Derek Hynd And The Key To Invention
What does Derek Hynd do with his time? Well for one, he drives into the Australian desert scouring junkyards for pets. Another thing he does is ride waves on far fields with friction-free bliss on boards he’s recycled specifically to harness speed, hold, line and roller derby whip. As a surfboard maker in an unknown universe, every day presents an opportunity for new discovery. A fun place to be and a great reason to have a chat.
SW: It’s been a while since we checked in with you DH, what have you been up to lately?
DH: I got back from a pretty long trip away to a suss new PM that I knew from university days as a suss student leader. Abbott making it to PM stems to Pauline Hanson tapping the fear and shifting Australia. I grabbed a car and my dog and drove into the desert – just had to see and touch the red earth that’ll outlast this modern Australia. I went back to Halls Creek where I got Buntine [Hynd’s dog] about two years back to see if any of his rellies were still in the junkyard under a car or two and came back with his mother Hi-Lux and two heeler pups from her next litter. It felt good coming back with four dogs full of dingo. I was just another dog for a while on the road there and it felt better than life in any city or big town. Other than that, just been surfing nice long small waves at a secret spot with 100 others most days.
Well I’d hazard a guess you weren’t the only free friction surfer out there. Are you encouraged by the way so many people are vibing on that feeling or are there elements you find frustrating?
The only element that bums me out is when non-groms ride boards that were built in Asia and without enough R&D. I’ve been back around Newport/Mona Vale for the first time in a long time and yep, there were three groms out on soft boards without fins. They looked pretty happy just having fun with it. I’ve been in touch with Freddie Gilliat down Bronte way who has been well into it as a young bloke and he and his mates seem to be frothing on the sub culture. You know, side stepping the big tribe. Up on the North Coast there’s probably a little bit more serious surfing going on with the concepts. About five guys look consistently set. Thing is, this may not end up being a ‘hipster’ thing at all because it takes dedication in critical waves to get the know-how of free friction wired – so anyone going into it for a perceived “cool factor” is going to have to put on a different head or give it a miss.
When we first talked friction free surfing a few years ago you were already making your own boards. How are the designs different now from then. What’s been your most significant breakthrough?
A lot of the original keys are still there – the resin edge, concave, depth of one or two of the channels. I guess the improvement has been in having to reconstruct a board that did what it had to do backhand as well as forehand without losing any of the mainstays – speed, hold and drift. That happened because of an event 18 months back up in the north-west where faking it couldn’t happen. On those reefs, ‘hold’ at speed is your only friend. I’m riding the FFFF [far field free friction] boards in the centre, leaving the back end floating until elements of the wave demand grip, then drive, then release, so how to deliver the weight and power distribution back there was always going to be the key conundrum. Necessity being the key to invention, I figured it out over a few days and the prototype did what it was meant to. As a bit of fate would have it, the first wave I rode at “Spot X” was the biggest of the trip and I got into it pretty late and the feeling was like working out some mad equation. I burnt Dane Beevor for the ride and somewhere down the track he’ll be fading me back. It’ll come. There was some stuff at J-Bay towards the end of last year too where I built the 6’6” double-ender with more thickness in the tail than the nose. That resulted in improvements in acceleration as the board came free of the lip during a flip. So a couple of decent things there. The most significant thing though has always been the entry speed. Got to have momentum into your first drive, doesn’t matter if it’s one foot or 10.
“ANYONE GOING INTO IT FOR A PERCEIVED ‘COOL FACTOR’ IS GOING TO HAVE TO PUT ON A DIFFERENT HEAD OR GIVE IT A MISS.”
Can you take us through the process of shaping these boards and explain what you’re trying to achieve?
I’m not trying to achieve anything except have more fun than I’ve ever had. It’s been that way going on eight years now. It’s not going to be everyone’s cuppa. Never was meant to be. There’s no other agenda – sure I want to see what would have evolved had the Blake skeg not come about in the 30s but it’s still about the fun. It’s about building the board – not just shaping it. Post shaping is key. The way it’s glassed and sanded and rail edged. The finish coat as well covers only so much, leaving it part sanded in 40 grit. The process starts with a board worth ripping the glass off and recycling and deconstructing. Once the wrinkles are solved, then it’s into clean skin boards. That’s a few years back now. I’m not much of a shaper start to finish. Much better craftsmen have been in the picture too. Just in having the boards of Skip Frye to teach me about the importance of highline and speed – then the old bellyboards of Simon Jones that I first ripped into. That was seminal. Dane Peterson at the Musica Surfica event contributed the core of a double-ender too that has evolved in time via the rail edges. Des Sawyer and Mikey Meyer have been solid putting their own J-Bay foils in before the channel/edge work is done. Same too Jed Done who’s from my old Fish days, Bryan Bates with his vacuum bagging and lately Rod Hocker with his lightweight epoxy know-how. What I do that’s key is in the last, say, 30 per cent of a hand built board of ‘driving’ dimensions – switching it to free friction. Kids out there should dig into the old boards in the family garage and rip right in. Mum and Dad may or may not be stoked with the carnage. The first fun of doing something new only leads to greater fun once the new knowledge is put in new scenarios – without the crutch of going back to fins for safety – or what you knew before.
