.


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This year, our shaper’s boards were tested in various conditions, from Japanese typhoon blasts to waist high slop, wedging Australia to average Southern California, no session was remotely similar.

We are so sick of seeing the big corporates that pump out machine shapes. Why don’t you use some ‘actual real surfboard’ shapers?

Out of the hundreds of board manufacturers around the world, filtering it down to a dozen is not easy. We base it on who have shaped for World Champs, those who have had world tour event victories on their boards, or those who have shaped international best sellers (ie, Hayden and the Hypto Krypto).

Each year we invite at least two more “underground” shapers: Cole, Robo, Graham Smith aka “G-Force,” Panda, Lee Stacey, Maurice Cole, Johnny Cabianca, Christian Bradley, Stamps…

Which is to say: It ain’t all corpo juggernauts.

Interestingly, none of these guys have ever won.

Why so many Americans? You are an Australian mag!

We launched in Australia, but have always been proudly international with our work. We have offices in Australia and the US.

We are about trying to identify what is world class and to feature and highlight the world’s very best, regardless of where someone was born. That said, four of our 11 shapers this year are from Australia. One is from Japan. One is from the Basque Country. Five are from the US.  

Can we buy these boards and how do we do that?

Each shaper releases boards as they please. Some have them in production regardless of how they perform. Until the premiere, no shaper has any idea how it’s performed.

Why don’t you have two surfers do it, one performance person and someone more relatable?

Too many different narratives and too hard to follow for one film. For example, for the first Stab in the Dark, I rode every single board and liked the Channel Islands and Dahlberg best. These boards both rated poorly. Sub-plots just muddy the storyline. Plus, no one needs to hear or worse watch my opinion.  

Does Sam Mac (that’s how they say it, always) just do this so he can get heaps of free boards? It’s bullshit.

Correct. Julian Wilson and Dane Reynolds’ years were particularly fruitful. Jordy and Mick’s boards were the wrong size for me.

Why don’t you get all the shapers to label these boards as that certain model so the public can then purchase if they like the look of them?

We include those in the film this year but many have tried out new models for the event so they are without a board name just yet (and probably will be in they performed poorly). 



* The world premiere is in Sydney on Wednesday, February 6. Details shared shortly, along with other tour dates around the world. 

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