Bob Simmons’ short yet extraordinary surfing career began in 1939 and ended abruptly with the fateful ride that took his life at Windansea in1954. Simmons streaked across the uncluttered walls of Miki Dora’s fabled early fifties Genesis Period, riding on multi-finned hydrodynamic planing hulls that shared the same aerodynamic form and complex minimalism as mid twentieth century modern design. His personal boards ranged in length from six to eleven feet, featured dual fins, concave bottoms, and weighed as little as nine pounds. With obsessive determination, Simmons put his creations to the test at every respectable break from Malibu to Makaha. Doubters sometimes scoffed at his odd looking boards, but Simmons was not daunted. He blazed his own trail, leaving a legacy of progressive surfboard design that continues to prove its relevance more than half a century after his death.
Simmons was an evolutionary link between surfing’s Polynesian roots and the rise of the modern era. He gained knowledge and inspiration from ancient objects including boomerangs, feathered arrows, and traditional Hawaiian surfboards, borrowing from the past to create the boards that would shape the future. Simmons’ quest to build the ultimate surfboard was fueled by the application of mathematics and composite construction processes. If there were a sacred text relating to surfboard design, then many of the inscriptions on it would be the math equations used by Bob Simmons to create his hydrodynamic planing hulls. A large portion of his equations would in turn be mathematical expressions of the planing surfaces found in traditional finless Hawaiian surfboards.
Simmons respected and understood the amazing principles of speed and planing found in the old Hawaiian boards. In the mid forties, paipo and alaia type surfboard designs were tested in Hawaii as part of an effort to improve military powerboat performance, and in 1946 naval architect Lindsay Lord published the results of these tests in a study titled The Naval Architecture of Planing Hulls. Simmons obtained a copy of Lord’s report and referred to it when designing his first planing hull surfboard in 1948. He was effectively combining ancient Hawaiian knowledge with modern hydrodynamic theory to arrive at an entirely new type of surfboard. This was his greatest achievement, and represents a significant contribution to the evolution of surfing. Simmons’ use of a paipo derived hydrodynamic planing surface, in combination with a finned rail that generated dynamic lift and maintained directional stability has evolved into the fundamental design blueprint for the modern surfboard.
Music: “3 little stones” written by alias pail/bryan doring and steve dacosta.
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