439 Minutes Of Stab In The Dark - Stab Mag

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439 Minutes Of Stab In The Dark

Looking back through seven hours and eight years of unfiltered board testing.

// Jun 7, 2023
Words by Holden Trnka
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Stab has changed immeasurably since our first iteration of Stab In The Dark. The biggest change, though, is an obvious one — we’ve constructed a digital, serpent-filled moat around our highest quality content, known as the Stab Premium Paywall.

The idea is that — in light of the print subscription model dying — we can hope to stay alive in the era of Zuckerberg’s dynasty by putting more time, money, and depth into our content.

How’s that working for us? Well… not as terribly as it could be.

Though our Premium subscriber base doesn’t quite cover all of our costs to make films, (which is part of why we have partners) it has given us the opportunity to create more polished content of significantly greater complexity.

And, we’re not broke yet.

We think the evolution of Stab In The Dark is a terrific parallel to our perceived creative growth and, as a reminder that you can still watch every single one of them with your Premium subscription, we’ve decided to take a look back at all eight of our blind, board-testing extravaganzas.

Because very few of Stab’s current staff were a part of the earliest iterations of Stab In The Dark, I sat down with Sam McIntosh — the father of the idea, and the man who has seen every single one to completion — for some deeper insight.

Enjoy.

Julian Wilson: 16 Minutes

With Nike stickers, Hurley boardies, and barely 720p footage — this clip is a true time-capsule. Coming in six minutes short of the most brief episode of Italo’s week in Noronha, our inaugural Stab In The Dark feels almost like a proof of concept compared to modern iterations. A pilot episode if you will.

Filmed in the heyday of professional surfing, the production behind our unproven concept took a lot of coercing.

“The first one was really interesting, we ordered 12 boards and had to convince every shaper one by one,” Sam tells me. “At that time, board reviews were just a little shaper bio in a print magazine. They hadn’t been popularized for the modern day. Funny enough, all of the shapers thought the boards were for Dion Atkinson — none of them thought we’d be able to get someone like Julian.”

In 2015, surfers at the pointy end of the CT were getting paid $100,000 a year from their board sponsor alone — but Julian Wilson didn’t know what board to ride.

“He was free to ride anything. We did a story called ‘The 7 Best Surfboard Models In The World’ with him. It did really well on the site, and went viral. Around the same time, Nat Johnson from Quik suggested we should do a blind merit test with wetsuits — without any logos — in cold water somewhere. We just reappropriated that idea for surfboards. It was originally going to be called the Undefeated project, but Tom Bird wanted to call it Stab In The Dark, and that’s how it was born.”

Julian gets no more than a few waves and gives no more than a few sentences on each board — but the surfing is nostalgically progressive, and laid the foundation for our marquee project.

“2015 was peak internet analysis paralysis — everyone thought the audience had no attention span,” Sam continues. “We thought shorter was better. The Julian episode should’ve been 40 minutes, but we cut it down to 16 minutes. We didn’t know what it could be like. And then we dropped it, and DHD sold 1,000 boards overnight. That’s when we knew we had something special.”

Dane Reynolds: 36 Minutes

More polished, with over double the run time, some silky narration, and shadowy board introductions. Now we’re getting somewhere.

“On a good board, you’ve got to figure out how to harness the speed, not create it,” Dane Reynolds said, in 2016.

Our second ever SITD features a healthy helping of Dane’s apoplectic gouges at Durban’s velvety beachbreaks and some retrospective looks at his hungover impact on worldwide board length.

Interestingly, the winning shaper of Dane’s SITD — Pyzel — missed out on having his board in West Australia with Julian the prior year. He then took home the trophy two years in a row.

Click above to scratch your sealtooth shaped itch.

Jordy Smith: 31 Minutes

The notoriously filterless CT surfer — and son of world-class shaper — on a Mentawai boat trip with a dozen naked sleds. Sound as fun to you as it does to us?

“We’re trying to find the best boards in the world here, bru,” Jordy quips as he displays his anonymous quiver against a backdrop of fallen Indonesian palm trees.

