Kelly dabbles in biomimicry with Mike Woo
When Kelly Slater elects to give the surfing masses an insight into exactly what he’s been riding they tend to listen. So far his most recent quiver break-down has over 1000 comments. With smooth delivery, Kelly walks us through the board he rode in the Mexico contest and the one he’s been free-surfing most in Mexico, but things get really interesting when he picks up a jet-black board designed by Mike Woo.
Sounding just like a kid who has done a drawing they want to show their Mum, Kelly states proudly, “This board is inspired by a Great White – literally. I took the silhouette of a Great White from below and above as many times as I could and we put it on a computer and outlined it.” The board, Kelly goes on to explain has a lot more rocker than a traditional twin fin. “I don’t really love it in flat waves,” he states honestly. “But as soon as there’s a pocket in the wave it’s incredible, it just lights up.”
Not surprisingly when Kelly starts talking about drawing inspiration from Great Whites for his board designs people want a bite of the idea.
Actor Luke Hemsworth was instantly chiming into the comments asking Kelly how he could get his hands on one of the black, Great Whites by Mike Woo. Kelly, ever the vigilant Insta respondent, said he would work something out for his pal from the famous acting family. Two-time world champion, Tom Carroll, another design obsessive, was also quick to express an interest in the Mike Woo design and wrote Kelly a message in full, pigeon Hawaiian.
Like Tesla boss, Elon Musk, whose wild twitter statements can massively impact the share price on Tesla shares, Kelly can shift the focus of a surfboard market with a few comments or waves ridden on a particular board. Could Kelly’s ‘shark’ outline one day supersede the ‘fish’? Are other shapers suddenly watching National Geographic shark doco’s on loop (or 'Jaws' re-runs), so that they can replicate the anatomical features of a Great White in their own boards? Or, like Kelly, are they busy scanning in images of Great Whites and using computer modeling to morph them into a board design? Perhaps not yet, but they know Kelly has the power to kickstart a major board trend.
Curiously, while a ‘Great White’ design sounds impressive it’s not the fastest animal in the ocean. That’s a neck and neck battle between the sailfish and the black marlin (82 mph) while the Great White taps out at around 35 mph. Even the Mako shark is quicker than old Whitey.
So it’s hard to say if Slater is just in awe of the Great White and having some fun, or convinced that the shark’s outline may indeed open a door to surfboard performance.
It’s not the first time designers have gone in search of inspiration from marine creatures. George Greenough studied tuna and dolphin fins carefully and his revolutionary fin design was heavily influenced by his observations. Meanwhile, finless aficionado tom Wegener has a model he calls ‘The Tuna’ with an outline that bears a close resemblance to its namesake. Of course, there are now many interpretations of the 'fish' and countless other shapers have no doubt applied a similar kind of biomimicry to their designs.
Kelly Slater has played Pied Piper more than once with surfboard design. In the 90s, when Kelly rode heavily rockered, narrow, and thin designs most surfers jumped on a version of the ‘banana’ board. It didn’t matter that many of us couldn’t ride them, Kelly was unstoppable on the bananas and we wanted to chase the same feeling. Post -2000 it’s arguable that Kelly led the charge with shorter, wider, and thicker performance boards. He dropped down to 5'8" and 5'9" regularly and I recall him riding a 5'4" in contests at one point. He's often said he likes riding much shorter boards. Following in Kelly's footsteps most of us have knocked a couple of inches off our shortboards in the last decade.
Will Kelly’s, Mike Woo, Great White model become a thing, or is it just a design dalliance for Kelly and a passing fad for surfing celebrities? The latter is probably more likely but it’s nice to know that Kelly is out there exploring the possibilities and responding to his inventive whims when it comes to surfboard design – what a great way to spend your life. And at some point, he might just trip over the next major design revolution.