More Velo Data Points

About 15 years ago (?) I wrote a short piece on Velo for The Surfer's Journal. They were publishing a feature on the current state of the kneeboarding art, and were looking for an historic counter-point to the modern scene.

I know we've been through this before, but here's another bite at the Velo apple, along with some images added that weren't in the original article...



"That was the headline that topped a feature on George Greenough in the August, 1969 issue of Popular Science. 

Yup. Popular Science. The article was a thinly disguised promotional piece for The Fantastic Plastic Machine, and George’s flexible spoon kneeboard, Velo, was the “scientific” focus of attention. What made this story worth noting was the unblinking conclusion that someday all surfboards would be flexible like George’s.

Not short like George’s.

Not a kneeboard like George’s.

But flexible.

It was a magnificent twist of fate that someone of George’s imagination and intelligence would find his voice, surfing-wise, in kneeboarding. As a member of a yachting family who took frequent jaunts to destinations like the Hollister/ Bixby Ranch and the Channel Islands, George’s surfing developed in a rarefied atmosphere. He shaped small, balsawood kneeboards to ride deep inside the hollow waves he was privy to... 

...and at one point, he made a fiberglass fin that flexed like a fish’s tail. 

The flex fin improved his kneeboards performance so dramatically that he began to conceive of an entire board that could bend in a similar manner.

George’s first flexible fiberglass spoon was made in 1965. 

It was a turn key ripper. After riding it for a year or so, he took the knowledge he had amassed and built ''Velo Super Sport Mark II.'' 

It was wider than the original, and he increased the depth of the displacement hull under the nose. The severe belly allowed George to bury the entire rail in a turn, and the parallel outline gave him something to drive off on as the fin and tail flexed out of the way. In trim, the drag of the hull allowed the nose to be drawn into the juiciest part of the wave, while the large fin counterbalanced that effect, driving the board down the line like a sail. 

In many ways, Velo surfed itself. There was rarely a conflict between where George wanted to go and where Velo was already headed. While the shape appears to be simple at first glance, it’s very complex. The close proximity of Velo’s deep displacement hull under the nose to its dead flat planing area just ahead of the fin is one of the unique aspects of the design. There is a remarkable degree of transition compressed into just five feet of board length.

During the mid-60’s, George’s performance on Velo ignited the surfing world’s imagination. His riding manifested a passion that had laid dormant in the hearts of surfers for untold generations. He was able to confidently rip into waves in the six to twelve foot range. A nasty pocket that sucked out in front of him wasn’t something to be survived, it was an opportunity. George could dive into the pit, pull Velo up onto its rail, break the fin out, and explode through the section. 
He began to think of speed not in terms of making the wave, but in terms of what gear he was running in. First gear was just enough speed to make it. Second gear was enough speed to maneuver up and down while making it. Third gear allowed him to attack a single section three times – once as he rocketed over the top of it as it formed, a second time as he cut back across it as it crested, and a third time as he tucked into the tube as it pitched out. On big days at Rincon, he would link together third gear charges from the Indicator to the sea wall. Often bottom turning around sections that had already been broken down from the track of his previous bottom turn!

The speed and power he had on tap were directly related to Velo’s ability to bend in a turn. Flex allowed Velo’s dead straight tail rocker to “give way” when it banked over into a turn, facilitating any degree of directional change. Then it would snap back straight as the turn leveled out, allowing the board to accelerate down the line without the drag caused by tail lift. Rocker-wise, Velo could morph from a gun to a hotdog board and back again, and George could use each variation to its best advantage.

Flexibility was a profound leap forward in design knowledge, but one which conventional builders have never been able to utilize to any significant degree. The materials don’t yet exist that would allow a buoyant, stand up board to bend in the spring steel like manner of a solid fiberglass kneeboard.

As great a Velo may be, it success is qualified. It’s an extreme design that’s limited to perfect, uncrowded waves....

 ...but flexibility has a universal application that will be appreciated once the right material become available. And when they do, all hell is going to break loose.

Velo was George’s favorite board of all time, and he rode it for 4 years – 1966 through 1970. While he built a number of displacement hull spoons during that period, none had the performance – or the soul -- of Velo SS MK II.

Unfortunately, it was never photographed operating at its peak. Surf movies that documented George on Velo (The Fantastic Plastic Machine, Children Of The Sun, The Innermost Limits Of Pure Fun, The History of Australian Surfing, and at least one of Bob Evans’ offerings) were either fleeting glimpses, or filmed in surf that couldn’t adequately drive the board.

Hands down, Velo was the most sophisticated piece of surf equipment ever built. It was so advanced that even today, some 40 years after it was conceived, it serves as a beacon of our destiny. Everything we’ve accomplished in conventional design is merely preparation for the day when materials will allow us to build a conventional surfboard that can flex in a proper manner...and Popular Science’s prediction that 'George Greenough’s Far-Out, Flexible Surfboard Is The Wave Of The Future' will finally come to pass."

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