Curiosity: It’s the proverbial cat-killer and progress trigger.
The human urge to question just what’s possible and what it might feel like drives innovation and the continual development of our endeavors. The vast majority of our achievements as a species can be traced back to the moment when an inquisitive individual asked themself “what if?”, but balancing that relentless onwards surge is the curiosity to understand not just how something might feel, but what something felt like in the past. Often, progress is so rapid that important stages in design evolution are left behind as they are made obsolete by the next, hot on its heels improvement. These stages are no less relevant, however, and a curiosity to retrace steps and feel what something was like is a strong urge in many of us. Often, looking back can help to find a new way forward or open up a parallel track.
It is possible, these days, for a surfer with a curious disposition to experience the same feeling riding a wave as a surfer from decades past; the waves haven’t changed, but our equipment has. If you strike it lucky at a garage sale, are the highest bidder at an auction, or just order a “retro” shape from your shaper then you can get an old design under your feet. There are gaps in the available archives though, and limits to how far most surfers would go just to sate their inquisitiveness; commissioning a traditional Hawaiian olo is a lengthy, specialist, and no doubt prohibitively expensive process for a surfboard that will likely only be ridden a handful of times. But a hollow wooden, Tom Blake style, “cigar box” paddle/surfboard? Well, that was a design conceived and propagated in a DIY era, and is an achievable project for any moderately practical individual with a bit of free time.
Harry and I are both possessed with a curious disposition when it comes to surfboard design. We also possess a couple of pairs of gifted US Navy Seals swim shorts and my grandad’s 1930s Kodak box brownie, and they provided us with all of the excuses that we required to justify building our own cigar box. Books and scanned images of the pages of Popular Mechanics provided us with plans, and we adapted these for the materials that we had available to us, producing a 12’ finless Blake-esque surfboard. Shot on the 85 year-old box brownie, a 1960s TLR and various 35mm cameras, the documenting of our box’s maiden voyage proved to us that times may change, but the experience remains the same.
To check out more of Mat’s photographic work and personal projects, take a look at www.matarney.com or give him a follow on instagram.