Whether or not you agree with those who say everything in board design has been done isn't really the point here. At the very least, there's a vast honeycomb of design, function, and philosophy for perusing, and even if it's all been done already, you'd be hard pressed to say it's all been done so well that it's not worth re-examining from time to time. With the skill and technology going into boards today, there's plenty to stay excited about, especially with guys like San Diego's Jeff McCallum spooning out those harder to reach cells.
"I'd been shaping for six years or so before I started the first spoon," says McCallum. "That was about three years ago."
It started when his glasser, Alex Joy, came to him, stoked off a recent close encounter with design luminary George Greenough. It was in the mid 1960s when Santa Barbara's Greenough first came up with the highly innovative kneeboard design. Dubbed the "spoon" because of the thin, spooned out shape of the deck, the boards possessed something that neither surfboard or kneeboard of the day had: flex. With a board design that could store and release energy in and out of turns, as well as Greenough's ahead-of-their-time, high-aspect fins, which he modeled after the fins of tuna, the path of many a board-builder's mind was changed. Put it this way, the Firewire that Taj Burrow just won the Quiksilver Pro on, the concept dates back to the spoon. So it was upon this chance encounter with Greenough that Joy's enthusiasm proved infectious. "He convinced me to give it a try, and once I made one, I thought 'I gotta keep making them, they're rad,'" said McCallum. "They look like a piece of art."
But as with any art form, there's a strong theme trimming along with all things spoon: dedication. As McCallumwould would discover, the dedication required extended beyond the shaping room right out into the water.
"It took me a year to ride one. I rode the first one once, and it was a crappy beachbreak day. It didn't work very well for me, and I was kind of over it. But I was headed to Tavarua at the time, and I thought, 'Well, if it works anywhere, it'll work there.'"
Given, you'll probably fall in love with any board after a good wave at Cloudbreak, but his first wave was storybook. Tragically, shortly there after, the spoon snapped in half, tip greeting tail for the once and only meeting. "I was bummed. I got fired up on it and then I broke it. But I learned from that too."
And so was born McCallum's affinity for the spoon, and with San Diego's plethora of surf spots in his backyard he had the testing grounds needed.
"Being a stand-up surfer in the lineup you have to totally pay your dues, work your way up. But, one day Joel [Tudor] was out, and Tyler Warren, and a couple of the younger kids. The board was such a novelty that they made me feel comfortable and were stoked, kind of like, well let's see what happens. So I got a couple waves. After that I knew the boards worked and wanted to -- and could -- keep riding them."
But to misinterpret a favorite childhood soldier, knowing is only half the battle. Yes, spoons excel in great conditions -- but so does your favorite board, which brings us to what may be the most difficult aspect of the spoon to dedicate yourself. When the waves are firing, put aside your go-to board, and consign yourself to taking some lumps and swimming out on that slab of glass. Having put the spoon right under some world-class lips, however, McCallum had no problem with this part.
"When its firing I'm still riding these things. There's something about knee boarding when it's barreling, your center of gravity is so low, so dense that you can make sections that you normally wouldn't. The flex and speed you get is super cool, and it's so hard. Not just technically to ride, but physically demanding," continues McCallum.
And he has a point, what with the board's lack of float and their tendency to kick it on the bottom for a few waves if lost. And yet, compared to the skill involved in the crafting of a spoon, these challenges may be found wanting.
Basically freewheeling the first spoon, McCallum then found one in a friend's collection, the craftsman still a mystery, from which he could grab some templates and begin his own experimentation. "For me, it's not about what Greenough did, it's about what I want to do," evidenced by both his stand-up twin prototype, which features a swallow tail with cutaway fins, and his current spoon. Of course, after an air drop at Scripps Pier, the twin fins were shorn clean off and replaced by his favored fin setup, the quad.
As is common on the Internet, self-appointed experts have railed against any fin setup deviating from the single, but McCullum couldn't care less. With a skilled trio behind him -- a team consisting of Paul Kelly on sandpaper, Ernie Higgins on fins, and the aforementioned Joy laying down the glass -- experimentation and dedication have paid off. At two grand a pop, and as given to cracking under pressure as Ray Finkle, McCallum understands they may only be for a dedicated few. But that, in itself, is the beauty of surfing today.