When you come up with a new design idea do you take it to the furthest extreme and then work your way backwards or is it more an inch by inch deal?
Yeah, the hunch is good when doubled with history so I’ve jumped in at the deep end but have only made a major shift the one time. The resin edge died in about 1974. It was mighty for speed, hold and release in certain situations. I grew up with a few boards finished with that edge so I jumped in with it as the main vein once I got hammered with early incarnations at J-Bay. I mean, bad and consistent wipeouts in a down-the-line situation. That edge gave the rail more and more hold the faster and more critical the wave became. Not so far removed from the bite of a ski or snowboard. I haven’t gone back to any of the stuff pre-2007. Anything beyond that hasn’t changed too radically.
I had a go on one of Justin Crawford’s Space Cowboys and the thing threw me off like an unbroken horse. I couldn’t ride it. Have you made any total shockers?
The only shocker I’ve made was ripping into an old kneeboard with rocker that made no sense. The board didn’t move, so, sure. But Justin’s board may have been great – so get back on that cowboy horse Blakey. Stick with it. Break it in. Maybe you should have been starting off minimally instead of trying to crunch it. Maybe? Dunno. FFFF is about minimalism, bottom line. Learn to feel the rail and the wall of any wave by increments. I haven’t studied Justin’s board. Don’t know what secret herbs and spices he’s sprinkled onto it. There’s a fine line in delivering edge and forgiveness. I guess this is what R&D is all about.
Have you developed a quiver for different waves? Would you ride the same board at two foot Pass as you would 10 foot J-Bay?
Sure thing. Any board I build, 5’6” to 11’4”, is for any condition. An interesting reverse approach though was taught to me by Terry Fitzgerald in 1978. His theory was to build contest boards designed for perfect walls. My job was to make them work in shit. That way I could ride that one board in anything. I carry that lesson and thank you TF.
Tell us about the board you were riding at Lennox… is it among your favourites?
It’s a favourite in juice. That’d be ‘New Pat’, the first time I’d ridden it in Australia. It loves a power section, the one with the thicker back built for faster rotations out of the lip at Supers. 6’6” double-ender. Double six on the bottom, six and a four on top. Faithful speed and strength. It’s pretty well built for as much speed as possible. Getting out of the lip and back in via a loop is a pretty quick motion. Upon re-entry there’s increased acceleration down the face, like the whip hand one player would give another in the old roller derby to get past the baddies. Back in 2007 Nick Carroll, old Newport connection, asked me what I’d do when I get bored with it all. Nick’s more of a grand traditionalist so it was a fair question. I couldn’t see around corners back then, can’t now, but I knew I’d never be going back because shit like this was somehow going to unfold. Wiring these boards brought on the feeling of more potential.
How much scope is there for finless boards to evolve?
For every improvement, there’s another increment to ponder. That’s life. Free friction is a walk to the far field. Something untapped. It’s maybe about 40 per cent there, the way Simon would have thought the thruster was part way developed by the mid 80s. This thing has a ton of legs but it’s jazz not rock, more infinite than finite. These aren’t just the bedrock riffs of rock that go back to one or two tunes of the mid 1950s. There are so many variations to adapt – two feet to way overhead. I guess it takes a lateral slant to approach and embrace it, thinking of new ways to skin a cat, a reverse shoe into the pocket, the drive 360 in the barrel. Even if it’s 0.01 per cent of surfers wanting to feel this, they’ll take it way beyond what I’m up to, eventually. It’ll last. There’s no end to the far field. Just when you think you’re out of control – you’re back in trim. It’s too much fun.
“For every improvement, there’s another increment to ponder. That’s life. Free friction is a walk to the far field.”
Feel the freedom. Fuel the fun. (Van Gysen)
Can you see a point in the future where there are a crew of committed friction free shapers doing it commercially?
Committed? Solely into free friction? I can’t see that far ahead. Surfing is way more conservative than left field. Free friction can stay in the cottage for a long time until shapers know what they’re doing for the right reasons. No Asian production bullshit for starters. No selling the soul that way. There’s no stopping people from doing what they want but from my end – no building free friction boards unless shapers know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. That way FFFF breathes on as a very minor counter culture. Staying clear of the modern surfing behemoth, no matter in what minor way just… feels… good. There’s a small core out there that know the feeling.
Last time we spoke you said you were at about 40 per cent in terms of what you were capable of learning from friction free surfing. Where do you think you are at today?
Yeah, still about 40 per cent Blakey – every little win expands the far field. Now go and get back on that horse, and not just for a wave or two