The Coast News Group
San Diego surf innovator Carl Ekstrom poses with one of his asymmetrical creations. Photo courtesy SBass
Coastal CosmosRancho Santa Fe

San Diego’s surf scientist, Carl Ekstrom

“It’s best to go radical and pull back than to never go there in the first place.” 

San Diego native and surf design guru Carl Ekstrom lives these words through his creativity and innovation. Growing up in the progressive and energetic La Jolla surf scene of the 1950s and 1960s, Ekstrom has become San Diego’s leading surf innovator and designer. From asymmetrical surfboards to wave pools and prototype modeling, Carl Ekstrom continues to push the envelope of what is possible in the water.

In 2011, Ekstrom was honored at the Sacred Craft surfboard event at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. This year, the event is called The Boardroom Show and will take place Oct. 6 and Oct. 7 at the Fairgrounds. Last year, the Tribute to the Masters Shape-off was held with esteemed shapers creating asymmetrical boards to honor Ekstrom. The 2012 event honors shaper and four-time World Champion, Australian Mark Richards.

“The Boardroom Show came from a deeply rooted stoke that every surfer has regarding surfboards,” event creator Scott Bass said. “A surfboard’s design, its promise, its allure; it’s a very passionate and important part of who we are.”

When asked about the importance of honoring icons of surfboard shaping, Bass continued, “In some regards, the youth-oriented pop culture of today forgets about these legendary shapers. The surfing population is booming, many people are new to surfing; they don’t know these pillars of our culture. It’s important to give surfboard shapers, designers and manufacturers their due.”

I had the great honor of talking with Ekstrom about the role that science plays in surfboard development. “We are always looking to science to help us understand the ways that a surfboard interacts with water,” Ekstrom said.

Although not formally trained as a scientist, Ekstrom works with physicists, engineers, rocket scientists and surfers/shapers. He exhibits a remarkable talent for scale modeling and industrial design. He also contributes to the Hydraulic Lab at The Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla.

Ekstrom was influenced at an early age by surf pioneer/legend and aerospace engineer Bob Simmons. Simmons’ willingness to experiment and try new things influenced many young surfers and shapers along the burgeoning Southern California surf coast. He tragically died surfing a La Jolla reef during a large south swell in September of 1954. But he left behind a legacy of surfboard experimentation and a willingness to study the science of fluid dynamics like the works of Bernoulli and Lindsay Lords.

In 1965, Ekstrom developed his first asymmetrical board. He says his inspiration came from surfing left and right at Windansea in La Jolla. He wanted a driving feel on his frontside and tight arching turns on his backside. So he created a board with two different tails to provide those sensations.

“Different people want different things out of a surfboard,” Ekstrom said. There is no doubt that his innovations facilitate many different ways to ride waves.

Ekstrom has worked extensively on creating a quality, surfable wave outside of the ocean. He helped create the Wave Loch technology featured at the Wave House in Mission Beach and more than 100 other locations around the world. Powerful, barreling, standing waves are created when a sheet of water is blasted toward a foam wall.

Ekstrom believes that there will one day be a quality wave pool, creating a legitimate analogue for ocean waves.

Ekstrom is known as surfing’s leading futurist. His designs have always pointed toward the future. When asked how surfing will change in the next 20 years, he replied, ““I like not knowing where things are going, it is much more interesting that way.”

Now residing in Rancho Santa Fe, Ekstrom continues his innovative explorations of design and wave riding.

Kyle Stock is originally from Ohio, is a passionate surfer, backpacker, astronomer, gardener, backyard scientist, runner, reader and K-6 science teacher at Solana Santa Fe Elementary in the Solana Beach School District. He can be contacted at [email protected].