Show Us Your Quiver – Lewis Samuels
When you google “Lewis Samuels,” the most consistent description that comes up for the guy is that you either love him or you hate him. That’s because Lewis is a distinctive, controversial voice in the otherwise bland world of surf journalism, a guy who is not afraid to speak his mind in an industry that tends to do little more than smile and nod coolly.
Lewis is a Bolinas native and was rabidly addicted to surfing growing up. He surfed daily as a teen, and devoured every copy of Surfer Magazine when it came in the mail. He was a fan of the sport and a student of the culture, but rode waves far from the epicenters of the surf world in Southern California and the North Shore of Oahu. Regardless, he made his name as a writer with his Power Rankings on Surfline.com. He approached surf writing as an outsider, a guy who surfed on his own time and watched the pros from a far, unlike most other surf writers, who wedge themselves on the inside. As he put it, “The sarcastic, irreverent tone that was becoming common in all other sports writing hadn’t trickled down into surfing per se.”
The Power Rankings were hugely popular — “people took it more seriously than I did” — but he ultimately left Surfline, and not exactly on pleasant terms. He then set off to create PostSurf.com, a haven for discontent with modern surf culture. The experiment lasted about nine months, and makes for some great reading.
Lewis continues to write for Surfer Magazine but he mostly busies himself at work, conducting useability research for webpages. That, and he still surfs as much as he can. He is always on the hunt for a good barrel. He is just as amped on surfing as he was in his teens, and has dozens of boards in his garage, along with about eight wetsuits and even a huge stack of broken boards, an homage to his passion.
Given his history of going his own way, it should come as no surprise that Lewis had his own vision for his quiver profile. He has too many boards to focus in on just three, so he instead picked three unifying themes to best encapsulate his quiver. We met him in the Outer Richmond home where he has lived for the past 10 years, and here’s what he had to say about his boards, in his own words.
The High Performance Shortboards
These are all Matt Biolos shapes. I guess the thing that ties them all together is that they redistribute the volume in a shorter, wider package, to still be maneuverable. So compared to what I was riding five years ago, which would have been 5’10″ or 6’0″, and maybe 18″ wide and 2″ thick, these are shorter. I have two that are 5’9″s. One of them is asymmetrical, but the other is 18.63″ x 2.2″. And that’s a step-up board for me. On smaller waves I’ll ride this 5’7″.
I’m just happier with a tighter turning radius, especially not being a tall guy. I’ve finally gotten to the point where I’ve realized that all surfboards are a compromise between drive and maneuverability. If a board has a ton of drive and inherent glide to it, usually it’s not gonna be that maneuverable. That’s like the longboard end of the spectrum. But you have a potato chip on the other end that is very maneuverable and doesn’t create its own speed.
For right now, these boards are the happy medium. I’ve got a 5’5″ that I love riding in smaller waves with a really shorter turning radius.
These boards are all pretty recent additions, maybe the oldest is three years old. We’re trying to experiment on some stuff, like that one asymmetrical board with a five-fin set-up. I mostly rode it as a quad, and I got some of my best barrels of my life on it. It has the stringers down the rails, and then a carbon-fiber reinforcement down the middle where there’s no stringer. So there are different flex patterns. It’s just about trying to do something different and see what works, and this one has worked in the barrel.
One of the only things I’m doing that I don’t see anyone else do purposefully is put a larger fin on the side rail, for your toe rail when you are frontside surfing. This gives you drive off the bottom, and a twin fin feel to it. And then I put a small trailer fin, so it has a fishy feel and releases more. And then there’s a normal, Vector fin on the heel rail, so you can slide it out the lip a lot easier than if you had the same-sized twin fin. It’s just easier to release out of the lip and do tail slides, and stuff like that.
These are all my guns, ranging from a 6’8″ to a full-blown big-wave gun for Mavericks. First off is a 6’8″ that has the same volume of a 7’6″ that I broke this year. I’m doing the same thing with the 6’8″ that I’m doing with my shortboards, which is take the same amount of volume, and squeeze it down into a thicker, shorter board. The tail, in terms of the exit rocker and bottom concaves, are similar to what you’d see on a bigger board.
Compared to a big-guy board, it’s a lot narrower, and the exit rocker suits my size and the way I surf. It’s the first time I’ve been able to get the feel of a short gun that works. And it’s a quad, so I rode it that way, and it was almost too fast, and hard to slow down for barrels, which is pretty cool. I was able to clear huge sections at will. I think I’m going this way on all my guns, totally changing up my theory on it. I want them all to be effectively 8 inches shorter than what I used to ride. I’m trying to commit to it next winter.
