Going Fast is More Fun
Evan Squirrell discusses the VOUCH, keel fin ‘VISH’ model.
I was loitering like a bored grommet at Sunburnt Mess surf shop in Bondi recently when shop owner, Pat Cahill, suggested I test-ride a Vouch, keel fin VISH model. Fifteen minutes later I was screaming down the line on the 5’3” VISH, blissfully reminded of the direct correlation between going fast and having fun on a surfboard. Inspired by the experience, I got in contact with Evan Squirrell from Vouch to try and unravel some of the magic behind the VISH model. Below, Evan explains his unique working relationship with collaborator and revered surfer/shaper, Paul Hutchinson, and discusses the factors which make the VISH ride like a mini torpedo you can do turns on.
Does your VISH model take direct inspiration from any one shaper in the past?
Of course you have to consider the original design by Steve Lis when doing any sort of iteration of a proper keel fin fish. Paul (Hutchinson) has always shaped his own iterations of both twin fins and keel fin fishes since the late 60s when the designs started becoming more prevalent. Paul shaped me my first fish in 1997 when the keel fin design had started to gain some notoriety from the Litmus film. We have continued to tweak that original design to this day, not really concerned with any other shaper’s interpretation, just using feedback from both myself and our riders.
How does the dynamic work between yourself and Paul? Do you both have input on the boards?
Of course. Paul has shaped my boards since I was about six, so he knows what I like in a board and the general feeling I’m chasing when on a wave. I can go to him with an idea and explain the type of wave and surfing and the feel I want, and he’ll shape something up that’s exactly what I was trying to explain. I’ll generally discuss with Paul what I want out of a new design, and he’ll invariably have shaped something similar somewhere over the last 50 years and then either put his own spin on it, or just have me in the bay with him to double check rocker, foil and the rails – just to confirm that he’s on the right track.
What would you say are the key riding features of the keel fin twinny?
Not having a middle fin is always an amazing feeling when you first feel it. I think that’s what gets people hooked with any twin fin in general, the feeling of no resistance from that centre thruster fin. Instant speed is generally the thing that will get most people horny from their keel fin fish. They get up and go pretty quickly, no Huntington hop needed here. And once on rail they tend to really lock into that turn, coupled with the wider based keel fins the amount of drive you can get from the fins is pretty ridiculous. Flow is a welcome by-product of this also. As they are generally a little wider and thicker than your standard shorty, they will of course paddle a little better too.
What’s the basic performance logic behind the keel fins?
They have more drive than a standard thruster setup, mostly because of the wider base and increased fin surface area. The fin on each rail allows for long, smooth, flowing turns that generate speed without the drag of a centre fin. And generally the fins will be set quite parallel to the stringer with little or no toe-in, which helps create even more drive and less drag when compared with their three fin counterparts.
Do you have any golden rules?
There is one golden rule both Paul and I tend to live by, ‘Keep It Simple’. Simple works. Softer rails, softer more rolled or flat bottom shapes. No channels, no curved vents or anything harder for the guys next in line at the factory to work on. Of course there are certain design aspects that need to be followed with certain board designs, but as we do so many different designs from different eras, these all vary somewhat from each other.
Is it purely aesthetic with the glassed in fins or are there performance advantages?
The whole glass-on deal with keel fin fishes goes deeper than just aesthetics. Glass on keels feel about 8000 times better than any removable keel fin system I’ve ever felt. Generally the systems plugs are too short to accommodate the longer based keel fins and this means sometimes half the fin will be hanging over the back of the plug and not attached to the board whatsoever. Ride one after the other, glass on then removable, and I guarantee 99% of people will choose the glass-on option.
What really strikes you is how well the ultra-short VISH holds in – even on a bigger wave?
I definitely think the original keel fin designs of the late 60s had a definite top end at which they would spin out and not work as well as they should. But that’s the beauty of progression and over the years these designs have been modified to handle modern surfing and can be surfed hard in much more powerful waves. Now these boards can be surfed at Desert Point and Nias quite well, something
which I’m sure Steve Lis would never have imagined.
Do you think surfers pick up a board like the ‘Vish’ model with a 1970s surfing headspace and then realise they can actually ride it with a contemporary approach?
I think definitely when people first flirt with the idea of riding a “retro” inspired design they might have images of MP or Terry Fitzgerald in their head, they might even try and emulate their styles when first riding them. Let’s not forget that these modernised “retro” designs are usually vastly superior to their 70s counterparts and once a surfer gets on the board and realises they can push them a little harder than they first thought, that’s when progression takes place. If you really wanna see something amazing then check out Jyoti Walker’s latest clip from his time in Indo on a keel fin fish.
How do you and Paul decide on a model?
Once we are happy with how a board performs and looks, we will usually keep that one on ice and use that as the basis for the model, which it becomes. We will use the KKL shaping machine to scan the golden board, and then we know it can be replicated again and again with no changes to the design. Shaping machines can sometimes be frowned upon, but luckily for Paul he has done the hard yards for 50 years and is one of the lucky few who will happily use a shaping machine when he’s happy with an original and not feel like he’s “cheating” by simply punching some numbers into a computer to pump out the next big thing. This is where the KKL machine differs from other AKU or Shape3D machines, there has to be an original board to scan.
Are you accountable for turning a few thruster surfers into twin fin tragics?
I think VOUCH in general has changed a lot of people’s views on what they should be riding. We generally make boards that anyone can ride, you don’t have to be Alex Knost or some freak to ride any of our boards, whether they’re 5’6” or 10’. Paul’s shapes are super easy to surf.
What about feedback from well known pros?
Rasta rode our original 4’11” VISH when one of our team guys had it out at Broken Point and he lost his mind. Bought it off him then and there. From a guy like Rasta I’d say that’s all the feedback you’d need!
Given the keel fins are ridden so short, do you have a method for working out what a surfer should order?
Most people will be hesitant to ride anything under 5’6” or 5’8” if they haven’t ridden one before. And I’ll always tell them to go as short as possible but some don’t and then they are back a week later wanting to trade that board in for a shorter one. Length is the biggest one as I feel rail line has a massive part to play in how short you can go. If you’re front foot is in front of the apex of the rail curve, then you will generally be bogging rails a lot easier on cutties.
Can those ordering customs get creative with their requests?
We like to engage the customer and have them feel they are walking away with a product that is exactly what they wanted and have them stoked on the whole deal from start to finish. Have them semiinvolved in the process so they feel like they have been a part of it. Some like a lot of colour, and some like it very muted and chill. We like to cater for all.
Paul Hutchinson and Evan Squirrell, the team behind VOUCH Surfboards.
Above: Twin fin seduction courtesy of the VOUCH VISH model.