A few years ago when I first attended The Alley Fish Fry I was amused at how ‘fringe’ this event felt and how novel it was that this group of surfers had somehow come together into a sort of loose collective. In light of subsequent years and especially at this year’s event, I can only confess to how I misjudged what I observed. While still a fabulous celebration of this versatile board, I believe this event to now be much more significant than what I had first thought. If I look at the Fish in context within the surfing industry, it has become a vehicle of expression for the brightest minds of this subculture. I use the word subculture deliberately as to me; this has always been at the core of surfing’s development and progression over the last 50 years and something that stands in stark contrast to the surfing industry in general. The surfing subculture is the driving force behind our sport. It defines the direction of the future and is representative of the art. Michelangelo once said that, “Where there is no hand there is no heart”, and this is all the more pertinent when we look at the current trend towards off-shore production and shaping machines. Juxtaposed against all of this then is the Fish. The Fish is guided by the hand and thus has heart and soul. From attending my 4th Fish Fry I can validate that this statement is true and the roll call of shapers and surfers that attended supports my theory. This year, as in past years, has seen a great cross section of the shaping community gather in the park. With shapers such as Rich Pavel, Chris Christenson, Ian Zamora, Danny Hess and DJ Kane from the USA, Roger Hall and Bobby Crisp from New Zealand, Bob McTavish, Jim Banks and Dain Thomas from Byron Bay as well as Gold Coasters Dick Van Straalen, Chris Garrett, Dan MacDonald, Richard Harvey, Sam Yoon, Murray Burton, Dave Verrall, Shoji Muto and many, many others from up and down the east coast and from foreign shores as far away as Japan, Spain, Italy, France, Portugal and the United Kingdom. This event provides a communal pool of ideas that produced a staggering array of surf vehicles all loosely grouped under the banner of the humble Fish. Visitors were showcased with a selection of Quads, Sixers, Alaias, Paipos and traditional Fishes that varied in length from very small - under 5ft to the extreme 10ft plus. Many of these conceptual pieces have evolved into highly functional wave craft, most notably has been the rediscovery of the 1940’s derived Simmons board. Now reconceived as the Mini Simmons, this radical little foam slider is blowing the minds of a new generation of surfers. The Mini Simmons borrows US Navy hydrodynamic hull designs and S-deck construction teamed with twin keels. This, combined with a wide square tail provides an amazingly fast ride with tight pivotal turns and lots of floaty tail sliding. These performance principles were applied to many of the Fish Fry’s craft making the Simmons the standout board at this year’s gathering. Other innovations of the day were equally overwhelming, representing leading-edge concepts in standard foam and glass to hollow marine ply, balsa and Paulownia wood and then space age carbons. Sage Joske, a young shaper from Valla surfboards, showcased the Vector, a more buoyant and glassed derivative of the ancient wooden Alaia featuring traditional Alaia rails, a gentle bottom roll and a deep fish tail allowing for extreme speed down the line and long drifting turns whilst retaining the control features of the Fish with two miniscule mini keels. Jed Done from Bushrat surfboards came along with an amazing quiver of channelled bottom, split flex tails and finless Fishes. Diverse boards, shaped by Feral Dave were also experimenting with slim-lined Simmons with concaved tails and quad fin setups. Richard Harvey boards and Murray Bourton Shapes also played with Simmons hybrids mixed with Greenough conceived Hi-Lo rails, looser fin placement and round tails and swallows. Ronnie Goddard Shapes had Spoon fish quads and Mick Mackie was developing concepts based on the sweeping side cut rail lines of 70’s snowboards. Thomas Bexan even turned up with some beautifully worked timber ‘Hand-o-planes’ while Grown, Riley, Hynd Sight and Generation Gap all showed beautiful examples of wooden boards but for sheer beauty and craftsmanship however, Roger Hall from New Zealand carried the day in wood with his meticulous Fishes, inlayed with hundreds of strips of rare and contrasting grained timbers worthy of a metropolitan art gallery rather than a surf meet. This incredible array is representative of the very foundation of the Fish Fry and why it has captured the imagination of so many. The possibilities seem endless. In organising this event here in Australia, host Grant Newby has provided a non-profit, non-commercial forum for the healthy exchange of ideas that could fundamentally challenge the way we view our sport. And, it could not have come at a better time. With the short board arriving at its pinnacle in the form of the Thruster, the industry has had its creative brakes on for years. What the Fish Fry has achieved is to open the minds of shapers again to the endless possibilities of offering a choice of wave vehicles that encompasses more than the Thruster could achieve in its role as surfboard to the masses. This was not the only advancement either. Andi Surfboards showed an obvious return to the multi-hued decorative art of the airbrush used on his turbo-concaved boards whilst Jesse from Black Apache boards used heavy resin tints. In a conversation with Byron Bay artist Paul McNeil, he stated that, “For the past decade the only choice of colour in a surfboard was white, white or white and if you were lucky perhaps some lame veneer of spray colour”. Along with the initiatives taken in re-inventing the Fish has come the revival of these glorious resin colour tints and hand-foiled wooden fins. The Fish Fry was abundant in a burst of riotous colour and an amazing array of vibrant hues. This dedication to aesthetics in tint colour is reminiscent of days past when boards were as individual as the personalities that rode them. When initially rediscovered, the fish was viewed through the rosy glasses of retro-esque nostalgia but today the reality is much different, the fish has become the catalyst for the future, a visionary window into the potential of one of surfing’s greatest hybrids. As the Fish Fry continues as an annual event, one thing is certain and that is the Fish has arrived and is here to stay. Perhaps not as the ultimate answer to all wave conditions, but undoubtedly as a vehicle of choice, essential to the quiver of any discerning surfer.
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