Go­ing Fast is More Fun

Evan Squir­rell dis­cusses the VOUCH, keel fin ‘VISH’ model.

Tracks - - Arrows - By Luke Kennedy

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.

Photo: Ben Bug­den.

Above: Twin fin se­duc­tion cour­tesy of the VOUCH VISH model.

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