When Stu Kennedy blasted his way through the Quiksilver Pro on his double – bat tail, Dan Thompson, Slater designs Sci-Phi, many of you watching were probably thinking – dam I’d love to try one of those space-ship looking things. Team Tracks lingered on the Gold Coast, followed the scent of epoxy, made a few calls and finally got our paws on the board that is the hottest thing in surfing right now. The hand-over of the goods was made in a dark, Coolangatta alley on the eve of a new swell. When we got it home we were eager to find out whose quiver the Sci-Phi shooter had actually been poached from and were a little chuffed to see the most famous name in surfing etched into the stringer line – “Kelly”. Although Kelly chose not to compete on the Sci Phi at Snapper he has ridden several versions of the model (most notably in his Wave pool clip), which is due to be released under his Slater designs brand.

Kelly's Sci-Phi. Kelly's Sci-Phi.

As a fresh three-four foot swell filled in at Snapper I spent the day test-driving the Sci-Phi and I have to admit I’m still buzzing from the experience a day later. The board that came into my possession was a 5’7” x 18 1/4 x 2 ¼ epoxy and I initially feared that it might not support my 75kg frame. Looking at the fang-like tail and the intricately engineered quad concave, I was also concerned that it may be a case of putting a P-Plater on a Formula One vehicle.

It took one wave to figure out the feel of the tail and the unique planing hull but by the second ride I was S-turning through the chubby, high tide walls and pleasantly dodging the human traffic like a snow-boarder on auto-pilot. Despite the skinny dimensions, the board delivered a sense of flow and effortless speed – a gliding sensation that made it feel like you were casually steering a hovering, high-speed disc rather than grunting through a turn on an object that clung to the wave face.

If it could cruise through the lumpier sections then what happened when the faces got steeper and the wave squared up? Stu Kennedy and I have the same sir name but unfortunately the sharing does not extend to my surfing ability. However, while I wasn’t blurring the board through light-speed snaps that drifted into steezey tail-whips, it definitely felt like I was getting in out of my typically lumbered turns faster without sacrificing control. In an earlier interview Dan Thompson had told me that the whole design was focused on reducing drag and once you rode the board that description definitely made sense. (See this clip below for a more technical breakdown from Tomo)

Out in the water the board turned a few heads. “Oh, everyone wants one of those commented one female shredder as a paddled past. Big wave hunter Ryan Hipwood was keen for a look and even Josh Kerr flipped it over and inspected it closely, almost grabbing it for a wave when he realised the dimensions matched his usual specs.

The simplest measure of the difference between a good board and a bad board might be that on a good board you are thinking about how to do your next turn while on a bad one you are preoccupied with trying not to fall off. The Sci-Phi with all it’s flow and readily acquired speed meant that you could definitely focus on where and how you wanted to execute your next move, and the lightweight, epoxy frame ultimately meant that the board responded like it was hooked up to your central nervous system. This was however a fun day at Snapper, where the waves have push and run­ – and we’ve only really seen Stu compete in fun waves at Snapper on the Sci-Phi. It would be interesting to see how the model stands up in junkier conditions, but for now the Sci Phi is definitely my new favourite genre of surfboard.

Crossing the road post-session with my Kelly branded ride tucked proudly under my arm, I heard a horn beep and looked over to a car where a figure was signaling from behind a semi-tinted windscreen. After three steps, I realised it was Kelly, trying to stay incognito in his car while an ever ready, autograph-hunting fan club wandered the Coolangatta promenade. As he stepped out of the white Ford SUV I had the overwhelming feeling that I had to give a performance report to the boss. This was after all a Slater Designs board that he was yet to release to the market. He was probably divided between fears that I had been out there kooking it on his new, yet to be released label and his hopes that I had enjoyed the experience. “The board goes good,” I assured him in the grammatically incorrect style that is typically used for board appraisals (it should be “well not “good”, but you never say that). We talked dimensions and rockers and for a few seconds I felt like an amateur guitarist discussing guitar particulars with jimmy Hendrix. “This model doesn’t have an over-exaggerated Rocker,” Kelly stated after I told him how surprised I was by the way it performed in the lumpier sections. I thought about mentioning the conversely extreme curves of the Webber model, which he’d been riding in the contest, but felt it was still too soon after banana-gate to bring it up.

Kelly jumps on a Christian Fletcher shaped Madhouse Kustomz. Photo: Simon Williams Kelly jumps off one of his own models and onto a Christian Fletcher shaped Madhouse Kustomz. Photo: Simon Williams

Satisfied that the board that beat him in the contest had passed the punter’s test, Kelly returned to his car, suited up and destroyed glassy bowls at Greenmount for a few hours. Mid-way through the session he even conducted his own board trial, swapping sleds with Christian Fletcher who was out riding one of his own creations – a glow-in the dark, fluoro-sprayed pirate ship that Christian guarantees is totally different to anything anyone else is riding. How do I know all this? Because after I saw Kelly in the car park, I ate and got straight back out there on the Sci-Phi.

The Slater Designs Sci-Phi model is set to be made available globally in early to mid-April. The boards will be manufactured in Carlsbad California with stock and custom options eventually made available. Anticipating massive consumer interest, most major surf retailers and board stores in Australia have already placed big orders on the Slater Designs models.

The release of the Slater Designs range will be a big moment for Kelly. Although he acquired the Firewire brand early last year, the launch of his own distinctly branded Slater Designs series under the Firewire umbrella represents the first major initiative he has taken with the company. The most successful surfer in history is transitioning into a businessman. Cost-benefit analysis will become as important as the quality of his cutback. Although he may eventually come to measure his own success with the performance of his commercial ventures, for now Kelly is living in both worlds. It will certainly be interesting to see if he can reclaim his number one ranking while simultaneously building a surfing empire based around wave pools, a clothing label called Outerknown and a surfboard company that produces futuristic designs. Almost sounds like a sci-fi plot doesn’t it.