Skip Frye Interview - 2005
19 ~ November 2011
Extract from All About the Speed a 6000 word Skip Frye interview first published in Ether 2005
Interview by Richard Kenvin and Andrew Kidman
In 2005, Richard and I sat down with Skip, at his shaping bay in San Diego, to talk about his surfing and shaping life, his relationship with the fish and his take on its resurgence. This interview with Skip is one in a series of interviews that Richard has collected during the making of Hydrodynamica.
Richard: I’d kind of like to get your take on Simmons and Greenough and McTavish, and the ‘baby board’ and all that.
Skip: I’d just say that, back in the longboard days, things were pretty basic - mostly just rails. Rails would fatten up and thin out. In fact, right at the end of the longboard era, rails got really knifey. They were tryna get release; they almost pointed them to an edge, so they’d go faster.
Greenough was definitely the guy that stimulated the change. That was just him, going to Australia and the Australians seeing what he was doing on his shell. He was a pretty hi-tech guy, and he was the first guy to cut fins down. I would read the Australian magazines and I got pretty stimulated by what I read, but mainly fins. In fact, I was one of the first guys around here to cut some area out of the fin, to get it to flex a little bit. Which really helped the board a lot. The first flex fins were really raked a lot; they could have been more pivotal but, still, it helped the board out so much, compared to the big rudders we were using.
Stevie Lis was probably motivated by Greenough. He was a kneeboarder; he was the best kneeboarder round here, by far. I didn’t see many, but I saw Stevie a lot. And Rex Huffman, Skinner… there was a number of other guys that were really good. But Stevie… All I know was: the fastest that I ever saw anybody go, probably to this day right now, was him riding a kneeboard. He’d chop off a turn and do a hyperspace across a wall, way faster than anybody else.
So, with the fish, I’ve always been attracted to things with speed. The fish looked fast, or went fast, so I was definitely attracted to that. So, I kind of just learned from Stevie and pretty much adopted, closely, what he was doing with the fish. I made a fish pretty much like he did and I had a quiver of them - about four or five fish at one point - and they really went good.
Later on, the fish kind of disappeared and it was really Derek Hynd… If I had to point to one guy who was responsible for the stimulus and the resurrection of the fish, it would be Derek Hynd. He had a twin fin background and he liked real short boards. The locals at Jeffreys told him about when Bunker Spreckles came through and rode the fish. I guess Bunker impressed them pretty much and it stimulated Derek’s interest. I knew Derek before that point, and he knew that I did do a little work with the fish, so he approached me and had me build one for him. I think the first one was 5’10” and pretty standard; it was 9 x 5’s on the keels, like the old ones.
He took it back to Jeffreys and Tommy Curren rode it. It got in the movies and Derek definitely talked it up, so that is the beginning of what we see now. Ten or twelve years later, it’s probably the most prolific shape being made on the planet.
Andrew: How was Lis in the shaping bay?
Skip: He was the man. He was the Godfather of the thing. He still hasn’t gotten enough credit for it. He was the original man. I know there was a little controversy: that Nuuhiwa and Brewer might have made the first fish. And there was a thing where the locals hung Nuuhiwa’s fish on the OB pier, in the ‘68 world contest, because of that controversy. All I know is: that Stevie Lis was the first guy I ever saw on a fish, and he went faster than I ever saw anybody go. That’s all I know. I never saw anybody else in that realm. He’s it; everything I know came from what he did. Stevie Lis needs more recognition for what he’s done - in that respect, especially. He’s still designing different stuff.
Richard: What do you remember about McTavish and those guys, coming over here, and the experience of riding the ‘baby board’?
Skip: Well, the ‘baby board’ was when McTavish and George came down one day. It’s actually the only time I’ve ever sat with George and talked with him a little bit. The ‘baby board’ was a balsa board - single fin, at that time; it might have been a twin fin at one time but they didn’t talk about it. I think it was a 7’6” and I rode it at the South Jetty, at Ocean Beach. The surf wasn’t real good, but it felt pretty good. It rode good.
Richard: What year was that?
Skip: Early seventies, probably - it was definitely after the shortboard revolution. In fact, I got a letter, right before we went down to Australia with the Windansea club, in late ‘67. The Australians were already going off on the shortboard thing. They were doing vee bottoms and everything, and McTavish sent me a letter, with diagrams and fly-paper. The letter got lost, but it was probably the most electric letter I’ve ever gotten, from any surfer since I’ve been surfing, on design and development.
