Dan Mann and the Future of Surfboards

Dan Mann of Mannkine Surfboards. Photo: Mannkine Surfboards

This is from my Imperial Beach Patch Column of December 8, 2010

Dann Mann is the founder, owner and head shaper of Mannkine Surfboards. A longtime Coronado and Imperial Beach local, he is always one of the standouts in a lineup, whether he is on a shortboard, longboard or paddleboard racing.

Dan grew up in Maui where his dad Lance taught him to surf at the age of two. He moved to Coronado at the age of 10, competed professionally from 1994 to 2000. Dan started shaping Mannkine Surfboards in 1996. He has also shaped for Channel Islands, Rusty, Joel Tudor and Xanadu.

Until 2008, he worked as the head of Design, Research and Development for Firewire. Dan currently lives in Coronado with his wife Kara and children Lance and Lily. When he is not surfing IB and Nado, he loves to find waves in Australia and Mexico.

Q. Why did you start shaping surfboards and when?

A. I started shaping in 1996 because along with paddling a long distance, I feel it is something every surfer should do.

Q. What shapers influenced you starting out and currently?

A. Starting out, Mike Eaton and Stu Kenson.  Now, Matt Biolas and whoever it is that designed the Oracle trimeran

Q. What sort of designs are you are working on?

A. Right now there’s a board I call the Chum Lee for Mannkine. I did a similar design for Firewire called the Sweet Potato.  It is 6 to 8 inches shorter than the rider and is a 4 finner.  It changed my mind as to what really makes a surfboard work.

Q. How was it working on the new Firewire Taylor Jensen model?

A. It was cool.  Taylor was a good friend of my brother when they were five and up so I’ve known him a long time and like his surfing a lot.  He loves surfing and has an intense sense of what works and doesn’t work in his boards.

Q. Describe some of the innovative work you are doing on board design and development?

A. I feel like we are only now scratching the surface on what surfboards can and should be.  The first thing that needs to change is the process to make a board.   Processes need to change so surfboards can be made more cleanly (eco-friendly), easily and with more consistency so that surfers know what they are going to get when they buy it.  This will increase the surfboard’s value for surfers, inject more excitement and creativity into the industry and make it an inventive vibrant industry again.

Along with changes in surfboard manufacturing processes, we need to use more sophisticated materials in surfboards.  There’s nothing like the dynamics of riding a wave on a board, so the improvements made to surfboards needs to come from those who make them and more importantly, surf them.  I love my old PU boards with a wood stringer, but if we want to experience what a surfboard really can be, we have to use carbon fiber.

This doesn’t mean just make a board and have some sort of carbon somewhere on it.  The carbon needs to be the main force behind the structure and more importantly  the way the board is bending or flexing – the feel of the board. This is the difference between a magic board versus an OK one.

This must be done in a way that does not interfere with the shapers ability to design. I have spent most of my time since 2003 making boards with this sort of stuff in mind and have a patent on a technology I call ‘Incide’ technology that addresses these issues.

Q. Where did the collapse of Clark Foam leave the surfboard industry?

A. It left the industry scrambling in good ways, bad ways and every way in between.  Ultimately we are here (five years to the day!) with several other companies, occupying the void Clark left with essentially the same product with very little meaningful innovation. So, things are a bit flat in the industry.

Q. How do you test-drive your designs? Is it your own feedback or that of key surfers that matter?

A. I definitely love surfing my own designs and ideas but the best and most meaningful feedback comes from other surfers. I feel like the best ideas and interpretations come from the end users.

Q. Handmade vs. computer designed and machine shaped?

A. Depends on what the guy who orders the board is looking for. I find most guys are pretty serious about getting something they are REALLY going to like and for this I think you can’t say enough about a computer aided, properly designed, machine cut board.

Q. Is there a future for the small “handcrafted” surfboard shaper/manufacturer?

A. For sure. I think if young guys want to get into it they simply need to be better than the generation ahead of them. They will need to know about the ENTIRE board and board building process. They also will need to be more inventive and creative.  The big guys are definitely getting bigger though.

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