When Grant Newby first began discussing Project Simmons I knew immediately that I was interested. The simple fact that Bob Simmons had conceived this design back in the late 1940’s was enough for me to realise that I could find a deep connection with this style of board and that it was something that would fire my enthusiasm and imagination. Coming down from a 9’6” log to a 5’8” Simmons was in itself a challenge, but I figured that since I had a life long association with skateboarding and a respect and admiration for the 1970’s,‘Town’ crew that included surfers Larry Bertlemann, Dane Kealoha, Buttons Kaluhiokalani and Mark Liddle, as well as the Z-boy skateboarders from Dogtown, that this low slung pivotal style would be a great resource to draw inspiration from for developing a technique necessary to ride the Simmons. Grant and I conceived the first Simmons configuration as a styrene stringer-less epoxy job with a truly Bob Simmons inspired hulled bottom flowing into a concaved channel in the rear between the two bamboo keel fins. We kept the traditional s-deck profile but added extra thickness to allow for my transitioning down from log riding and also to enhance the craft’s paddling capacity. The first trails began in messy conditions at Narrowneck on the beach break inside the sandbag reef. At first the length of the board daunted my best paddling efforts and then the buoyancy of the styrene hampered my ability to engage the board into the face of the waves, but once I become more familiar with the feel of everything I began to settle into catching a few smaller sliders. Each of these though felt like I was fighting for control until out the back a larger left set loomed into my path, I paddled hard and hooked into my backside for a rail grab decent down the face and then in a moment of inspiration I pulled a very tight bottom turn and the Mini Simmons was off like a rocket, blasting up to the lip for a sharp top turn slash that literally took me by surprise, at this point I was stoked and convinced of this little craft’s future potential. I rang Grant immediately blabbering insanely about the possibilities. After a few more weeks I began to unfold the mysteries of the Simmons. I had come from a position of out of control looseness to a point where I could hold it all together and find a very smooth flow. My analogy was a skateboard with loose trucks. The real moment of truth however came at Snapper Rocks on a day when it was peeling endlessly through to Rainbow bay. These were the first quality waves I had ventured onto with the Simmons. At first the fast late takeoffs were unsettling but once I had honed my focus I found that the moment I placed my feet securely over the rear keels the Simmons came alive, wide square tail driving, biting, tearing down the line with me piloting her glide far out onto the shoulder, her broad flat bottom and hulled front end lifting and floating over the surface of the water in a fluid series of very fast top to bottom s-turns, until crouched, I pressured my rear foot grabbed the rail and drove her screaming into an ass dragging sliding cutback, the tail drifting and throwing up a gushing fan of scattered white water, the direction change sudden, tight and purposeful. After an exhausting session of similar rides I was confident and assured that the Simmons would forever be a part of my quiver. I had spent a lifetime aspiring to a forgotten aesthetic, something gleaned from the movie screen as a teenager watching Bertlemann at Ala Moana and at Kaisers but this had been the first time that I ever felt in my mind that I had come near to achieving this archaic visual nirvana. Grant’s next venture was a more streamlined Simmons, this one measuring in at 5’4”, with a sleek and trimmed out silhouette and shaped in glass and foam. I instantly liked the stripped down visual of this new board. While maintaining the classic Simmons s-deck configuration on top, Grant added concave to the bottom of the nose as opposed to the traditional hull; this seemed an appropriate contemporary design detail along with sharper rails and less bulk through the tail. This Simmons I christened at Currumbin just inside the point on that sandbank that seems to swing endless lines across to Lacey’s. My first few waves were a workout and this board was everything its predecessor was and then something; superfast and pivotal, but obviously due to its streamlined thickness it lacked the buoyancy and so I had to work twice as hard to keep her alive and engaged on the wave face. The next day I gave her another test run, this time at Little Marley. I was fortunate enough to catch the swell running all the way across into Rainbow Bay at about 2-3 foot, low tide and offshore. I couldn’t have found a better arena! The setup was perfect and the little 5’4” drove flat out down the line just ahead of the sand dredging foam. On almost every wave she powered superfast lines, my legs working like pistons to keep her slotted, grooved and channelled into the wall. On several waves I struggle to get to my feet set as the reduced length of the Simmons made the takeoffs even more crucial as well as the relative thinness of this board adding an extra dimension to the paddling experience and demanding a very thorough workout. However despite these small setbacks I discovered in this little Simmons a super fun surf craft with a huge capacity for speed, long drifting lines and driving pivotal turns, its wide flat underbelly gliding over the face, not dragging through it. After a serious three hour session for the Simmons and I, we both succumbed to exhaustion and washed up onto the shore where I lay with a grin from ear to ear, reflecting on a stoke and headspace I hadn’t felt in a long long time. The Simmons? I think she was happy as well.
After a beautiful winters morning session down on the beach Im home alone on my day off. Nothing much to do except re-watch WWII submarine movies and play dress ups. Forward torpedo tubes ready...FIRE ONE!!!
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