If you’ve ever met McTavish, he’s just such an electric guy. You can’t help but be around him and not start going off yourself. He’s got this charisma and this electricity, and he’s always stimulated. He’s like this little gremlin, or something, and he just starts going. Even in his letter, I could see it. And then, when I met him, it was totally that way.
Richard: When did you first meet?
Skip: When I first went down to Australia. He had these space age boards… I remember, I went to Keyo’s and he had this one with all kinds of channels and concaves. At that time, it was so space age. There was a lot of boards kinda like that, but this board was the most radical board I’d ever seen.
She Was a Girl, The Windy Hills
15 ~ November 2011
Extract from a Conversation with Alan Byrne about Channel Pioneer Jim Pollard
07 ~ November 2011
Last year I took a trip up to Currumbin to visit Alan Byrne and talk to him about the influence Jim Pollard had on his life. Alan still shapes out of the old Hot Stuff factory - with the original sign. Alan made some of the great Hot Stuff boards in the late 70’s and early 80’s for the likes of Rabbit, Chappy and Kong. Most of Alan’s work from this period featured the Clinker Channel. When I walked in off the street Alan was taking a break, reading the paper and listening to the radio. There was a hand painted sign up on the back wall that read: Surfboards up to 6’11” - $650 - channels $700 up to 7’11” - $700 - channels $750.” His shaping bay had about six foot of foam dust piled up in each corner, “I still shape them all out of the blank mate,” he told me. “That’s just a reminder to people I sill use a planer.” I talked to him about Pollard for a while, ordered a board from him (a period 1980 single fin, double flyer swallow, channel bottom) and left him to his business. Legend.
AK: In your opinion was Jim a masterful shaper? Because the foil of the orange board is just beautiful, for the period it’s very modern.
AB: I think he was. To conceptually come up with something like that and then to apply it and to make it work as well as it did. The boards just looked beautiful, you know how there’s boards down the beach and you’ll notice them from 200 metres away and you go “Whoa, look at that one.” Jim’s boards had that. I think he was a brilliant shaper. It’s sad that he didn’t step it up and take it further because obviously mentally his brain worked right, he was just one of those people that was outside the whole fucken loop.
It’s weird because I stood in the shaping room with him and he talked to me about the concept and I swear I’ve never heard anything of him ever again. I’ve never managed to contact him ever again. I never saw those boards evolve into anything else. They got to the one third back from the nose phase and “Bang” he was gone. It’s a mystery in a way what happened to him. He was a skinny little eccentric surfboard maker - you could almost mistake Chris Garret for him…(laughs)
When he lit up on the theory and application of them it was just mesmerising.
AK: Did he have a theory?
AB: Oh yeah, he knew everything about what he was talking about, there was no confusion with him. He was saying that utilising the nose to tail and the flow of water that would run down the board. he was explaining how water approached the front of the board and proposing where the water is going as it travels under the board and how do you store some of the energy and release it. If you start thinking about the way the water would run through the bottom of that orange board you can see there that he is effectively taking water from the front and then squeezing it Venturi Style and doing it over a three barrelled setup so there’s not a concentration of too much water building up, squeezing it fractionally and then letting it run out through the tail. He was analysing the flow over the whole bottom and then he put the dome between the middle of your feet where the action was and that gave the board the rolly-polly feel and then he’d stored all this energy in the channels and was squirting it out through the tail.
The thing that is frozen in my mind is the dome: it’s easier to visualise it than to put it into words. It makes complete sense, when he told me this light just came on, his explanation was brilliant, to this day everything in the bottom of what I do is applying those same principles with a different process.
He said that surfboards aren’t like any other thing in the ocean: they don’t have a motor, they don’t have a sail, they are not driven by any other thing other than the fact that you rise and fall on the face of a wave, so it was brilliant the way he developed a way to use all that water running down a surfboard and to not waste it. He was just so enthralled by what he was doing and no-one wanted to listen very much.
He was so convinced that he was right that he went to the Naval Institute in Tasmania to talk to these people about it. He spoke to an admiral there and he told them this is a concept applicable to global ocean going vessels because there’s always swell running, and that those boats should be able to utilise the power of a running swell and use the surfing aspect of it to save fuel. He told them that this idea will enable a hull to utilise the speed of a swell. The admiral said he’d never seen anything like it, that it was totally revolutionary and that they’d look into it and low and behold Jim disappeared.
AK: How important has his influence been on your shaping?
AB: That moment where he explained it to me, that was one of those moments in my life where I was at the crossroads and he made me turn and follow a different direction away from everyone else.
AK: Have you got any idea where he got the idea from?
