A surfboard is a personal thing. When a surfer finds one that feels perfect, it's magic. When a pro surfer finds one that's perfect, it can make their career.
That alchemy can be hard to come by: A surfer's height, weight and style matter as much as the conditions they're paddling into, from the wave's shape to its power and size. Variations on a board's rocker, concave and fin setup add further nuance to how a Magic Board comes to life.
Here are a few -- but by no means all -- of the elements of a board's shape that have made some magic in 2014.
Rocker: Less vs. More
Rocker is the curve a board has from nose to tail when looked at from the side. More rocker in the nose is generally used to handle big, steep waves. The extra curve helps keep the nose from pearling at reef breaks like Teahupo'o and Pipe. The downside? Increased rocker decreases a board's paddling ability. These boards tend to be longer than a standard performance shortboard to make up for diminished paddle power.
That being said, Kelly Slater (USA) has been experimenting with shorter-than-average boards in the heavier reef breaks on the WCT. Could that be his secret?
A board with less (or flatter) rocker has greater benefits in smaller, beachbreak waves that require more effort to catch. Tyler Wright's (AUS) Magic Board from the Vans US Open of Surfing is a great example.
Less rocker -- usually seen on longboards, fish and stubbier high-performance boards -- increases a board's paddling speed. It also helps boards cross flat sections like those at Huntington Beach in the summer.
Concave: Single vs. Double
Concaves are sections of scooped-out foam on the board's underside and are used to increase and control speed. The concave generally starts around where a surfer's chest lies on the board when paddling. A single concave is sanded into the center of the board, from the chest through the tail. The design is especially common among Tour surfers who perform a series of maneuvers on a wave and transition continuously from one rail to the other.
Cases in point: Jordy Smith's (ZAF) Magic Board that helped win the Hurley Pro at Trestles is a Channel Islands Girabbit model, and features a single concave. As does Gabriel Medina's (BRA) Pukas Da Freak Kid model, which he used to win in Fiji, on Cloudbreak's huge drops.
A double concave is more commonly used as a speed generator, while creating a looser feel in the tail. It incorporates matching, hollowed-out sections on each side of the board's stringer. Boards with this design often start as a single concave in the front of the board to maintain paddle speed and transition to a double concave in the back half of the board. This helps surfers push their tails through turns in weaker waves.
Mick Fanning's (AUS) Magic Board for the 2014 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach was Darren DHD Handley's Ducks Nuts model, which has the single-to-double concave. That magic helped earn him a victory at the Australian event, which saw softer waves than some of the Tour's other stops.
Fin Setup: Thruster vs. Quads
The thruster setup, famously introduced by former Tour surfer Simon Anderson (AUS), allows surfers to use three small fins instead of the large, single one popular in surfing's early days. Thrusters allow boards to make sharp turns while maintaining stability.
More recently, WCT surfers like Slater and Fanning have been turning to four-fin setups on barreling waves like those at Pipe and Cloudbreak. They're sticking with their thruster setups for performance waves like those at Trestles and Margaret River.
A four-fin setup, also called a quad, features two standard-size forward fins and two smaller trailer fins, positioned on either side of the board's stringer and slightly ahead of where a center fin is usually found. The setup helps hold a board on the faces of the Tour's infamous tubes because two fins are fully submerged in the water on the steepest part of the wave. With no fin in the center, water flows faster through the back of the board, which increases drive to beat the foam ball.
Goofyfooter Owen Wright (AUS), on the other hand, isn't convinced. He discussed his thruster options in his Tahiti Board Breakdown.
The quad fin setup also helps with airs and fins-free turns, as the placement of the trailer fins allow water to pass more freely over a board's tail, for a looser feel. Slater was riding a quad when he pulled off his historic 540 in Portugal.