This year, we snuck one of his dad’s boards in the mix and, satisfyingly, it traipsed it’s way to the final.

“Easily the best moment in every SITD is when they line up the boards and choose the winner,” Sam Mc says. “That’s always the best. The most striking moment was when Jordy realized his dad had made the final, and Pyzel had won back to back. That was genuine elation, like a lifetime of mixed messages. He’d grown up on his dads boards, loved them, then went to the CT and rode for big name shapers. Then, for him to unknowingly ride his dad’s board, and love it — that collision of emotions was great to watch.”

Click above for a bit of peak Jordy humor and some performance in paradise.

Mick Fanning 36 Minutes

After copping a Japanese Typhoon (and 125ft of swell) square on the head, Mick bounced to California and Australia — testing blacked-out ecofriendly boards along the way.

A welcome, modernized shift from the trilogy of previously PU-only equipment, and an extremely articulate test pilot to boot.

Not only was this episode our first attempt at alternative constructions, it was also the beginning of our realization that we could probably create longer, more complex storylines with the footage filmed.

“Trying to cut down everything we shot with Mick to 45 minutes, we left incredible stuff on the cutting room floor,” Sam explains. “It really hurts. You end up creating little side projects instead of putting it all in the main film. We saw what HBO, Netflix and Amazon were doing by serializing their films and we wanted to do that.”

All Stars: 57 Minutes

Bringing together three of our previous surfers, we headed back to South Africa for the final edition of our single episode format.

Unfortunately. the trip spelled doom for Mick’s knee cartilage. In his absence however, Jordy and Dane uncovered the ambiguous mystique behind the many surf-related adjectives we all fall victim to.

Taj Burrow 80 Minutes

Our first ever episodic version of Stab In The Dark was also the first one available exclusively to our Premium disciples — and featured uniformly carbon-coated boards from the Dark Arts factory.

“The storytelling can be significantly deeper when you cut it into episodes, the narratives can breathe,” says Sam. “We just want to let them breathe and bleed on the screen. You cut them up and you lose so much vital information. You don’t want to limit the amount of time on screen for every surfboard. You’re talking about the best surfers and shapers in the world. You don’t want to truncate it, and lose the chemistry between the surfer, the wave, and the board.”

In our return to Western Australia, Taj was completely unable to identify pretty much any of the boards. He also reminded us that carbon construction need not be reserved for knee high days in San Clemente, pushing the limits in some WA juice.

Jack Robinson: 79 Minutes

Big boy, big boards, big(ger) waves. Last year’s SITD features Jack Robinson looking focused in the Hawaiian sun — with a healthy dose of local shapers and Australian monologue. At 24 years old, Jack was our youngest test pilot ever, but his affinity for riding a variety of shapers allowed him to articulate his ideas and design theories at equal capacity as our veteran testers.

Hawaii’s lacking continental shelf and perpetual trade winds brought us back to the faithful PU construction, and the series provided a look at Jack as he headed into his most succesful CT season to date.

Italo Ferreira: 104 Minutes

Our recent iteration of the series gave us one of the most significant evolutions yet. A goofy-footed, Portuguese-tongued World Champion, surfing a wave that sits far off the usual jetstreams of our modern audience.

Deeper narrative surrounding the surfer, strictly sand-bottom surf spots, and a bunch of burnouts on a dune buggy. As possibly our most deviant SITD yet, we reached our widest audience yet. Proportionally, we also received more feedback — positive and negative — than ever before.

“People have been critical of the waves he surfed, but it’s a wedge, which has twice the power of a normal wave,” Sam point out. “He also put the boards through their paces, he really pushed.

It was interesting, the JS guys came in to drop off the board and I had them pick a number. They picked number 10. That was a mistake because, unbeknownst to them, that was Gabe’s number — which slightly upset Italo. It’s crazy the little things that can affect someones perception of a board.”

As for our next iteration?

We’re always listening, always evolving, and we’re looking forward to next year.

Next time around, we’re guaranteed going to be in really good surf, and we’re planning to invest the most time we ever have in production.

Plus, we’ve already got a special someone in mind.

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