Deep Design: Daniel Thomson on Surfboards, Physics and Simmons

Dan Thomson putting it on a rail. Photo courtesy of Tomo Surfboards.

Daniel Thomson of Tomo Surboards is a young and innovative surfer who is part of a core group of San Diego shapers pushing the edge of design and development to move surfing to the next level. He has been affiliated with Richard Kenvin’s Hydrodynamica project that is based on the influence and theories of San Diego’s legendary surfing innovator Bob Simmons.

Serge Dedina: Why did you starting shaping surfboards? And what is it about creating surfboards that you love?

Daniel Thomson: I was fortunate enough to grow up in a surfing family so I pretty much have been surfing since I can remember. My dad (Mark Thomson) is a respected shaper in Australia so ever since he made me my first board, I was involved in the shaping process. As I evolved as a surfer, my desire to shape more specialized equipment became apparent so I continued to follow my passion for exploring the connection between creative art specialized for performance surfing.

Dedina: Who are your shaping and surfing influences?

Thomson: My dad obviously. George Greenough was a family friend during my younger years so his work definitely made an imprint on me.  More recently the work of Bob Simmons uncovered by the research of Richard Kenvin has been inspiring. Also, I like to look outside of surfing for inspiration: modern aviation, quantum physics and the universe challenge the mind to think deeper for new ideas.

Carl Eckstrom and Daniel Thomson at the Hydronamica opening in San Diego earlier this year.

Dedina: How did you end up shaping and surfing in San Diego?

Thomson: After making a few trips out to San Diego from 2004-2010, I realized that the market for progressive designs was stronger in California. Also, I was ready for a change of pace in my life.

Dedina: Your boards have been associated with the hydrodynamic theory and movement espoused by Richard Kenvin that was directly influenced by the design of Bob Simmons? How did you interest in the legacy of Simmons and the partnership with Kenvin occur?

Thomson: Richard was visiting in Australia back in 2003 on one of his first Hydrodynamica missions. He was looking to connect with Dave Rastovich.

In hope that he would be able to film him riding some of the keel fin fish boards he had brought over, Richard tracked down my dad as a support filmer and naturally my dad suggested to Richard that ‘I give these fishes a go.’

A few sessions later, we had some awesome footage of Rasta and me riding these boards. After that I kept in close contact with RK and continued my natural progression in refining the fish design.

Dedina: What are the types of surfboards you are shaping now and specifically what are the designs that you see working best in Southern California?

Thomson: Generally all my boards are fairly suited to California because of the straighter curves and wider tails. The boards that I am currently most excited about are my new Next Generation Modern Planing Hulls (MPH).

They are basically 21st century adaptations of the original Bob Simmons plaining hulls mixed with wakeboards technology. They seem to be very functional designs with a whole bunch of potential to be seen as an apex high performance design in the future.

One of Dan’s Simmon’s inspired planing hulls.

Dedina: Explain what the hydrodynamic principle means for surfboard design and surfing in general?

Thomson: Broadly speaking, you can apply some sort of hydrodynamic principle to any surfboard. More specially describing a hydrodynamic planning hull is a board designed to minimize drag through several different streamlining methods including utilizing a parallel rail line from nose to tail with a wider nose tail profile and straight-line fin placements

Dedina: What materials are you working with right now?

Thomson: I have always been a firm believer in epoxy resin for its strength, durabilty and flex memory. I am currently working with XTR (closed cell styrofoam) Epoxy and several applications of vacuum bag carbon fiber.

Dedina: You are shaping boards for WQS surfer Stu Kennedy. How did that relationship come about and how do you work with him in terms of giving and receiving feedback?

Stu Kennedy with his Tomo quiver. Photo courtesy Tomo Surfboards.

Thomson: Stu has been a close friend from my hometown of Lennox Head so I have shaped for him quite a bit in the past. When I was home visiting in March, I showed Stu some of the latest boards. He was pretty blown away on how they surfed, and he has barely set foot on a regular short board since he tried one.

Since I shaped him a new quiver of the MPH’s he has been dedicated to riding them in high-level completion as he feels he can achieve his best performances on these boards. He recently placed 9th in the 6 star WQS in England and a 17th in the U.S Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach.

Dedina: Are most pro surfers too conservative with the boards they are riding?

