Design legend. The man behind the brand. An innovator’s innovator. These are all phrases that have been used to describe Thomas Meyerhoffer. Meyerhoffer has a long history of shaking up industry norms from creating the eMate for Apple (the precursor to the iMac) to Flow Step-in bindings to game-changing windsurfing sails to new styles of furniture. His client list reads like a Who’s Who of hot, corporate brands. Apple? Yep. Nike? Yep. Oh yah and if you ski or snowboard with a helmet, you can thank Meyerhoffer for creating the little outriggers that attach to your goggle to properly position your strap with a brain bucket on your lid. And many other projects that he can’t or is too humble to name. After taking a look at his surfboards and a YouTube video of someone surfing one of his boards, I was eager to sit down and talk with such an influencer of modern design. You may want to dust off that Physics book before reading as he’s applying some high-tech dynamics to some long-standing, basic surfing principles.
#1 question. So why surfboards? Why now?
For me it’s doesn’t really matter that it’s 2009. It’s really been about the process. I started to make these boards like 5 years ago, experimenting with removing mass and redistributing volume. The outline or shape wasn’t as important to me as reducing volume. I never did the traditional process of drawing the outline and instead said this is what I want to do. The outline grew from the experimentation. This board is really like 4 boards in one board, offering remixed functionality and remixed experience. I’m just putting these pieces together.
So your website says that the Meyerhoffer offers “shortboard elements to longboard design.” Care to explain?
A lot of people talk about parabolic rails. It’s not exactly correct. That idea comes from skiing and snowboarding. There, you need that negative cut. People are also experimenting with that negative cut for surfboards. I’ve moved up the cut very far on these boards to where you don’t need it. So now we’re talking more about positive cut. So it’s not a parabolic cut surfboard.
In reality, you turn the board when you stand on the back of the board, from a positive outline. The only way you can get that same effect is from removing mass. Think of a shortboard outline. It’s really what you have (that decreased mass compared to a longboard) that’s what makes it turn better. You can have a shortboard with straighter or rounder sides. The more rounder the sides the more it turns. That’s the basic shortboard aspect.
Another factor is swing weight. We wanted to decrease weight in areas where you turn a long board, which is up front and completely remove the weight where you don’t need it (in the middle). What we’ve created is a board that still noserides, just like any longboard. But, the unusable (middle) area isn’t there so when you drop in, you can drop into steeper waves. You turn on the curve, farther back, more like a shortboard.
Lastly, we shaped the bottom, creating a high performance profile way in the back, using a deep double concave with a tri-fin setup. It’s really fast, makes it through sections that you normally don’t make on a longboard. The tail is there to create drive and compensate for the really long nose so it is more drawn out to compensate proportionally. Think like a race car, the bigger wings, redistributing the functionality over the surface.
Thomas, you sorta lost me there, but it sounds really rad, and I started thinking about surfing one of your boards. I’m not really a longboarder, but the concept is very intriguing. But how big are we talking? How steep? The waves?
We have pictures from Bells Beach with 8 to 10 foot waves plus. It’s pretty awesome. The boards are designed for the normal surfer, who realistically, gets into steep, beach break waves. With that in mind, it works so much better than a normal longboard. It gives you more ability to turn the board quickly, to avoid the tragic nosedive in the beachbreak. It’s really fun. The 7’6” you can surf with a bunch of shortboarders… since it’s longer, you can paddle in early… sit at the edge and get a few more waves. And a bit further back, you can grab the big floaters as the wave grips the tail with long rails. I can’t say it enough it’s a really fun board. We’ve had a lot of shortboarders try it. And they have a ton of fun. Basically we have a 7’6” that turns like a 6’8” and 6’6”.
Whoa. Sounds like this is some sorta Holy Grail or at least a step-up for the average surfer. Are we talking Tri-fin? Single-fin?
We launched the tri-fin first. I have some single-fins lying around. But at the end of the day, the tri-fin goes well with beach and point breaks that most surfers experience.
So you’ve been quoted as saying that the Meyerhoffer surfboards are for the Recreational surfer. The Performance surfer. Not a Kelly Slater or Mick Fanning.
