Words by Heath Scott

The Fish. One of the most recognizable shapes in surfboard design. Originating in the sixties, it has a fascinating history. We at Surf and Adventure are always trying to innovate and push the envelope with surfboard design, so we decided to leverage our partnership with 40 Toes Foam Works to produce an updated high-performance Fish design. We were going to call it the “Flying Fish,” but come to find out some guy named Mark Richards, who happened to win four word titles, already has a shape by this name. I sat down with shaper Matt Tatum to discuss his ideas and theory that went into our new design, but first a little history behind the iconic Fish shape.

The vast majority of surfboards in the water before the late sixties were the same massive logs that were ubiquitous for most of surfing’s history. There were folks that rode knee boards and belly boards, known as Paipo boards, but they were the oddballs, the ones that caught hell from “real” surfers. Then along comes Steve Lis. He was a knee boarder from Ocean Beach, a small bohemian neighborhood in San Diego, CA. In 1967, when Lis was just sixteen, he was out knee boarding with friends, when one of the “real” surfers lost his longboard to a cave along the ocean side cliffs. Having swim fins on, Lis swam into the cave and retrieved the board. He took it home, cut it in half, and designed an innovatively shaped knee board. He liked the aesthetic of pintails, but the problem he found with the pintail shape on a kneeboard was that his swim fins would drag in the water on either side. Always the innovator, Lis stretched out a sheet of butcher paper, kneeled on it with his Churchill shaped fins, and traced an outline around them. The result was, as he describes it, a double pintail, or what we now know as the trademark Fish swallowtail. He proceeded, at a mere sixteen years old, to shape the first Fish. This shape enabled him to get deeper in barrels, and move on waves in ways that were impossible on traditional longboards.

Steve Lis rode the first Fish as a knee board for the next couple of years, until his friend Jeff Ching asked to ride it as a stand-up board. The result was revolutionary, and as Ching puts it, “it felt like surfing on my feet.” He went on to describe riding Lis’ 4’7” Fish as being faster, tighter in turns, and able to move anywhere on the wave. Growing tired of Ching asking to ride his board every day for the following two weeks, Lis shaped him a 5’5” Fish, which was the first board of this design to be specifically shaped for stand-up surfing. The result was a board that had a wide outline through the nose, center, and tail, and maintained the swallowtail of Lis’ original design. The Fish shape also tends to have a lower rocker profile, which allows the Fish to perform better in small surf, by maintaining its speed.

The Fish shape remained relatively obscure until the 1972 world championships, which were held at Ocean Beach, CA, Lis’ backyard. The design continued to gain notoriety throughout the seventies, and was essential in helping Mark Richards capture four consecutive world titles between 1979-1982. As the eighties rolled on, the Fish slipped from the spotlight, as thinner lighter boards, and the push for even greater performance came to the fore. This remained the norm until Derek Hynd, surfing at Jeffrey’s Bay, became interested in the shape during the early nineties. He approached iconic shaper Skip Frye to make him one. During the board’s inaugural run at J-Bay, Hynd was disappointed in his ability to move the board, learning firsthand the concept of power to weight ratio. As the surf gods would have it, Tom Curren happened to be in town shooting the film, Searching for Tom Curren. Hynd knew Curren could tap into the capabilities of his Fish, so he walked down the beach and gave Curren the board. The outcome was Curren’s mind blowing performance that was thankfully captured in his film.

As the new millennium dawned, and the advent of “free surfing” became a viable path for aspiring professional surfers, the Fish reared its fishy head again. Free surfers were free from the constraints of competitive surfing, and could experiment with unorthodox and unconventional designs, so we saw surfers like Donovan Frankenreiter, Rob Machado, the Malloy brothers, and Dave Rastovich experimenting with and tweaking the Fish design. A pursuit that continues today.

This is where Surf and Adventure comes in. Being a board that performs well in small and sloppy, up to good head high surf, the Fish is an excellent board for the waves we get on the East Coast. Matt Tatum of 40 Toes Foam Works sat down with me to explain the collaboration between he and Rob Lindauer to create an “updated retro Fish.” The logo of an Osprey carrying a fish was designed by Camie Romano, daughter of famed artist Rick Romano. Her art, as seen with this logo, and the murals she has painted on the walls of Surf and Adventure, clearly show the “student has surpassed the teacher.” Rick should be proud! What follows was the informative and always entertaining afternoon I spent listening to Matt, while he glassed and talked surfboard design (edited for a G rated audience)…

(Information and history of the Fish adapted from Fish: The Surfboard Documentary)

Heath: When did you shape your first Fish?

Matt: Probably around 2015, and I’ve shaped approximately 60-70 versions of it since, ranging from 5’4” up to 6”6”. It began as a custom shape, and has evolved ever since, culminating in the Fish I designed with Rob.

Heath: What was your theory in designing Surf and Adventure’s Fish?

Matt: I began with a low rocker profile, lowered the rails, and pulled in the tail and fins more than a traditional Fish. All of this makes for a faster board, that allows easy entry and tighter turns. It’s basically a retro design updated for high performance surfing.

Heath: What type of surf is this new Fish designed for?

Matt: Fun summer surf. Weak and sloppy all the way up to good head high surf. For anything over head high though, I would ride the Surf and Adventure “Coyote” model.

Heath: What is the fin setup you put on the Fish?

Matt: You can ride it as a twin fin, but it’s best to ride as a quad, which makes it faster and tighter.

Heath: How can someone get their hands on one of these?

Matt: Rob at Surf and Adventure can consult with customers to design the perfect size and shape for each individual, and of course we’ll dial in the artwork to their liking.

Heath: Thanks for your time, Matt!

Matt: No problem. Next time bring me some lunch…



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