Martin Shapes Hot Curls
My dad introduced the hot curl surfboard to me. I remember being so proud every time I walked into the original Hobie store in Dana Point as a young boy. I’d look up at the vintage surfboard collection lined up around the walls. One of the boards in the most prominent spot was my dads. This particular board was one of the first boards he made. The board was a varnished (no fiberglass and resin) 10 foot Balsa and Redwood finless hot curl. The last board he made is a replica of these first hot curls. It is on display for all to see and appreciate at the current Hobie store in Dana Point.
When my dad started surfing there were no surf shops in San Diego. Very few surfboards existed. Most of the boards being ridden were called ‘planks”. The outline was very straight and they had little if anything for a fin. They were anywhere from 80 to 100 pounds. Very difficult to simply carry to the water let alone ride a wave with. Pretty much the only other boards around were “prone style” hollow wooden paddleboards. Neither of these designs were acceptable boards to my dad when it came to his idea of what you might best surf on. He set out to make his own conception of a surfboard. He told me he’d seen a picture of what they called a Hawaiian board at the time. The look of the Hawaiian board made sense to him. This is what he based his first board on. Made out of lightweight Balsawood his first one finished out at around 20 pounds, had a pulled in tail, belly in the bottom contour, tucking into a vee bottomed tail section. No fin was attached, although he told me they did experiment with some small keel type fins on some of the hot curls he made. In the end the design remained finless.
His favorite place to surf was down the street from his parent’s house on Point Loma. A spot the other surfers called “Terry’s Slide”. The wave works best at low tide and had quite a bit of kelp in the lineup. As surfing became more popular board designs evolved. Fins were becoming a common fixture on surfboards. Terry’s Slide was generally discarded as a potential surf spot due to kelp interfering with your fin while surfing and hungry rocks ate lost surfboards on the inside. Leashes were not used at this time. The finless hot curl slid right over the kelp and due to its reduced weight was easier to hang onto in the event you fell. My dad and his brother (liked to ride a hot curl as well) had this great wave to themselves. This break is called “Osprey” today.
I spent quite a bit of time in and around my dad’s shaping room starting at a young age. My first real job was as the clean up kid at the old Hobie factory in Capistrano Beach. I graduated from pushing a broom around to cutting out and foiling fins. Foiling fins was to me like simply shaping a surfboard on a small scale. I had to make more than one at a time and they needed to be accurately duplicated. I didn’t get paid hourly but by the piece. I was anxious to reduce time spent at work. Priority was pursuing “more important things” like diving, surfing, fishing and such. I sought input from my dad as to how I might develop a method of accurately and quickly duplicating fins. He was great at creating systems for making any task easier, quicker, and most importantly produce a consistent high quality result. Needless to say I got better and quicker at fin foiling.
In the late 80’s I began shaping full time at Just add Water Surfboards in Laguna Canyon. Soon after I started I was presented with an opportunity to shape several hundred identical boards for display in JC Penny’s. I was to be paid half of what I’d make for shaping any other board at the time but I chose to accept the offer. I ended up rather annoyed as the quantity of boards requested doubled shortly after I agreed to the initial order. There were no computer shaping programs or CNC shaping machines at this point. The boards were to be hand shaped. I remember my dad telling me this was a great chance to hone my production skills. I look back today and think to myself what a privilege to have had that opportunity. Systems and methods developed back then are second nature muscle memory today.
Not to many people make a living at simply shaping surfboards. It is not an overly lucrative trade and generally does not come with standard employee benefits like health insurance, sick pay, etc.. My mom needed a medical procedure at one point. My dad didn’t have the cash to pay for it so he took a quick inventory of items he might sell to pay for the operation. The hot curl in Hobies came to mind. A quick call to good friend and surfboard collector Flippy Hoffman and it was a done deal. Operation paid for and Flippy had my dad’s unique hot curl added to his collection. Years passed and I’d occasionally think of that board. About 15 years ago I began asking my dad about that hot curl. Why no fin? How many did he make? Did other guys ride them? What kind of waves did they ride? What kind of maneuvers were they able to perform? Did he ever make one out of foam? Many good stories were told.
One day my dad surprised me with a gift. A beautiful 10′ Balsa/Mahogany hot curl replica, like the ones he first made. This board hangs in my living room. He signed it with an inscription that reads “PASSING YOUTHFULL MEMORIES OF THE EARLY 50’s TO MY SON IS A JOY TO MY HEART – LOVE DAD”. I remember really debating whether or not to ride it. The fact that it is 70 pounds and if lost on a wave will go straight to the beach due to lack of a fin (possibly decapitating a couple people on the way) led me to request a “rider” model. We ordered a 12’3″ Clark Foam blank. Made with classic foam and 3 nice thick Basswood stringers. We were looking for some weight. The hot curl design my father utilized needs weight to perform as intended. 30 to 40 pounds was our target weight. I spent a day with him shaping it. Learning from him how the wave would “cradle” the curves and contours we put into the board. Glassed with a double layer of Volan top and bottom the board made its target weight. It is easier to surf than I imagined. Based on this board I am currently making hot curls out of both foam and traditional Balsawood. US Blanks recently did a fabulous job of building a custom “hot curl” rockered 10’8Y blank in “tow” weight for me. This made for a beautiful 10 foot 35 pound rider. Their 11’3D blank works quite well too, again with the custom rocker.
There are a few hurdles (mostly in my mind) I find I need to overcome in riding my hot curl. The tail does not “lift” when catching a wave, giving me the impression I have not caught the wave. The board does initially want to broach a bit until the wave has “caught” it. White water is not your friend. The air in the white water causes cavitation. The wave “lets go” of the board and control is lost. I don’t argue with this fact but find it funny that there is really only about 6 inches of “sweet spot” in which to stand on a 10 foot board. You cannot tail turn a hot curl. Nose riding is not much of an option. If the board has the correct shape and weight the wave interacts with the board in such a natural way. The board seems to just “find” natural trim. The wave “cradles” the board. You are surfing “in” the wave, not on it. The kind of surf I like to ride mine in is a lined up feathering wall. My dad always said the bigger and better the wave the better the hot curl works. I find that they are quite fun in small surf too but it’s best to have long wall to trim on. They feel very nimble in the water for the length and weight. I like to describe the hot curl ride as if you are allowed to play the roll of passenger but you must behave. If you do, you will be rewarded with a unique rich glide into a wonderful corner of the surfing experience.
Editors Note :: Inspired by Jeff Quam’s soulful surfing style, 6 of us from Hobie Surf Shop asked to meet him at Doheny to try his mythical finless ‘Hot Curl’ surfboards. It was a trip!! There was a LOT of falling and a LOT of laughing as we all gave them our best go…. the boards worked the best when you stopped trying to ride them, and instead, let the board take you where it wanted to go. Thank you to Terry Martin, Josh Martin, Jeff Quam, Andy Cowell, and the lovely waters of Doheny for making this a session to remember. Enjoy!!