I was interested in learning to ride a shorter board, just to broaden my surfing. My shaper Austin Saunders must have had the same idea, because out of nowhere, there appeared a white, 6’6”, Mini Simmons Planing Hull design over Christmas. It is a beautiful shape, simple, and elegant, and still futuristic looking more than fifty years after conception. I looked at the Simmons in the shop, and started talking to Austin about it. I hemmed and hawed, and researched a good portion of the winter while I surfed my short board (10’2” Austin Blunt), and my longboard (11’0” Austin Soul Glide). Then, around my birthday in March, I started thinking about ways to “get my mini on”…my lovely wife Kathy said “Get it, you’ve been drooling over it all winter, go ahead and order it, for your birthday, for god’s sake order it!” So I did, put in my order for a 6’6” Mini Simmons.
I wanted just a hair more volume, I’m 230lbs on a good day (short, fat, and draggy (me, not the board)). Although I know, in theory, how a Simmons shape is supposed to paddle like a long board. That was an abstraction I couldn’t get my arms around. In any event, Austin, who is a big fella’ just like me, agreed that a little more volume should work for me. Austin is a student of shaping and surfboard history, he proceeded to enlighten me on the various aspects of what made the Simmons, a Simmons. Some of which I knew, as I know a thing or two about aerodynamics, Bernoilli’s equations, and fluid flow. But I still had a nagging fear that I would not catch a wave for weeks on this board, while I completely relearned to surf (and maybe committed Harikiri). Austin calmed my anxiety and explained more about the theories behind the Simmons.
It starts with a flat wide surface that has little rocker. Don’t mistake nose chine for rocker, the chine gets you planning earlier and more efficiently. A wide, flat bottom (like me), first proposed by Lindsey Lord, his seminal work Naval Architecture and Planing Hulls, adopted by Simmons, was the key to reducing drag, increasing paddling power, and maneuverability. A square tail allows speed down the line due to low loading on the tail, twin fins (quad in my case) combined with a concave rear end (also like me), make this board a stable, fast, and maneuverable (stable and maneuverable are usually mutually exclusive in aero and fluid dynamics) platform. “We’ll see.” I thought to myself.
Well four weeks went by (this is a very busy time of year for Austin). All I thought about: The Simmons, Wave quality/quantity for the next couple days, my job. So one Friday, while visiting Austin’s for “Beer Thirty” (a gathering of Austin-ites), I asked, “So how is the board going Austin?” He said, “It will be two weeks, realistically.” ARGHH! The last board Austin made me was done in three weeks, and it was almost four feet longer…but I know this is purely supply, demand (on him, his time, and materials), and I needed to take a number just like everyone else. Austin works hard, does all the shaping and glassing with a very limited staff, and remember, nothing good comes easily (or quickly).
Two additional weeks dragged by, I was purposely putting board pickup thoughts out of my mind as much as possible (with all my nightly dreams being Simmons fish dreams). So I was surprised one day as I was leaving the beach after an evening sesh’, that as I cruised past Austin’s shop, it was open, the gang was there, and when I pulled in, so was my Mini Simmons. Whoop, Whoop! I was so stoked, it was much smaller than anything I had actually surfed, and the glassing was perfect, and more beautiful than any board I had ever seen. I was elated, it’s everything good you can think of about Christmas or birthdays. The board looked beautiful, functional, fast and spaceship like. I looked at it, talked about how the waves were going to be tomorrow, how it was supposed to be good in the AM……Austin said, “You know, you can’t ride this for another 7 days.” What? You have got to be sh$%ing me? Austin said “Nope, I just finished it today, and it needs seven days to cure. Sorry Bro…” Knife through the heart!!!
