Hull Mythbusters #1 ...

"You can't ride a hull kneeboard in small, high tide Malibu."


12 Classic Displacement Hulls: #3, The Simmons Board

 Bob Simmons, left, holding court...

You could write a book about Bob Simmons and the boards he created...anything less would be doing him a disservice.

There are tons of blog articles about the man and his machines, and collectively, they tell a story well worth sifting through. I'll just post a quick, thumbnail sketch that hits most of the high points... 

What is commonly known as "A Simmons Board" is a long, parallel outlined displacement hull. Rails are blade thin, and the deck has a distinct 'S shape'. Built of balsa and glass...

...or, made of a styrofoam core, covered with a thin plywood veneer and glass. (The first foamie!)

The Simmons Board was clearly the first modern surfboard. He literally blew open the design paradigm...taking boards from 100 pound slabs of solid wood to sleek, lightweight, glass covered planing hulls. He provided an undreamed of design canvas that builders like Downing, Quigg and Velzy ran with after Bob's untimely passing in 1954.

There were so many groundbreaking advancements swirling around Simmons' boards, it's hard to comprehend that one man -- with a bad arm -- was capable of developing it all in such a short time:

  • Simmons rough-shaped his boards with a milling machine, giving him complete control over the rocker and deck shape. The days of design dictated by laboriously hand carved slabs of wood were over. 

  • His boards were constructed from balsawood cores covered in fiberglass...making their weight a full 50 pounds lighter than any previous board of that length. 50 pounds of lost weight in one fell swoop!!! 
 Matt Kivlin

  • Beyond the dramatic increase in speed, sensitivity and maneuverability, Simmons' lightweight boards opened up surfing to more women. 

  • Simmons boards utilized a fin as an integral part of the design, as opposed to an experimental 'add-on'. They often sported two fins...another innovation that still resonates today. 

  • The decks were as fully shaped as the bottoms...and that, perhaps, is the least appreciated element of his design work. The S-Deck allowed the volume to be concentrated nearer the center of the board, moving the balance point back and making his boards extremely sensitive. Not only did Simmons cut the weight of boards in half, he also moved the balance point back...generating two major weight-related improvements at one time. 

  • Variations included concave bottoms...

...and slot rails.

Meistrell Brothers

  • Every square inch of the shape, and every cubic inch of volume, was pre-determined by the designer. This photo shows the "transitional volume" concept Simmons developed. (ie. more volume under the rail line in the nose, transitioning to more volume above the rail line in the tail.)

  • The outlines and contours of Simmons' boards were based on objective hydrodynamic studies made outside the field of surfing... 

The result of all this was an unprecedented level of efficiency. Simmons boards slipped along the wall, generating very little drag and leaving a fine, organized wake. 


Dave Sweet

 Simmons and Kivlin

And Simmons had the cajones to test his radical, wide tailed boards in big Island surf...

 Simmons and Flippy Hoffman, Makaha

If you were a progressive California surfer in the late 40's/early 50's, nothing short of a board built by Bob Simmons would do...  

Even the likes of Peter Lawford and  Joltin' Joe DiMaggio rode Simmons boards!

Another Pig Update From Florian ...


I thickened the D fin on my new pig to about 7/8" thick, with the thick point well forward as you suggested.

I took it out again, this time at PV Cove, steep angle south swell, a tough angle for the Cove to pull in, but still 1-3' with 4' sets, the sets tending to close out, so you have to be choosey, but with a nice south wind texture on it (south wind it side shore there.)

The pig went really positive with the thick foil on the fin, definitely easier to turn and less stiff. Cutback no problem. I feel the big D fin acts like a big sale which really makes the board go.

On some of the bigger sets the board was just flying! On one wave I proned one long whitewater section and the board just pulled itself along all the way into the green. It definitely goes.

I rode only one wave frontside and that's when the board started feeling stiff again. Maybe the D fin works backside much better as you can push the fin more and put more pressure on it? But then again a lot of people seem to ride D fins frontside with no problem...

Let me know what you think!


Update From Florian ...

Hi Paul,

I finally had another go out on the pig this past week.

2' to 4' south swell at C Street, fairly clean and lined up. I rode it with the fin pictured.

Unfortunately, I didn't get too many waves as I had to contend with a bunch of overzealous longboarders in their twenties, but I managed to snag a few.

On my best wave, a nice 4 footer, the board was just flying. The weight of the board combined with the low rocker makes it really go. It felt a little stiff, but overall not too bad. It definitely wants to go with that fin. I will fatten it up, as you suggested. I'm sure that's all it needs.

I also still need to adjust my stance to stand further back as I'm used to riding further forward. I will keep you posted.



The Neil Purchase "Virgin" ...

One morning in 1974, I was shooting pictures from the water at what's now known as the "Super Bank" in Coolangatta...

I had just run out of film, and was jonesing to get back to my flat across the street and swap my water housing for my stubby. As I was swimming towards shore, some guy on a well overhead wave dropped out of the sky on a wide, beat-up, stringerless hull of some kind. He hit the flat water at the base of the wave, and, with just the balls of his feet, threw the board over on it's side. The entire rail, nose to tail, was buried, and he accelerated off the bottom and went rocketing past me.

It looked like he was riding a first-gen V-Bottom. WTF???  This was a full 5 years after the last Deep V was seen in the water anywhere in the civilized world. And back then, 5 years was like 50 years. There was NO nostalgia happening in 1974, as far as I could tell.

A local guy I knew paddled past me, and I blurted out, "Who the hell was that???!!!"

"Neil Purchase, mate!"

I made it home, grabbed my hull, and ran back to the top of the point. I was as anxious to talk to this Neil guy as I was getting any waves. Long story short, he was gone by the time I got out in the water, and I never saw him again.

Fast forward 41 years...

I was going through the Neil Purchase Junior web page, here, and found some info on the first board Neil Senior shaped...a classic Deep V with a few cool tweaks. (Like a stepped deck and a scooped out area on the tail.) It sure looked like the board I saw him ride back in '74! Could it be?

From that web page...

"Neal Purchase senior's first board "the Virgin", 8'4 , shaped at Keyo's in '66 whilst he was still the fin maker and shit kicker. See above for Neal senior riding it. Ted Spencer and Kevin Platt also rode it, came back raving, and he was immediately promoted to the shapers job with Bob Mctavish."

Image of Ted Spencer riding that board, with a comment by David Bell, on Pinterest...

"Ted Spencer on NP Senior's 8'4 x 24 x 3 1/4 Virgin with asymmetric vee and concave deck in the tail, the first board he shaped at Keyo's factory in '67.....a part of the short board revolution, and a major improvement on his surfing, NP Senior will not ride a log to this day..."