Welcome to Stab In The Dark
What if one of the best surfers in the world was to judge a surfboard only by its performance? With no preconceived notions about how a board performs because of its brand or shaper? Stab invited the best shapers in the world to each create a surfboard. It would be for a mystery world tour […]
What if one of the best surfers in the world was to judge a surfboard only by its performance? With no preconceived notions about how a board performs because of its brand or shaper?
Stab invited the best shapers in the world to each create a surfboard. It would be for a mystery world tour surfer who weighs 80kg and stands six feet tall. The board was to be supplied as a cleanskin. No markings. No stickers. No pencil on the stringer. Nothing identifiable.
The shapers didn’t know the surfer. The surfer didn’t know the shapers. Stab’s secret test pilot arrived in Western Australia with carry-on luggage only. He was greeted with two boardbags full of brand new boards.
Stab’s secret test pilot: “The ultimate surfboard gives you feedback. The moment you stand on them, you know. It tells you how it wants to be ridden. They allow you to create space to do whatever you want to do. You never have to rush. The perfect surfboard makes you feel like you’ve got all the time in the world.” – Julian Wilson
The brief for our shapers was to make the perfect modern shortboard for one of surfing’s elite. The only rules were it needed to be devoid of any markings/logos, it had to be 6’0″, and had to be a thruster. Photo: Chris Gurney
And so, welcome to Stab in the Dark 2015. Straight out of the gates, Stab realises that this is a flawed concept: There’s too many variables in our sport to ever conduct an experiment in a controlled environment with precise outcomes. But, what we did have was one of the world’s most technical and analytical surfers, 11 of the world’s best shapers, and a range of conditions in which these two entities could meet and produce results. Some things you should know:
– The shapers who featured were (not listed here in order of result): Mayhem / Lost, Panda, Chilli, JS, Sharp Eye, Dahlberg, DHD, Channel Islands, Stamps, Robo and Simon Anderson.
– Jon Pyzel would’ve been the 12th, but his board didn’t make the delivery date, which was a big loss for the project. When Stab saw him in the water on the Gold Coast and told him that a) his board didn’t make it and b) the surfer was Julian Wilson, he was relieved. Why? Because of pride in craft. “I wasn’t happy with the full rails,” said Pyzel. “I didn’t think it was the best board I could have shaped. It was a lot of pressure to get this right.”
– Stab commissioned artist Paul McNeil to design round, coloured number stickers to identify each board.
– The first JS was refused because of a revealing trademark glassing feature. John Robertson shaped and glassed three blanks before he was satisfied. Marcio Zouvi, of Sharp Eye (Filipe Toledo) created two and chose what he thought was best.
– Four photographers, three filmers and one producer were tasked with the storytelling. The words, photos and full breakdown will live in Stab issue 80, and the documentary will appear on Stabmag.com this week.
Julian’s daily quandary for Stab in the Dark: Which board to ride today? Distinguishable only by the coloured numbers (designed by artist Paul McNeil), Jules tested 11 boards from the world’s best shapers to find the ultimate surfboard. Photo: Andy Staley
Below is exactly what Stab sent to all invited shapers for this project:
Shaper instructions for Stab in the Dark.
What does the perfect high-performance shortboard look like? Is there such thing as a perfect surfboard? Absolutely not. And, subjectivity is what keeps the world interesting but what if a world-class surfer could lose any preconceived notions of brands or board dimensions and ride a board and judge it only on its merits? We’re after complete transparency.
Deadline: Jan 20th. Either in Los Angeles or Sydney. We’ll ship boards from Los Angeles/Sydney to Western Australia.
Surfer: Undisclosed. The reason this project works is because the surfer not knowing the shaper, and the shaper not knowing the surfer opens thinking. You could have easily shaped this surfer a board and you could punch out a model you know he’s loved. But, what we can tell you is this: this is a front-footed surfer. He’s also a natural footer.
Surfer height: 6’0
Surfer weight: 80kg (177lbs)
Location of shoot: Western Australia, early Feb.
Fins: FCS II. Thruster only, no quad set ups please.
Length of surfboard: 6’0
Width, thickness, volume: Completely open to interpretation. Of course it would make the project easier but our talent wants to be surprised and doesn’t want to micromanage the project. He doesn’t want to stifle your creativity.
Why did Julian choose West Oz as the testing location for our Stab in the Dark project? The best boards show their true colours under critical situations, he says. The power of the waves in West Oz meant he could fast-forward the process of determining flaws and magic.Photo: Chris Gurney
(Shaper Instructions continued)
Instructions for shaping: Your shape should be governed by our surfer’s height and weight. He’s a top-rated world tour surfer with a complete range of skills: Rail work, great in the tube and obviously a very good aerial surfer. We only want you to be guided by his height and weight. We have no preference in volume, rail shape, bottom curve or anything other than the length. This board is completely open to your interpretation in every way possible.
Instructions for glassing/sanding: Likewise, the glass job can be constructed any way you like. It can have rail patches, deck patches, it can be PU or epoxy. What we’re not looking for is any breakthroughs in glassing but rather something that typifies the ultimate high performance surfboard. What we also avoid is a set of carbon patches that could tip the surfer off. You guys all have your own unique carbon you use and it would be quite easy to figure out who’s board is who. We want to create as even set of a playing field as possible. Weight is completely up to you. Please remember we are shooting in south-west of Western Australia.
The thing you’d find interesting about modern-day pro surfers is how long they’ll spend in the water. Kolohe Andino and John John Florence are famous for marathon sessions. Jules is the same: His average surf session in the West was around four hours. One session in particular, during the hottest part of the day, Jules logged a six-hour session with a 15 knot onshore cross-shore wind hammering the break. Photo: Chris Gurney
(Shaper Instructions continued)
Instructions for any marking/branding: This board needs to be completely blank in every way. There should be no dimensions or markings. No signatures. There should be no decals or glassing stickers. The board must be completely blank and white. When the board is delivered, please include dimensions and board specs on a print out with the board.
What if you don’t win? What if the board gets panned? Stab readers are too savvy to read paid-for board-buyer’s guides in magazines to make informed decisions. This is to celebrate shapers and their craft. There will be honesty but this is about a world-class surfer articulating genuine feedback. Every board will have positives and we’re sure every board will have some negatives. We will be honest but fair. And, most of all we want this to be human. We want to explore the shaper’s personality and how it transcends into their design.
– There’s a chance your board could break first wave, first turn. Sorry, there is nothing we can do about this.
– Sorry, we can’t tell you the talent. If you’ve ever shaped him a board, this could mean you’ll pump out his favourite board from file.
– There can be no special treatment. We’re sharing this exact information with other shapers. Please respect this.
“It’s pretty sick how they’re just completely blank,” said Julian. “You never, ever see surfboards look so innocent and deadly.” We had two boardbags of new boards for Julian to test. When he unzipped and began going through them, he’d put them under his arm, he’d look down the bottom of them and gave them all time without an early dismissal. Photo: Ryan Miller
Stab will be premiering Stab in the Dark this week in California, before a digital release of the documentary this coming Thursday (Oz time). It’s totally non-scientific but Jules calls the best surfboard in the world. Stay tuned…
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