In the old days, when megafauna roamed the plains, beer came in aluminium cans and wetsuits had zippers, surfboard design was a relatively simply affair. When ordering a new fibo (the term for a fibreglass surfboard for those born after 1976), there were only four design elements you needed to know; length, width, tail and rail shape. You’d tell your shaper those four key ingredients, and then he’d do the rest. Often ignoring at least two of them. 

Now surfboards, like life, relationships and TV remote controls, have become more complicated. Added to these parameters came added measurements for the width and thickness of the nose and tail for starters. Surfers wanted more detail. Computer scanning made that easier and more accurate. Over time all those components were boiled down into the one magic measurement; volume. Surfers now deal in litres, not inches and everything could be measured down to the very last micromillilitre. 

Except one key component – flex. Flex relates to how your board bends, or flexes, when forces are put upon it, by both the surfer and the wave and how quickly it snaps back into shape. The flex comes both longitudinal (from nose to tail) and torsional (across the board). Flex stores energy and releases it, projecting your board forward. That seems pretty important, right?

Has Johnny Cabiana solved the mystery of surfboard flex?

Shapers had an instinctive feeling for what worked with flex. They kept flex constant through their experience and the knowledge of the materials they worked with. They knew its importance and melded it through their craft. Initially stringers were the key control, but as new materials emerged, carbon tape and parabolic stringers were also used. However it was still mercurial, hidden, almost abstract. And trying to quantify it was impossible. Measuring flex was as difficult as trying to measure an angry brown snake’s cock with a compass. Sort of.    

Well until now, if you believe Johnny Cabianca, Gabriel Medina’s shaper, that is. The Basque based, Brazilian shaper has teamed up with Mikel Agote to create TorFlex Technology. “It’s a machine and software system that can accurately bend, twist and vibrate any surfboard across its two axis to generate a full profile based on lateral flex, torsional flex and overall dampness/vibration,” Johnny told Tracks, instead of saying its a computer that can measure flex. 

Cabianca recalled how all his work with flex has been based on trial and error. And the error was increasing as more and more new materials came in. “With TorFlex technology I’m hoping to give shapers a vital tool to turn the mystery of flex into the science of flex,” he says. “Identical shapes made from different materials can be tested, and those “magic boards” can be analyzed to create the same flex profile again.  It should allow shaper to fine tune a surfboard’s performance according to specific waves, conditions and surfing styles.”

Now other shapers may disagree that this is a world first, and we’d love to hear how they are currently measuring flex, but at the very least it has to be a massive help in having a much deeper understanding of how a surfboard works. Flex has been called the new surfboard frontier and TorFlex looks to be a better way of navigating it. 

TorFlex - The Science of Surfboard Flex from Basque Country Surf Company on Vimeo.