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Deep Design: Daniel Thomson on Surfboards, Physics and Simmons

Innovative surfboard designer Daniel Thomson of Tomo Surfboards talks about his cutting edge design, the influence of Bob Simmons and new surfboard materials for enhanced performance.

Daniel Thomson of Tomo Surboards is a young and innovative surfer who is part of a core group of San Diego shapers pushing the edge of design and development to move surfing to the next level. He has been affiliated with Richard Kenvin’s Hydrodynamica project that is based on the influence and theories of San Diego’s legendary surfing innovator .

Serge Dedina: Why did you starting shaping surfboards? And what is it about creating surfboards that you love?

Daniel Thomson: I was fortunate enough to grow up in a surfing family so I pretty much have been surfing since I can remember. My dad (Mark Thomson) is a respected shaper in Australia so ever since he made me my first board, I was involved in the shaping process. As I evolved as a surfer, my desire to shape more specialized equipment became apparent so I continued to follow my passion for exploring the connection between creative art specialized for performance surfing.

Dedina: Who are your shaping and surfing influences?

Thomson: My dad obviously. George Greenough was a family friend during my younger years so his work definitely made an imprint on me.  More recently the work of uncovered by the research of Richard Kenvin has been inspiring. Also, I like to look outside of surfing for inspiration: modern aviation, quantum physics and the universe challenge the mind to think deeper for new ideas.

Dedina: How did you end up shaping and surfing in San Diego?

Thomson: After making a few trips out to San Diego from 2004-2010, I realized that the market for progressive designs was stronger in California. Also, I was ready for a change of pace in my life.

Dedina: Your boards have been associated with the hydrodynamic theory and movement espoused by Richard Kenvin that was directly influenced by the design of Bob Simmons? How did you interest in the legacy of Simmons and the partnership with Kenvin occur?

Thomson: Richard was visiting in Australia back in 2003 on one of his first Hydrodynamica missions. He was looking to connect with Dave Rastovich.

In hope that he would be able to film him riding some of the keel fin fish boards he had brought over, Richard tracked down my dad as a support filmer and naturally my dad suggested to Richard that ‘I give these fishes a go.'

A few sessions later, we had some awesome footage of Rasta and me riding these boards. After that I kept in close contact with RK and continued my natural progression in refining the fish design.

Dedina: What are the types of surfboards you are shaping now and specifically what are the designs that you see working best in Southern California?

Thomson: Generally all my boards are fairly suited to California because of the straighter curves and wider tails. The boards that I am currently most excited about are my new Next Generation Modern Planing Hulls (MPH).

They are basically 21st century adaptations of the original Bob Simmons plaining hulls mixed with wakeboards technology. They seem to be very functional designs with a whole bunch of potential to be seen as an apex high performance design in the future.

Dedina: Explain what the hydrodynamic principle means for surfboard design and surfing in general?

Thomson: Broadly speaking, you can apply some sort of hydrodynamic principle to any surfboard. More specially describing a hydrodynamic planning hull is a board designed to minimize drag through several different streamlining methods including utilizing a parallel rail line from nose to tail with a wider nose tail profile and straight-line fin placements

Dedina: What materials are you working with right now? 

Thomson: I have always been a firm believer in epoxy resin for its strength, durabilty and flex memory. I am currently working with XTR (closed cell styrofoam) Epoxy and several applications of vacuum bag carbon fiber.

Dedina: You are shaping boards for WQS surfer Stu Kennedy. How did that relationship come about and how do you work with him in terms of giving and receiving feedback?

Thomson: Stu has been a close friend from my hometown of Lennox Head so I have shaped for him quite a bit in the past. When I was home visiting in March, I showed Stu some of the latest boards. He was pretty blown away on how they surfed, and he has barely set foot on a regular short board since he tried one. 

Since I shaped him a new quiver of the MPH’s he has been dedicated to riding them in high-level completion as he feels he can achieve his best performances on these boards. He recently placed 9th in the 6 star WQS in England and a 17th in the U.S Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach.

Dedina: Are most pro surfers too conservative with the boards they are riding? 

Thomson: Most definitely. The cutthroat nature of competition doesn’t nurture experimentation. Most elite surfers have grown up there whole lives riding one style of design and is not confident riding something unorthodox. Most are jaded to the fact that there could be a left field design out there capable of performing better, so they tend not to have faith in something new. Things are changing though.

Dedina: There's a photo with Kelly Slater and you when you were a grom and more recently Kelly commented on the boards you shape for Kennedy. How has Kelly's surfing and his own departure from pro surfing surfboard orthodoxy influenced your own career as a shaper and a surfer?

Thomson: I have always been experimental in nature with my equipment so I haven’t so much been following Kelly design wise. However his surfing is what inspires me most to figure out ways to improve my design to allow me to surf at higher levels.

Dedina: Where do you see yourself going with your shaping career? Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Thomson: I would obviously like to be successful. I am more of a surfer/designer than a ‘shaper’ so hopefully I will be surfing more and not be a slave to the shaping room. I have always done it for the love of surfing and a healthy creative outlet. So as long as I am doing that, I will be happy.

Serge Dedina is executive director of WiLDCOAST, an international conservation team that conserves coastal and marine ecosystems and the author of Wild Sea.

Zach Plopper September 05, 2012 at 10:33 PM
great article about a truly innovative shaper
Ben McCue September 05, 2012 at 10:36 PM
Good interview. Dan shaped me one of his MPH's and the board goes amazing with the speed it carries through turns and the ability to take different lines on a wave than a standard shortboard; at the same time you can put a lot more into turns than you can with a fish. Thanks Dan!!!
Big gun September 07, 2012 at 09:55 AM
Dan, go do some study at Berkley while in USA and when you have a degree in something, anything....then you can make some comments about hydrodynamics on an informed basis because frankly you are just throwing scientific theory around with no foundation. Your a clever guy, go one better than every other shaper and go learn some real science and scientific principles instaed of just spriuking unsubstantiated claims. Just a thought mate otherwise you will not progress past what your old man did.
Gary Dench April 15, 2013 at 11:20 PM
Big gun Self education in many fields is a very powerful tool and can allow creative thinking outside the box. Currently riding one of his MPH boards, l can praise his research and conversions as outstanding. His design would easily stand up there with the thruster as one of the game changers of the surf industry. Do yourself a favour and get on one.

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