AB: I think it was just a flash of intuitive brilliance. The fact was that Smitty just blew people’s minds in Hawaii, but I think people struggled with what Jim was doing and it was too left of centre, like “That’s pretty weird man” even with the clinker channels there has always been naysayers like, “Why don’t the pros ride them?”
AK: Anything else?
AB: If he’s still alive tell him fucken thank you. He was one of those bright stars that flitted through the night sky and disappeared again. He changed my world.
Flexing it with Michael Mackie
31 ~ October 2011
This interview with Michael Mackie is an extract from the Lost in the Ether film/book project, released December 2010
Andrew: That whole Winterstick fish thing, how did you come across that?
Michael: I came across it from when I was a young boy looking at Surfing World Magazine. Somehow the article that Richard Palmer wrote stuck with me for all those years. Eventually through going snow boarding it coupled up with my fish boards, I thought that I’d try and deepen the swallows and flex the tails.
Andrew: What attracted you to that design? There must have been something in Richard’s article that resonated with you.
Michael: Just the beautiful aesthetic of the snowboard that Milovich had made. I like the aesthetic of the swallowtail. Richard Palmer was basically showing the people in Australia snowboarding for the first time.
Andrew: What year was that?
Michael: 1979, I think the article came out in 1980 in Bruce and Hugh’s magazine.
Andrew: When did you start tinkering around with shaping those crossover designs?
Andrew: Can you feel the similarities between this board and the Winterstick?
Michael: Yeah I can. Just from sinking the tail and riding off one pin at a time. You get a nice slice off either piece of the swallow and also the whip out of the tail - which you get out of a flexing snowboard. I can feel those similarities, because in powder snow you can push and sink the tail and whip out of your turns - the surfboard is in a softer medium (which is water) so you’re sinking and flexing the tail. The swallowtail seems to work.
Andrew: These other Fish that you’re doing, where did the inspiration for them come from?
Michael: It all came from toying with my own ideas at the start. They came from Skip Frye’s board, that one that Curren rode years ago at Jeffery’s. My brother-in-law Pete was pretty into me playing around with it and we just played around with it. It was just a private thing. Other guys became a little bit interested, but it didn’t really take off.
Andrew: Why did you put the side-cut into the rail?
Michael: That comes directly from the Dimitrije Winterstick.
Andrew: What do you think that does?
Michael: Well, you’re following the curve, so it gives you a little extra whip in and out of your turns. It gives you a little extra drive out of turns; it shortens up the arc a bit out of the end of your cutbacks. It flicks you - gives you a flick - it’s like a radius you’re turning off. It’s excellent off the wash and in that last hook, when you go into a roundhouse cutback - that’s where it really applies. Rodney Ball, he had all that kind of stuff in his boards, back in the 70’s, he called them Ski Tails. Like what Terry Fitz did with the sidecut in his Screwdriver. It all comes back from my childhood, and the interest in design - the whole gamut of design, so to speak.
To read more of this interview see:
The limited edition Lost in the Ether film/book project is available in the shop.
And for work by Michael Mackie see:
Single in the West
31 ~ October 2011
This single fin went over to West Oz during the winter. Shape and ink by yours truly. *See single splice in the surfboard section for dimensions and thoughts.
Glassing by Simon Jones.
Response to shape by the owner: “Just wanted to let you know that my board is magic, it takes me to places on a wave that no other board has before. This makes me very happy.”
Some Winter Shapes
29 ~ October 2011
This board was shaped for my mate Brett in New Zealand. Keeping with the football themes he wanted it red and blue like the Owaka Rugby Union jumper. I painted his home break in the red panel in ink.
The board is based on Simon Anderson’s original ‘81 Thruster, with a flat bottom under the front foot that leads into a panel-vee that runs out through the tail. The vee stiffens the board up, whilst helping to get it on rail. The board was glassed and finned by Simon Jones. Test pilot was Brett’s son Jake, whom is obviously from New Zealand, cause he’s in boardies in the middle of winter.
The Windy Hills perform Songs from The Ether in Byron and Coolangatta this coming weekend
27 ~ June 2011
In an attempt to lure punters out to our shows this weekend in Byron and Coolangatta I made this shocking artwork for the newspapers. Hopefully it resonates with you and we see you at the shows! The Buddah Bar - Friday 1st July Byron Bay and The Cooly Hotel - Saturday 2nd July, showtime 8pm. We’ll be featuring cuts from the new record and projections from Lost in The Ether and Patrick’s Trefz’s Idiosyncrasies. Aaron Bishop will be playing support.