For most surfers, the great mass that surf have to deal with everyday conditions. They want to get the most out of the water. The parabolic not the singularity, but it’s like the new type of skis which allow you to go down in size and hit more types of slopes, giving way to new way of freestyle skiing. This allows everyone, except pro surfers, to surf more. More time on the wave equals more experiences and having more fun! Something will grow out of that, a nice time to spend in the water. The board works for the beginner for sure, but it’s really geared to the intermediate to someone who goes all the time. We had a bunch of people demo it (30 or so). They were a mix of people from beginners to old crusty dudes, trying it. We had Jenn Smith try it, and she loved it (current longboard champ). Unlike expectations, it’s a lot easier. People expect some learning curve, but no, you just go. As you get more into the board, step back, it accelerates more, gets faster, shifts into second gear so to speak. Hopefully in the end, people get more surf out of it.
Meyerhoffer surfboards will be distributed by Global Surf Industries. How did you link up with Mark Kelly? And why GSI?
Someone recommended that we meet up. I connected well with him: his values, his way of thinking. GSI is completely valuable to the world of surfing with the right way to think about surfing. Very few people realize that they support a lot of local competitions, Surfrider Foundation, etc. They want people just to go out and enjoy and surf.
For the aspiring designers, tell us a bit about your background. It appears that design is critical to the success of any product now more than ever. The products that you’ve designed certainly showcase the importance of design.
I don’t really think about it that way. There’s so much useless design going on. The same old shit. I believe that there’s NO need to design anything if it doesn’t add anything of value. There are too many things out there that are just a marketing exercise to sell more units. We need fundamental change and design that makes people feel a truly different experience. Experiencing a new thing is SO valuable, reconnecting and learning something new. For me, those projects are what I’m really interested in versus making another piece for the landfill.
Your client list reads like a who’s who of action sports. Tell us about some of those projects.
I worked with Smith and basically wanted to solve the problem of sticking a pair of goggles around a motocross helmet for skiers and snowboarders. I had to think about what was a good way to get the strap around the outside of the helmet. We used the Outrigger to make sure the strap stayed in the right place. There are these things that come around every now and then where you can make a fundamental change. This was the same with the Flow step-in binding. We completely re-engineered and re-designed to something that worked. People can come up with a fairly good idea, but if it’s not executed to 110% it will fail. You also need to work on an emotional level, really experience it. You gotta get people to say “Ah this is fucking good.” Once they really connect to it, they’ll go talk about it to their friends and so on.
We take it for granted that a product has to work. Then it’s how you evolve the product around the emotional aspects. It’s more intuitive and you can’t define it, but it’s about creating a better experience. It’s the same thing in the sporting industry. Some people understand it, apply it and have great companies. Then there are other people that just follow. It’s the lost rabbit so to speak, “Oh this is selling good. We need to do the same.” My goal is to work with people who are leading not following.
So, what’s next? I’m sure there are a lot of skeptics.
It’s amazing to see people who are stoked. Anyone who tries the board just loves it. We get a lot of emails, and the boards are already sold out. One guy in FL is getting rid of all his boards and only going with Meyerhoffers. He took a picture of his 30 boards in his garden. He even let his best friend try the Meyerhoffer at Nationals and came in second. It’s nice to see how open people are to trying the boards. People are getting stoked. And really enjoying the board. At the end of the day, people are after the experience. And we just want to help that.
You talk about Nature as a design element. What’s that all about?
Nature for me… It functions so well. Nature is so much better than what we are trying to do. Animals, trees, leaves, all sort of things around us. To me, it’s been really interesting with the board and the natural sculptural proportions. For example the tail grew out of the board: the transition of shapes, flowing in the water and so forth. The board is very sculptural in the water. It looks more at ease in the water like it just wants to be there. When you surf it, it sits well with the wave.
Current surfing as portrayed by the media is sort of an anomaly, growing out of the aggression. The frustration of surfers is a large part of it. They’re never going to be as good as Slater. It’s the same thing over and over again: hack, cut, hack. You’re not going with the wave. But then you take someone like Slater, his way of hacking is very flowing, intuitive and graceful, such beautiful execution. We’re just trying to make the experience easier and better for the average surfer.
These boards certainly are unique and need to be seen and surfed to be experienced. Meyerhoffer surfboards are doing demos all across the country. Check your local shop or at http://www.surfindustries.com/surfboards/modern_meyerhoffer.php for more information. Check here also for more good options for Custom Surfboards.
Posted by Hoon on Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009 in Surfing.