Recently a buddy of mine relatively new to surfing, who was looking for another board, sent me a link to a Craigslist ad for a 7'0" displacement hull shaped by a man named Bojorquez who made boards in Malibu in the '70s. I had a vague notion of what exactly a displacement hull was and what sort of waves it was intended for, but the sled was so attractive and the price so good that I told him to jump on it. He picked it up; turned out the girl selling it lived down the street, and I came over for a beer and a small celebration of the new purchase.
I could tell from my limited shaping experience and years riding various boards, that this stick was different from anything I'd ever seen; but the differences were subtle. The one thing I knew about hulls is that the bottom contour was not flat or concave like the traditional modern shape. It is shaped like a boat hull; convex forming either a V or a 'belly' down the length of the board. My knowledge of the design pretty much ended there. I had, I would soon learn, very misplaced notions of what this translated to in terms of how the board would perform. It looked cool, that much was for sure. Very foiled, thin rails gave the old shape a 'bladey' feel; giving the impression that despite its length and width it would act very nimbly in the surf.
I was excited for my buddy, but I was also naturally very stoked myself to trade boards with him and give the thing a go. Just looking at it I could picture myself making smooth, artful turns in the pocket and cutbacks on the shoulder. Months went by; the waves were flat, my friend had to work or was out of town on camping trips. He put a crack in the rail and had to take it to a shade tree ding repair service run by an eccentric Brazilian man. His service was cheap and good but required extreme patience. Finally, this weekend we picked up the sled from the Brazilian (putzing around his shop as he applied the final touches), and headed to a South Bay reef break for some fun, chest high combo swell.
I was riding my 6'5" single fin and having a fun day. Lots of easy takeoffs into long, top to bottom walls that allowed for three or four turns. After an hour I was starting to feel pretty good about myself. Not in a cocky way, just in a 'thank the Lord I still have it' sort of way. About that time my buddy, we'll call him Esteban, asked me if I wanted to trade. Brimming with confidence I immediately agreed, convinced I was about to put on a display of first class displacement hull finesse.
The highly foiled rails felt good as I sat astride the red tinted wave slider. A set came, I let the first couple smaller waves pass then took a beautiful shoulder high left. The board paddled well with its low, flat rocker and I got into the wave early. 'This is it!' I thought, 'this is where I make those soulful arcing turns I've seen in videos of guys like Jimmy Gamboa on displacement hulls.' The line I took was basically the same as I had with my 6'5", angling down the line to beat the steep upcoming section. However, instead of taking off, allowing me to pump and gain speed, the red hull seemed to have its own plan in mind. It sort of pearled, lost speed and drifted out the back of the wave. I watched in terror as the shapely left peeled away unridden. My buddy saw the whole thing. This was a setback to be sure, not to mention a ding to my confidence, but I paddled back to the lineup with determination. I would master the hull by sessions end.
The next three or four waves unfolded in almost the exact same inelegant maneuver. I teetered between returning the board before the session was completely ruined, or pressing on until I made one good wave. At this point, though, I was freezing and tired and decided to cut my losses. This sort of thing happens all the time in surfing (and life in general); you paddle in completely defeated, feeling you've come up against a ceiling in your abilities. But, as always, on the drive home, and later that evening the discouragement turned into an insatiable hunger to summit the mountain so to speak.
Getting on towards evening I did something I'd never done before; googled how to ride a certain type of shape. I would have signed up for a class if I could at that moment. Luckily, surfers being rather obsessive types, there was a wealth of information on the subject of displacement hulls and how to ride them. I learned about how the bottom contour, rail design, and foam distribution work together to create a highly refined machine. But one that requires a very specific technique and style of wave. The shaper of this particular board, Bojorquez, lived in Malibu and primarily rode the cobblestone right hand points of the area. Waves like Topanga, Malibu, Point Dume and occasionally Rincon. He designed this shape to excel in small to medium, top-to-bottom pointbreaks. The hull shape in the bottom makes the tail of the board sink into the wave the faster it goes, as opposed to a more standard modern shape that gets up on a plane and will go as fast as the wave will allow. This means unless you're in the most critical section of the wave; the pocket, going straight down the line is not an option-the board will pearl as it had on my first attempt. Instead the pilot must keep it on a rail; racing to the bottom of the wave, committing to full rail bottom turns to gather power and speed while angling for the pocket. The rails are foiled so thinly to act as auxiliary fins, slicing into the wave and holding a line.
To be honest, this is an oversimplified take on the art of riding a displacement hull written by a novice. I suppose the lesson here is sometimes trying something new, not being afraid to look like a kook, is just what's needed to rekindle a passion. Even though I made a complete fool of myself that day I experienced a feeling that I hadn't in a long time; a hunger to learn and get back out in the water to try and reach the seemingly unattainable. I experienced it as a kid in Florida learning to hit the lip, in high school when first going on trips to surf heavier waves in Central America, and finally in Hawaii while I lived there after college where my peers pushed me to surf in the most critical conditions of my life. Get out and experiment, free yourself up from 'looking good,' it'll keep you stoked.