Welcome to the Test Tub, an occasional series of surfboard reviews conducted under the strictest of scientific conductions.
No doubt you’re familiar with the usual surfboard-review formula: reviewer looks earnestly into the camera, talks authoritatively about a surfboard that (let’s be honest) he’s probably never surfed before, gives it a good feel, assures you it is all things to all men, absolutely flies, etc. We of course have also been guilty of this, and sure, it has its place (watch here!). But it doesn’t quite meet the dictionary definition of a review.
The Test Tub diverges at least a little bit from the above formula. Firstly, it features a diverse and lovable cast of reviewers, in this case Fourth Surfboards team rider and comedy genius Angus Scotney. Secondly, rather than just regurgitate the marketing blurb while stroking it fondly, Angus took the surfboard in question for an actual surf before making up his mind. And he did so in a giant tub.
Unlike the ocean, which is unruly and unpredictable and ever-changing, the Test Tub, aka The Wave in Bristol, can reproduce almost exactly the same wave again and again, thus reducing external variables to a minimum and ensuring a fair experiment. That at least was the theory.
The object of inquiry here is the Channel Islands FishBeard, a performance twin fin and probably the most coveted surfboard of 2020. Owing to a slight mix-up at the factory, the board in the clip, which was a pre-release, has slightly different decals to the board in the photos, which is one of our stock ones. In all other respects they’re exactly the same.
The fun-sized runners (aka the advanced setting) provided a decent approximation of everyday (or maybe every-week) UK surf. Fellow Fourth Surfboards team rider Luke Dillon and token intermediate Ben Mondy make cameo appearances.
A cross between a fish and a Neck Beard, obvs. It was apparently Parker Coffin, the Roark Revivalist and long-time Channel Islands team rider, who first suspected that the Dane Reynolds-inspired Neck Beard 2 would, as he put it, “work sick as a keel-fin fish!”
“The idea for the FishBeard came about from riding that CI Twin that came out a little bit ago, and also the Neck Beard 2,” says Parker. “I thought both of the boards had little bits and pieces that I really liked, but I thought they ultimately would really complement each other if you morphed the two of them.”
It is, to quote our own product description, “surfboard cross-pollination at its finest”.
Compare Angus’s take-aways above with shaper Britt Merrick’s own description of the FishBeard, and they tally on almost every point. Which is reassuring.
In his break-down video for CI, he explains it thus: “If you look at typical fishes, they usually have a pretty wide tail, so that dictates it’s a fairly straight outline – when you connect that nose and that tail the only way to go is really kind of a straight outline. So what we’ve done with the FishBeard, to try and make it a little more performance, is add a little more curve to the outline.
“So when you look at the nose of the board, it looks more like a shortboard than it does a fish. […] And then the same with the tail. The tail’s got a little more curve, it’s a little more pulled-in than the average fish. So all that creates an outline that’s not [merely] lateral – that’s the problem with a lot of fishes, they’re just so lateral in the way that they surf. This one allows you to surf more up and down.”
It is a truth universally acknowledged that fishes are dangerously fun – fast and flowing and turning off of the swallow tail and two fins in a way that feels uniquely free and gloriously fishy. But the aforesaid lateral tendency means they can be limiting, especially when it comes to hitting the lip or trying to drawing more vertical lines.
The FishBeard, then, is designed to allow you to do “stuff that normally you couldn’t accomplish on a fish, but with all the speed and flow”. The nuances of the rocker curve are the other key:
“It’s got fairly flat entry rocker as you would expect, but it’s got significant rocker out the back of the board – much more than your average fish would have. The board comes from the Neck Beard, which is a super high-performance sort of board, so you know it’s got those kind of rocker characteristics. But we’ve changed the way the rocker breaks around the fins to accommodate the two keel fins. It’s a slower break than we would have on a Neck Beard, but it’s got a lot of acceleration right where the fins are out the back of the board, so again it allows for much more extreme directional changes, and more of a high-performance approach, but you don’t lose any of that speed and flow that you want from a fish.”