Daniel Thomson: Surfboards and Fighter Jets
Daniel Thomson is an Australian born surfer/shaper that is at the forefront of a new movement of surfboard design. After talking to him for a bit, I can summarize it as; less foam, more function. There is a bit more to it than that though, Dan talks about planing theory, fluid dynamics and fighter jet research and how each of those affects his board designs.
Dan has been shaping for about 15 years now. At 29 years old, he is one of a select crew of renaissance men who can shape and rip, both with amazing precision. We sat down with Dan to talk about his shaping theories and the boards he has been making under the label Tomo Surfboards.
SurfScience: Your boards have a very distinct look. Where do we get started? What is your theory on surfboards?
Daniel Thomson: Well, the first place to start is the outline. They're straighter, that gives them more planing and better lift. When you use a straighter outline you get more function for the volume of foam you use in the board so you can make the boards a little bit smaller. My boards have a little bit wider of a tail design, but instead of continuing that width into the middle, I'm actually going narrower. Even more narrow than my regular shortboards. It results it a straighter rail.
You don't really need volume once you're up on a wave you can pretty much have no foam at all at that point. You only really need foam to catch a wave, so I've been working to decrease the volume of foam and developing that theory and adding my own style of fins developed by my father Mark and I over the past 20 years. I'm playing around with that and trying out different fins, hatchet fins for more drive and also different tail shapes to decrease drag and increase control.
SS: How long have you been working with these board types?
DT: Its a step by step process over years. I started with refining the fish because its such a pure fun design. Then I thought, why not take the best of that and combine that with the best of modern surfboard design.
I just kept going with that and tying different ideas; reducing the volume and refining it. Everyone has been going shorter and looking for a competitive edge and looking for more maneuverability to do the new radical stuff, but the trouble is when you compensate length with width you get more curve in the outline and that creates drag. You're going to loose the ability to draw out turns and really stick it on rail. You loose the off the rail drive. They do a lot of rad aerial stuff, but I really like to surf with power. Some of the pros can do that on wider boards, but as far as us, the regular mortals, if we want to dig in, having less curve in the outline really helps.
SS: Speaking of mortals... that's how a lot of us feel. Will these boards work for us regular guys?
DT: You know I try and to give everyone a better experience in the water. That's the whole point of surfing, to have a better time and to have more fun. My main motivation is to find new ways to open doors for surfing to get more radical in the air and on the face of the wave.
SS: What kind of waves are you riding that influence these shapes?
DT: I'm from Lennox Head, Australia which is on the east coast, about an hour south of the Gold Coast. We've got a lot of good long right hand point breaks. Its the perfect testing grounds for equipment so you can really dial in your ideas and theories, which definitely helps the process.
SS: So a lot of high performance surfing then?
DT: We'll they're really versatile, they perform a lot of functions. It planes well, it creates an edge so it really holds well and projects your turns. You've got functional powerful surfing as well as radical high performance new school stuff. I find they really combine those aspects of new-school and old-school.
A lot of small wave boards, the shorter wider stuff is good for mushy waves and doing tricks but you can't take it out to a bigger wave and really rip on it. The channel bottoms on these give it control so you can ride it in bigger waves as well. You're never going to slide the tail out if you have that edge on the rails because it acts as a fin itself and lets you drive off of it. You can really dig into that bottom turn and when all of the aspects of the board combine you don't have to worry about sliding out or it being to skatey.
SS: Lets talk more about the channels for a second.
DT: Well on this one I put a quad concave inside a single concave. Its actually a single concave the whole way through and then in the back there is a quad inside of that single concave. So it doubles the concave to give it more lift and more function.
Its difficult to shape, but its even harder to sand it. You can't get the machine inside of it. I'm trying to work on my own ideas and so every facet of the board is unique. Its a lot of work, but I think it pays off in the performance.
SS: Another thing that is really unique about your boards are these tail designs.
DT: Basically the idea comes from the fighter jets. The F-15 and the F-22 Raptor. What I've been learning is that in fluid dynamics, the physics is the same with hydrodynamics and aerodynamics, its just different densities of fluid. So I was looking at the raptor tails and wings for low drag theory. Its about releasing that line of flow off of the angle in the tail for minimal drag. It provides maximum drive with minimum drag.
SS: Looking again at the outline, some people say a straight outline makes it harder to turn. What are your thoughts on that?
DT: Thats exactly right. A straighter outline will give you more edge control and draw the turn out, but that's why I'm physically reducing the size of the board so much. It allows you to control it and put it wherever you want.
You're getting the best of both worlds. The physical volume is tiny. Its smaller than any boards in the world. They're like a skateboard or wakeboard. This one is 5'3" by 17"3/4 by 2"1/8. Thats about an inch narrower than I ride a shortboard. I'm not compensating anywhere with width, I'm using planing aspects. Its just like an alaia. They don't need volume, they're just bits of wood, but they create dynamic lift.
SS: 5'3", seriously?
DT: Ya, I'm riding about 7-8 inches shorter than I ride my regular thruster without compensating in width or thickness. Once I'm up and riding, I don't want to ride anything bigger. I can surf powerfully with all of my energy put into my turns and with a much smaller board. For me its a performance upgrade.
For more info on Daniel Thomson and Tomo Surfbaords, check out his blog: Tomo Surfboards