Don’t worry, I’ll get to Elon Musk in a minute.
One flat and rainy afternoon in the spring of 1975 I wrote a whimsical short story called “Board Talk.” The idea was that Australian surfing legend Bob McTavish had invented a talking surfboard that would instruct its rider on how to ride each wave.
The board used terms like “cutback,” “stall,” “kick out,” and “pull in.” The board, according to the story, worked perfectly but was not easily understood in America because it spoke with a thick Australian accent. Of course, such a thing seemed impossible in an era years prior to cell phones, home computers and VR headsets.
But what about now, in the early 2020s when self-driving cars are as common as phone booths once were and you can order a pizza by speaking into a device half the size of a dollar bill.
I know I’m going to get lots of flack for this, but in these modern times, surfboards are still being made with the same technology as when rotary dial telephones and electronic typewriters were new. Surfboards are merely smaller and lighter and have more fins, but they are still essentially rigid slabs that skim the surface of the water.
Nothing in nature corresponds to this.
As an occasional spearfisher, I have had the opportunity to observe fish in the wild — how they compress and expand, lower their highly flexible fins and extend them. I have been especially curious about the halibut, how it can go in a split second from being as still as a stump, to vanishing from sight.
The halibut, which has an outline like a surfboard does things no surfboard can do, like accelerating from zero to whatever with the flick of the tail.
There has been some attempt by surfing pioneers like George Greenough to imitate fish in surfboard design. Genius knee rider Greenough is, to my knowledge, the first to work with flex, taking his templates from the pectoral fins of tuna. While that one change took the surfboard to places it had never traveled, the revolution began in 1967.
Since then, boards have simply gotten lighter and smaller with more fins made of composite materials. That’s all good, but where do we go from here? I suggest we scrap all ideas of what a surfboard should be and start at the beginning. Two hulls, air bladders, fish-type fins that are both hard and flexible and expand from the rail as needed. Why not?
What Would Elon Do?
Elon Musk might look at the modern surfboard and wonder why it is not computerized. He might wonder why a surfboard does not sprout side fins when pressure is put on the rail. Or why isn’t it jet-propelled for both catching waves and accelerating when a surfer gets stuck too far back?
Why doesn’t a surfboard’s tail snap like a credit card and conform to the face of the wave rather than try to force its rigid form into a liquid cavern?
Now, I realize that Elon Musk, who spends his time sending people into space and designing nonpolluting transit systems, has very little time to redesign the surfboard.
That said, it would be nice to hear from him. H-E-L-L-O! Come in if you can hear me, Mister Musk. No answer. I guess it’s up to us.
I am no builder, but I am a dreamer, riding flexible flying fish in my dreams, traveling over, under, sideways, down in and over the water. Elon Musk has imagined a brilliant future for humankind, but so might you. All serious, well-financed dreamers are welcome to contact me.