The hottest surfboard at this weekend's Action Sports Retailer expo in San Diego should be a skateboard from San Clemente. Not literally—no one, not even Shea Lopez, could actually go over the lip on a skateboard, a function of gravity for which you should be very grateful: dude can ride everything else. But thanks to the foam crisis and the search for new board materials—and, most of all, to the way we surf now—the hottest new stick in what they used to call America's Finest City will probably be Placebo's latest offshore-made, skateboard-inspired surfboard.
It's called, of course, the Surfskate, and its formal debut was last week at the Surf Expo in Orlando. Which should make San Diego—back on the West Coast, just a few miles from where Placebo head Freddy James dreamed it up—an easy ride. So easy—apparently—James says, that he's not even officially making the Surfskate available to ASR buyers through any of the normal channels, like, say, a table or a booth.
"We're not going to have a booth, but we'll be around at ASR," the Placebo head explains cryptically over—what else?—his cell. "We'll have a few there. I'll have my cell on." Why all the non-fuss? The Surfskate—made offshore, by a company funded by San Clemente-based Lost Enterprises—could be the next right board at the right time.
"The influence of what skaters are doing out there on the street is translating to what surfers are doing in the water," says independent shaper Mike Bruno of Orange. "Now it's come full circle. These kids are pulling airs in the ocean because 'If I can do it in a cement bowl, I can sure as hell pull it in the ocean.'" Skateboarding's first big cultural moment and its second big stylistic shift came in the '70s when—bear with us—the Zephyr crew in Venice ditched the then-common standup, walk-the-board riding style for a low-hung stance inspired by the sweeping pivots of surfer Larry Bertleman. In the past 10 years, the tide has turned, washing the way skaters ride now back out to sea—a shift that, for Lost founder Matt Biolos, was exemplified by the appearance seven years ago of surfer Aaron "Gorkin" Cormican's now-trademark move: a skate-inspired backwards-landing flip off the wave called the Gorkin Flip.
"I think there's a lot of kids out there that are more into doing tricks than they are into doing full rail surfing," Biolos says, voicing what others also say—that, no matter how difficult or mind-blowing the experience, it's no longer enough just to ride the tube. "Right now we're headed in a lot of different directions." He means in board construction, which, thanks to Black Monday, means shapers are eying materials—epoxy resin, for instance—they might never have considered before Clark Foam closed. But he also means in shaping; companies like Placebo are now imitating skateboards with features like concave and stepped decks and rails: places for you to grab when you try to blast through the lip.
"In order to do some of those things, you need a very light, durable board," says Rusty founder/head shaper Rusty Preisendorfer, laughing. "If you're surfing up above the lip, you've got to be able to land. EPS [expanded polystyrene foam] allows for a board that's 10 to 20 percent lighter and conducive to that type of surfing." Makers are still working out the flexibility issue (it can be pretty stiff), but unlike Clark Foam's suddenly old-school polyurethane foam, EPS is available, making it an increasingly attractive choice. And in the hands of the right rider, its stiffness can make it soar even higher.
Placebo doesn't use EPS but an epoxy composite foam borrowed, James says, from windsurfers, who have long pulled off aerial maneuvers reminiscent of skaters. In a world of high-flying surf tricks—but one without Clark—their technology increasingly makes sense.
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"Basically what we did is, we kind of looked at what has evolved in the current style of skateboard, but real symmetrical," James says. Skateboards, he adds, aren't symmetrical, and neither are some surfboards, which—with the combined drag of the necessary fins—makes it tough to rip skate moves without dying. Balance the board and make it out of a tough foam, like Placebo's epoxy-composite molded-foam Surfskate, and you might have something.
"There's some other people who have tried to do stuff like this," James says. "They're close, but they're not looking at skateboarding and trying to tailor it to a surfboard; they're just trying to do skate tricks." The Surfskate doesn't flare like a skateboard deck but is indented to fit the palm of your hand—with a sharp outside edge to catch when you're trying a flip.
"It's so short that you're not flexing the board," James says. "You're just skating along the surface of the water." Which is right where you want to be.
The Surfskate should be available this spring—sometime between mid-February and May—at prices around $515. For information visit www.placebo1.com.