Thomson: Most definitely. The cutthroat nature of competition doesn’t nurture experimentation. Most elite surfers have grown up there whole lives riding one style of design and is not confident riding something unorthodox. Most are jaded to the fact that there could be a left field design out there capable of performing better, so they tend not to have faith in something new. Things are changing though.

Dedina: There’s a photo with Kelly Slater and you when you were a grom and more recently Kelly commented on the boards you shape for Kennedy. How has Kelly’s surfing and his own departure from pro surfing surfboard orthodoxy influenced your own career as a shaper and a surfer?

Thomson: I have always been experimental in nature with my equipment so I haven’t so much been following Kelly design wise. However his surfing is what inspires me most to figure out ways to improve my design to allow me to surf at higher levels.

Dedina: Where do you see yourself going with your shaping career? Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Thomson: I would obviously like to be successful. I am more of a surfer/designer than a ‘shaper’ so hopefully I will be surfing more and not be a slave to the shaping room. I have always done it for the love of surfing and a healthy creative outlet. So as long as I am doing that, I will be happy.

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Tim Townsley and the Business of Crafting Surfboards

From my September 14, 2011, Imperial Beach Patch Column:

Back in 1993, Imperial Beach surfer Tim Townsley set up a surfboard factory, TNT Surfboards, in a big empty warehouse at the northern end of 13th Street, next to San Diego Bay. Back in the 1990s TNT was producing between 8-10 surfboards a day according to Imperial Beach Patch. Faced with an economic downturn, dramatic changes in the surfboard industry due to globalization and offshore production, and the development of the Bayshore Bike Village, Tim is closing the 13th Street factory down and looking for new space. The TNT factory has employed some of San Diego County’s elite surfboard shapers including Dave Craig, Jay Novak and Brett Bender. Tim still runs the TNT Surfboard Shop at 206 Palm Ave in Imperial Beach and is shaping boards through his own Townsley label.

Patch: How did you start TNT?

Tim Townsley: I started TNT Surfboards in the 1980’s. My employer at the time Tony Daleo of Star Glassing ran one of the original San Diego surfboard factories and decided to call it quits. When Tony dropped out I started a small glass shop in my mother-in-law’s garage on Ebony Avenue in Imperial Beach. I built boards for locals but other shapers from throughout San Diego County started contracting me to build for them well. Things just kind of blew up from there.

Patch: Who influenced you to get into the surfboard industry and start shaping?

Townsley: I started at the Star factory that was the starting point for many San Diego surfboard makers. Local shaper Brett Bender worked at the Star factory and he encouraged me to apply for an open position. A great deal of what I learned there is what made it possible to start my own shop.

Patch: Do you remember the first board you shaped?

Townsley: Over the years I’ve made thousands of surfboards for some of the world’s most well known shapers and some of the top surfing professionals. When I look back on it I’m astound by the numbers I’ve produced over the years. There were far too many to remember the first one I shaped.

Patch: How did the demise of Clark Foam in 2006 impact your business?

Townsley: TNT was producing thousands of surfboards a year when (Grubby) Clark quit.  Man, what a blow that was. If you can imagine trying to build a car without tires, that is what we were up against. We made it through that hard time.

Surfboard building has never been the same since.  Grubby Clark saw something coming the rest of us didn¹t. It has been a tough go ever since that day

Patch: How has the surfboard industry changed over the past few years?

Townsley: The industry has shrunk today compared to the heyday of the 80’s.The bigger shops have all quit or sold out to larger corporations who quickly moved their operations offshore to China

Patch: Why should surfers work with a local shaper?

Townsley: Buying local is important no matter what you purchase. Buying local stimulates the local economy.  When it comes to surfboards sure you can by a pop-out brand, but in my experience cheaper price usually means lower quality. Buying from your local board maker is going to typically yield a higher quality surfboard that will last and will perform better than your typical mass-produced import model. Board builders are not getting rich at this. It is hard work and you pour a lot of yourself into it both physically and mentally so when we see someone on a board made in China it is heartbreaking.

Patch: You are currently shaping under your own Townsley label. What types of boards are you shaping right now?

Townsley: I¹m going back to basics with the Townsley line–low entry rocker, flat bottom, with vee off the tail. This design is proven to be fast, responsive and it will hold in a tight spot. It worked for Tommy Curren in the 80’s and it works now. I think there are a lot of progressive designs out there but also a lot of gimmicks. It is important for surfers to develop a relationship with their local shaper and work with them over the long term.

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