The Spirit of 1969, Part 1: Experimentations in Surfboard Time Travel
“If we could travel into the past, it’s mind-boggling what would be possible. For one thing, history would become an experimental science, which it certainly isn’t today. The possible insights into our own past and nature and origins would be dazzling.” -Carl Sagan
I didn’t think much of the old single fin when Jenny first brought it home, a board that had been shaped by her father in 1969 under a local label called “Ward and Cottrell: Homegrown Surfboards”. Melted globs of blackened wax covered the deck, wrapping around the rails into solidified clumpy drips. The wax must have been on the board for nearly forty years, along with the dust and dirt that layered every inch from the nose to the tail. There were a few minor dings that I could distinguish beneath the muck, and the fin box had what seemed to be some dodgy repair work. All these elements combined to give the appearance of a beat up and downtrodden artifact of the surfing past. Based on my own ignorance and lack of stoke to give the board a proper cleaning, I didn’t view it to be anything beyond a useless relic; certainly not the magical wave riding instrument she was and is. So I stored the board up in the rafters of our dilapidated shed and essentially left it for dead for nearly two years.
As the first signs of spring began to reveal themselves this year, I felt moved to pull the board down and give it a good looking over. The sun was shining and it was warm out. I decided to let the board bask in the rays, giving the wax time to soften and melt. As I scraped away the veil of filthy wax, a practically pristine deck and rail line were revealed to me. I continued to clean the board until it was naked before me and what I beheld in my vision was a thing of beauty. What I initially believed to be a corpse of a surfboard, displayed itself as a golden late-1960s era single fin in near perfect condition. Why couldn’t I see the astonishing goddess-like features of this board the first time around?
After the shroud of dust, dirt, and solidified wax had been removed, I looked over the contours of the board; then threw it under my arm. The arm test is something that is just a matter of your gut feeling and while holding the board firmly, my gut was telling me this one would work well. Now I was awaiting waves to take the goddess on our maiden voyage together. A few days later some small surf arrived, and it was time to begin our journey together.
As I like to find the phenomenal in the supposedly ordinary, I envisioned this board as a sort of time machine that would navigate me backwards in time to the soulful surfing era of the late ‘60s. Paddling out into the clean, chest-high surf, I felt even more confident the board would work as it glided out into the oncoming surf with ease. Getting outside toward the peak, I noticed the only other surfer out was an older man, possibly around 60 years old, riding a kneeboard. A kneeboard! Now before Ryan Lovelace’s recent trip to New Jersey, I hadn’t seen a kneeboard since my early contest days in the ‘80s when there was still a kneeboarding division. That said, even back then, kneeboards were considered strange, forgotten wave-gliding mediums of a long-lost past. Yet here I was watching him drop in, come off the bottom, and set up for a small tube section on a kneeboard with skill and precision. All the while he had a huge childlike smile on his face and emitted a positive energy into the ethers. Holy shit! There may have been some validation to my imaginative theory of the time-traveling surfboard after all.
Was the board a conduit to past aquatic realms of wave riding delight? Was I a surfing chrononaut, catching waves as a passageway to a time that had long since past?
On my first wave I could sense the distinct lines the board wanted to draw across the face of the wave. The bottom turn would quickly lead into a fast, smooth, and drawn out high line carve across the cresting lip; then the board would come off the bottom again to repeat the same pattern. When there was a hollow section, the board wanted to hold mid-face, not dropping fully to the bottom, beckoning to lock into the tube section with certainty. The waves weren’t quite big enough, nor throwing out enough for this mid-face tube riding; but it felt like this board’s ultimate desire was to sit in the tube.
Overall I felt as if there was a sense that the board was in control, which lent itself to the dictation of the wave, guiding itself to where it felt most suited. Yet there were numerous moments when the board was very yielding to the will of the surfer, and I was surprised with some of the turns the board was able to make. I could only imagine with some bigger swell, my growing comfortability with the board and a better understanding of it’s innate nature; I would be experiencing some eloquent surfing passages. Luckily a few sessions later I caught it with some size and found myself guided through some cylinder like wave riding passages.
I like to believe surfboards from the past hold a certain spirit and that this spirit can be imparted upon a willing recipient as a gift. The gift? The intrinsic movements, sensations, and soulful essence that are unique to board itself. When riding a surfboard from the past, is this a gateway to a more simple and pure set of wave-riding encounters that surfers may have experienced in the era the board was shaped? Essentially I think the answer rests in the heart of the surfer and their willingness to open up to what the board has to offer. If we approach riding a board shaped in 1969 with the high performance standards of today, I believe something aesthetically and soulfully displeasing will come about. Yet if we can meet the board halfway, blending what we have learned in our era of surfing with the less forced approach of the surfing past, we can find a happy medium of meditative, stylish flow and powerful carving maneuvers. Somewhere in this space it’s as if past, present, and future converge; and in that convergence it’s as if linear time no longer exists.
What started as a theoretical experiment in reverse time travel may have ended in the transcendence of our human concept of time altogether. Possibly my thoughts are simply the fantasies, illusions, and romantic notions of a surf loving fool; yet it’s a marvelous life to find that each moment holds a timeless mystery forever unfolding before us.
Photos shot over a few experimental sessions by: Christor Lukasiewicz
Surfer/Chrononaut/Author: Shawn Zappo
Latest posts by Shawn Zappo (see all)
- RASA BHAVA - December 10, 2020
- Assorted Rides | Devon Howard - July 4, 2020
- Inside This Soft World | Dave Rastovich x Nathan Oldfield - June 23, 2020