The Windy Hills on Tour through June & July with Songs from The Ether
11 ~ May 2011
Songs From The Ether is a live music and surf film experience curated by Andrew Kidman. It features live music from his band The Windy Hills teamed with projections from his latest film ‘Lost In The Ether’ and the new film from Patrick Trefz’z: ‘Idiosyncrasies’.
Following on from the success of Last Hope in the live format – the production travelling across the world and drawing large crowds at the Powerhouse in Brisbane, The Perth International Arts Festival and New York’s Surf Fim Festival - Kidman and his band The Windy Hills have reconvened to create a similar experience for his new film.
The Windy Hills (featuring Kidman, Joe Jones, Paul Brewer and Jay Kruegner) formed originally as The Brown Birds From Windy Hills, with soundtracking these films in a live setting their uniting passion. Following a string of Kidman’s solo albums, the band’s first record Three Sails To The Wind was released in 2007 before Kidman’s recent filmic project the Last Hope took flight. In January of this year they released the album Friend From Another Star (the single “She was a girl” could be a flipside to Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side said the Sydney Morning Herald). And “Friend From Another Star will no doubt win scores of friends in 2011 with its eerie, yet euphoric sound that’s bound to stand up to repeat listens. In a nutter, this is spinifex surf music at its optimum and most pure level played out by a band who knows how to get into the zone, ‘Road Block’ being arguably one of the first grand Oz tracks of the new decade” - Nick Argyriou, Rhythms Magazine
Kidman’s own home, nestled on a rural property on the North Coast of NSW, would provide a backdrop for the conception of their second album. Recorded in a small studio in nearby Mullumbimby, Friend from Another Star is more muscular & varied – some songs wilder, some cleaner, some soft with acoustics and warm with Americana. While not directly inspired by the ocean, it possesses a similar fluidity and escapist quality that echo the band’s shared passion and connection with the sea.
Call it a surf night, a music improv night… call it what you will, Songs From The Ether shows the ocean and surfing in a mesmerising light, with live soundscapes and visuals to disappear to. Kidman & band will tour the production across Australia’s east coast this June & July.
SONGS FROM THE ETHER TOUR
Wednesday 1st – The Brass Monkey, Cronulla
Tickets from venue website | http://www.brassmonkey.com.au/ | Ph 02 9544 3844
Thursday 2nd – The Heritage Hotel, Thirroul
Tickets from venue website | http://www.heritagehotel.com.au/ | Ph 02 4284 5884
Friday 3rd & Saturday 4th, The Boatshed, Manly
Tickets from Heritage Surf Shop| http://www.heritagesurfaustralia.com/ | Ph 02 9977 7623
Sunday 5th, The Vanguard, Newtown
Tickets from venue website | http://www.thevanguard.com.au/ | Ph 02 9550 3666
Friday 1st, The Buddah Bar, Byron Bay
Tickets from the band’s website http://www.byronbaybrewery.com.au/
Saturday 2nd, The Coolangatta Hotel, Surfers Paradise
Tickets from venue website | http://www.thecoolyhotel.com.au/ | Ph 07 55 896 888
Friday 8th, The Noosa Surf Club, Noosa
Tickets from Solace Surf, Noosa | Ph 07 54470 2606
Saturday 16th, The Powerhouse Museum, Brisbane
Tickets from band’s website | http://www.brisbanepowerhouse.org
*Tickets on sale Friday May 13th
Press & Label enquiries to Brooke Salisbury & Aaron Curnow at Spunk Records
Phone 02 9908 0751
Little Hawk by The Windy Hills
30 ~ January 2011
Dreamboards & such
28 ~ January 2011
Four Dreamboards and one 6’5” channel bottom Widow Maker, shaped in early January and painted by Mark Sutherland. Mark taking stills from his animated film dream - hence the name of the boards. Mark noted during the painting of the boards that it was a similar process to when he painted the animation cells for dream in 1987 - blocking in say the colour brown and then moving onto the next board to block in the brown and so on. He said back in the day before computer animation there used to be rooms of people drawing and colouring animation cells, each working on their own animation part or colour and then moving them onto the next animator or colour master.
Before I shaped these boards I visited channel legend Alan Byrne on the Gold Coast at his factory. Alan was good enough to give me a one-on-one in cutting channels. Alan has been on the channel programme since 1978 when he witnessed Col Smith (Newcastle) ride a Jim Pollard original channel bottom at Sunset and Pipeline. Citing a later conversation with Pollard about the principals of channels as a turning point in his life. Alan still hand shapes all his boards from a blank. If you’re interested in one of his boards he can be contacted here.
The boards I saw at the factory waiting to be glassed were incredible.