I was crushed, and stoked all at the same time. It was a light blue base, with stripes of multi-colored pigment resin across the width of the board. Austin calls that pattern a Mexican Blanket. I love it, it reminds me of Mexico, San Diego, and Cali in general, the goodness of the waves there. I have that same pattern on another of my Austin boards, the Blunt, also an absolutely gorgeous board that surfs incredibly well. Anyway, if I thought the two weeks went by slowly, the seven…I mean five days I actually waited were worse. But now, I had a face to the name I had only dreamed about. I could hold and wax her, she was real. As Tuesday came, Wednesday looked on Swell Info like it might be decent (for VB), and Thursday looking like it was going to suck, I made a command decision, five days should be good enough.
Wednesday morning I surfed my blunt, it was 2’ to 3’ and glassy, I surfed first street with the dawn patrol (Franky, Mikey, Scotty, Ben, and Sonny showed) and I had a great time. But I was really waiting for after work, when, if the wind would be kind, I’d get my first intro to Mr. Simmons.
The wind was a little easterly, the water was choppy, but every once in a while, things would line up. I was at the jetty, protected from northeasterly winds a little. I was all alone, just me and my new multicolored mistress. The first thing I noticed about her, after I dothed the spring suit, was how light this board was compared to either blanket (my 10’2” blunt) or the Ace (11’0” Soul Glide) as I walked the quarter plus mile to the beach access. A little wide at 23” 11/16”, but light at less than 8 pounds. I ran the whole way….like the little feral blond kid in the “PRESENT”, at 49 and 230 lbs.
I got to the jetty, it was empty….just as I planned. Choppy, but not too choppy. I paddled out after affixing my leash, truly, it paddles well. I’m never going to win the Oahu to Molokei, but I’m making good way. It’s weird having so little of your board in front of you, I definitely got the feeling that I was going to pearl hard the first time I paddled. But, as I made it to the spot I wanted to be in, I waited, and waited, then a little A-frame popped up, headed right to me. I turned and started paddling, I got the lifty, accelerating feeling, and I started my clumsy attempt to get to my feet. I “popped up” (more like a slow totured drag to my feet one foot at a time. I got my feet positioned correctly (close enough), and rode this little board across a couple sections that I would never have made on any longboard. Then kicked out to my right…..it wasn’t pretty, I dug my nose in, and flew onto the shallow sandbar headfirst (no blood, no foul).
I was hooting myself like I had just won the Eddy! No way surfing this board was going to be this easy. But I caught a good number of waves that day, and as I write this little tale, I have not had any epic wave opportunities yet…but I feel like the board will, and I will, perform up to what I hope, it will only get better. The plain and simple description is, that once positioned with this board, any thought of turning, has the request answered fore or backhand immediately and with little effort. I am not sure why pro surfers do not ride this shape. I may be making a mountain out of a mole hill, as I have never really ridden a true short board before, but this board (and I mean Simmons shapes in general) are far less draggy, faster across any flats, reduce the need for any sort of “hop” as waves mush prior to reforming, and, with the quad setup (the only configuration I’ve ridden so far), are like being wire guided as far as maneuverability. Why would anyone ride anything else? That is, why don’t Pro’s ride the Simmons?
I can only guess that a Simmons fish has the stigma of being “retro”. While some surfers embrace retro stuff in general. Some ersatz surfers are vehemently opposed to doing anything, riding anything, experiencing anything from the past. Understand: this shape, is from the forties. Bob Simmons was scorned by local peers to some extent, was called crazy, and laughed at…..but I am guessing, that when they saw him “Zorch!” across the fast breaking waves at wind and sea, no one was laughing.
I’ve been riding my Simmons for 6 days, and although the waves haven’t been all that great where I live I am stunned by what I have experienced and learned with this board so far. Like taking up surfing yet again, I wonder why I hadn’t grabbed a Simmons shape before. Long live Bob Simmons shapes. He was like Jules Verne, years ahead of his time. I would be happy to see more people riding and enjoying Simmons Planing hull design. The best part of this story has yet to be experienced. My job requires frequent travel to the west coast, I can’t wait to bring my board with me. I want to Surf Blacks, Wind & Sea, Swami’s, and Lowers. And I will surf Imperial Beach on my Mini Simmons. All I can say, is I’m stoked. Get a Simmons, you will be too. There is nothing mini about the Simmons.