San Francisco’s lust for design innovation stops with its surfers.
That’s unfortunate since Thomas Meyerhoffer, a San Francisco-area surfer and inventor, has designed a surfboard that has so radically reshaped longboarding, a month after it hit the market in March it’s already changed at least one man’s life.
“Nothing has changed the game like my 8-foot Meyer,” 35-year surf veteran Tom Hansen of Florida wrote in an email to the inventor. When Meyerhoffer wondered if the surfer wasn’t teasing his pear-shaped invention, which had already drawn heckles during tests at his home breaks — Hansen sent a follow-up email with two photos of his 30 boards made by top shapers, which he says are all “going bye bye”.
Now, Hansen wrote, “I rip like a kid.”
But Hansen is not the typical surfer. Surfers hate change, especially if it means coughing up more than $600 for an odd-shaped board in a tough economy. When the surf’s up in San Francisco, there’s usually a short window to grab it. Paddle out on the wrong board and you might have been better off just getting to work early.
“People who have been surfing a long time, they know what a surfboard is supposed to feel like,” said Rob Aschero, the general manager of Wise Surfboards, the only city retailer to place an order (it did so on a trust basis with Meyerhoffer’s distributor, Global Surf Industries). “They don’t want a new surfboard. Especially around here you don’t get enough quality surf anyways to try a new board out. You want to be on a board you already know.”
Meyerhoffer, whose successes at tapping other markets are legend (he was responsible for the eMate and designed for Nike and Porsche) now faces a legendary foe: surfers, his toughest marketing challenge yet. But while this venture involves greater risk than his previous ones, it’s also personal.
Meyerhoffer, who lives a block off Highway 1 in Montara, took up surfing a decade ago. Like most sandy-eared wretches, he sees “an absence in creativity” in surfboard designs that flies in the face of the high level of entrepreneurship in the Bay Area, not to mention some top-notch surfing.
It doesn’t add up. At least not until one factors in the truisms of surfing: sleek, flashy designs lure the common surfer to purchase the wrong board, hefty guys try to look cool on tiny boards (and fail), and, historically, previous attempts to do what Meyerhoffer has done – shave off the unnecessary fat from the middle of the board – may be common sense, but have never landed a blockbuster.
Forget for a moment that the Meyerhoffer’s girth in the rear makes for easier turns, that its smaller surface and double concave bends on the bottom near the tail glide faster down the line, and that when the nose lifts out of the water the rider feels almost like he’s riding a shortboard.
These points have all been corroborated by top surfers.
Jan Smith, the women’s world champion longboarder “really liked it,” Meyerhoffer said.
Six invitees at the GSI One Design Invitational in March in Noosa, Australia initially surfed the new 9″2′ Meyerhoffer cautiously. But by the final day of the event, as the surf improved, they were launching broad floaters that wowed even the contestants, Meyerhoffer said.
And yet Joe surfer is still left feeling suspicious. No matter what board great surfers are issued to ride for publicity they invariably manage to look suave. (Recall the surf vid Fair Bits when Taj Burrow, Rob Machado and Kelly Slater rode a door, a shovel, a snowboard, skis, a guitar case and even a coffee table – although not entirely successfully?) That’s why GSI, the largest international surfboard distributor in the world, is playing it smart. The company has sent demo boards to surf shops, including Wise, for the common surfer to try out.
Legendary SoCal shaper Tom Morey may have been the first designer to conceive of the parabolic longboard. Calling his model the Swizzle, Morey and his sidekick, Charles Herpick, tapered the Swizzle’s waist a touch, but less than the super-pinched Meyerhoffer board. The Swizzle rides fast, it’s maneuverable and great for nose riding, while its soft material keeps older surfers like Morey and Herpick, who cringe at the thought of suffering yet another broken rib, still plunging into the water.
“All that extra area in the middle you don’t need,” Herpick said, who has sold thousands of Swizzles. “We’ve had that shape for years and if that’s where he (Meyerhoffer) got that idea than it’s a compliment to Tom.”
About one year later, in Puerto Rico, David Balzack designed and sold a few custom orders of a similar board. But, Balzack, who had quit commercial board engineering for soul surfing, wasn’t in it for the money and never did much to promote the board on the market. While the highlight of the board was its prime setup for nose-riding, “the people found the board maybe too tight for turning,” said Werner Vega, who shaped a half-dozen of the boards for Balzack.
Meyerhoffer says his model is not a spinoff of other pear-shaped prototypes. And through four years of trial and error, replete with heckles in the lineup, he’s taken the rudimentary parabolic design even further – adapting the rails, sharpening and elongating the tail, and adding the double-concave bends near the fins. He thought up the idea while surfing here locally.
“It started out as my own experiment,” he said. “I’m searching for a different feeling. Not a better board. It brings people more stoke. Then you start qualifying and quantifying it: longer rides, easier turns…”
Current trends indicate it’s not the right time to introduce a new design to the market. In recent years it’s become cool to bring back old shapes, not to try out new shapes, Aschero said.
When the demo arrives at Wise, SF Appeal will cover the local reaction – with video, so you can judge the board for yourself. From all we’ve heard so far, the Meyerhoffer deserves to reach the mainstream. But at least in San Francisco that’s going to take time.