The blue board is from my friend Andrew Kleinberg, who lives and shapes up in Bolinas and shapes his own boards. He’s an amazing Mavs surfer and other places, and he let me try that board this winter. I had a great session on it, got a bunch of good barrels, and after the session he just said, “take it, take it home, it’s yours.” I tried to pay him for it, and he wouldn’t even let me. He said, “Nope, I just want you to have it.” I owe him a favor.
It’s really ’70s-influenced, with super-hard rails up front. In some ways, now that I think about it, it’s not that different than this new theory I’m toying around with, and has all the volume carried up into the beak. It even has a beak, just like most ’70s boards. There is a ton of volume right under it, where you are paddling. It gets into waves really well. I also have the small trailer fin set-up, like the way you’d have it with a fish. It makes the board a lot looser. If I didn’t do that, the board would probably be too stiff for me. But it turns really well, and I can just step back on a tail and turn it around really well.
Then I have my Mavs board, which is a 9’4″, which for Mavs is not that big, with once again the same kind of theory. I wanted a little shorter board so I could go left there. I have surfed the left before, but I have not gotten any waves on this board yet. I was out there this winter on that one insane day, but I was looking over the edge, and kept pulling back, saying, “Nope, I don’t want to die. Nope, I have a family at home. Nope, not doing that.”
Hats off to the guys who do it out there. I’m not one of the guys who go on anything out there. I’m scared of that place. I think the people who are not scared of that place don’t have a good understanding of what can and can’t kill you in the world.
I don’t take my Mavs board at OB. I prefer to have a board that I can duckdive, so when I’m caught inside, it makes it a lot easier to get back out. I feel like some of the guys who ride really big boards at Ocean Beach, they get caught inside, and their sessions end with one mistake. For me, I’m in it for the long haul on the few good days, so I’ll try to stay out for six hours, and so much of it is about being able to get back out after a ride.
The Old Boards
Some of these are old boards that have sentimental meaning to me, and then some of them are collectibles. I try to ride all of them every now and then, but probably the one I center in on the most is this Caster, 5’10″, four-channel rounded pin. It was the third surfboard I ever had. It was custom shaped for a local surfer where I grew up in Bolinas. Bill Caster was one of the best shapers in California, he was on track to be like Al Merrick, but he died young of cancer. For that reason, his boards are pretty coveted.
The four channels that don’t go all the way out to the tail is a pretty unique thing. It’s a little bit trippy. Honestly this theory I keep bringing up and what I’m riding now has kind of come full circle. I bought this used in a shop, I was the shop rat, sweeping up and washing wetsuits, and the boards I’m riding now aren’t that dissimilar to the Caster. This board is insane. It still works amazing. To this day it works as good as any board I’ve ever had, especially in medium-sized summer surf. It really makes you wonder, because boards that guys were riding in the ’90s were nowhere near as good as this. The good boards made in the ’80s were amazing. The shapers didn’t have the same technical ability to get everything right, they had to do a lot by sight, so there’s a lot of dogs, but when you get a good one, you hold onto it. The board was in front of my house for years, so it’s gotten pretty sunburnt.
I think this red board is an authentic Gerry Lopez board. I gotta call him up to see, and I’ll just ask him. There’s a signature that says Lopez, with a lightning bolt, so I think it’s real. One of my roommates left this board here. He got it at a garage sale in the Mission, and just left it here when he left. Hopefully he doesn’t read the Ocean Beach Bulletin.
I surfed it in big middle of the beach once. It’s not that big of a board. I had it in my mind that it’s a giant board, since it’s a single fin, but it’s maybe like a 6’2″ or something. But it worked, it drew a good line, I got some really fun waves, but I was using the original leash, and it broke. So I had to swim in, and that was it. It was my only session on the Lopez. Look at this leash, the color combination is pretty awesome.
And then the rest of these are all collectibles that I love. In fact, I still have my first board that I ever owned in here somewhere. Oh, there it is.
[The opening picture is of Lewis with his first surfboard.]
We are always on the hunt for interesting people who love interesting boards, so if you know of someone who might be a good fit for the next installment of “Show Us Your Quiver,” let us know by sending an email to email@example.com