Surfing historian provides alternative vision of his sport’s origin
Raised in La Jolla, filmmaker and writer Richard Kenvin—a 1980s surf-pro-turned-surf-culture-intellectual who has spent the last 10 years tracing the history of surfboards—credits San Diego-based surfboard shaper Bob Simmons with laying the foundation for the modern surfboard.
“A lot of stuff is given credit for how the modern surfboard came to be, and the Simmons planing hull is left out every single time,” Kenvin says. “A lot of that stuff is exactly the opposite of surfing history.”
Kenvin’s The Hydrodynamica Project illustrates the influence Simmons’ 1947 to 1954 designs, called “planing hulls,” had on the evolution of wave-riding devices at large. In a world where most surfboards have one or three fins, Simmons’ dual-keel creations, with a tombstone shape and two fins, look like archaic mishaps. According to Kenvin, however, the design has been functional and influential.
“Its speed and traction are more fun, fast and useful,” he says.
So people could experience the magic of the innovation, Kenvin created a line of Simmons-inspired boards, Surfboards by Hydrodynamica, shaped by San Diego’s legendary Hank “Hanky” Warner.
Kenvin’s exhibition, Hydrodynamica: Remember the Future, just left Downtown’s Space 4 Art. The ultimate goal: a film, a book and a traveling show of Simmons’ and other influential shapers’ boards.
“There’s a lot more to it,” Kenvin says. “The exhibit we just did, to me, is just another step along the way of telling the real story.”
—Patricia B. Dwyer