Stab In The Dark 2016

  • Ride
posted by James Willmott

Is it possible to call a surfboard, or a shaper, the best in the world?

Like art, it’s all subjective, relative. And there’s no way to answer either of these questions definitively… But, we can get damn close. And that was the aim of Stab In The Dark 2016.

We commissioned 13 of the world’s best shapers to deliver their top line, high performance boards (sans any recognizable logos), and had one of the world’s best high performance surfers test-drive them. The catch? Neither shapers nor surfer knew the others’ identity.

Last year, Julian Wilson put 11 boards to the test in West Oz, and declared Darren Handley (DHD) the best shaper in the world. This year, we touched down in Johannesburg with Dane Reynolds and 13 pieces of anonymous foam.

No logos, no brand association, no preconceived notions: Just one of the world’s best surfers and a pile of nameless magic, with 10 days to test and flex. Is it a flawed concept? Absolutely. But, it is the least subjective platform we’ve got.

As dusk set on the first day of our week-long experiment in South Africa, a rather jet-lagged Dane silently checked the 13 boards he’d agreed to analyze. At first glance, they looked quite the same. A stack of anonymous six-Os, designed for high-performance, wrapped in plastic bubbles, and oozing that wonderful new-board perfume. But it doesn’t take long for him to begin identifying unique characteristics in each board. “This one feels like it has too much curve all around, but curved in the rocker, not so much the rails,” he says of one. The meta details Dane notices are wildly impressive.

At first, Dane was somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer number of models. There was only one week to test them. By the numbers, if he was to surf each board twice, that’d mean 26 sessions. Three times? That’d be 39 sessions. When was the last time you clocked 39 sessions in one week?

See, Dane could’ve simply ridden a couple of waves on each board. Then, made a quick, superficial appraisal on the first boards before surfing the rest of the week on the ones he liked. But, he took this test seriously – he wanted to give each board a proper, in-depth analysis.