In 1964, a well-known young La Jolla surfer named Carl Ekstrom was out riding his favorite spot, Windansea, when it suddenly occurred to him that he liked one board better frontside and another board better backside. Being a talented shaper, this led the young man to bolt home and shape the world’s first (intentionally) asymmetrical surfboard. By 1969, he held the patent on asymmetry for surfboards. But the surfing world was as stubborn then as it is today, and locked into making boards look as even as possible, while sailboarders and later snowboarders quickly figured out the advantage of riding boards that were different on both sides.
It’s been the surfboard industry’s loss that over the last 30 years or so, Carl has not built many surfboards. During that time, however, nonsurfers have gained from Ekstrom’s brilliant design and dedication to perfection. There were one-of-a-kind award-winning chairs, high-tech helmets for the U.S. Army, a new style of clogs for Danskoe and wave machines which were modeled and later installed around the world. But there were none of the futuristic surfboards we had been anticipating for decades.
Then came an unintended and wonderful consequence of this economic slowdown, as Carl found himself without work for the first time in ages. With time on his hands, Ekstrom returned to his first love, building surfboards, and within a month he had built a model of that first board. While the model made ripples, the board would make waves, especially on that first day when Windansea’s best surfer, Richard Kenvin, paddled out and tore into 6-foot surf on the “new” design.
Aside from the obvious change in outline, the new board had hidden design features in the rails and the bottom that gave it unique riding characteristics. Looking and riding more like a Fish frontside, the board had all the drive of that proven design, while backside the board had the look and riding characteristics of an Egg, which provides a freer turn with less drive. For the first time, the best riding characteristics of both designs had been combined and surfing was pushed forward that day. “There are things I could do on that board that no other board could do,” Kenvin said. While watching him ride, with long sweeping turns and cutbacks from high in the pocket, Kenvin’s analysis became obvious to all observers.
While Carl is one of my closest friends, I myself had never ridden an asymmetrical surfboard until last week. Then I paddled out on the board that is 7’0” on the frontside rail and 6’9” on the backside rail. While more than a foot too long for Richard, the board proved short for me, since I no longer surf daily and am carrying a few extra pounds.
As I paddled into the Swami’s lineup the waves were as packed as I had ever seen them on a 2-foot day. Then a wave swung wide, I caught it, stood up and fell on my face. The next few waves were better, until I rode a wave to shore, did a few small turns, and began to feel the brilliance of the board beneath my feet.
With that I paddled in and immediately ordered a new 7’6” from Carl. I’ll let you know how that works.
While not yet in production, Carl Ekstrom will again be making surfboards commercially by year’s end. P.S. They won’t be inexpensive, but they will be like nothing you’ve ever ridden.
Filed Under: Sea Notes