Interview with Daniel Thomson: Tomo Surfboards


Touching on your background, how did influences such as your father and
George Greenough impact your approach to shaping today?

I would say they both greatly influenced me. My father, Mark (Thomson), and George used to be good friends. We used to live next door right by George in the nature reserve in Broken Head near Byron Bay. That’s when I was a small kid between the ages of four and ten. Back in those days, my Dad was a young shaper and spent a lot of time with George both surfing and riding mats. Naturally, George was an influence on Mark's shaping style. George would also make carbon fiber wind-surfers and water-housings for cameras pretty much before anyone in the surf industry was using carbon. That was when carbon fiber was a newly invented fabric for the military. I think it was during the mid to late 80s when it was first made as a publicly sourced material. So, George was one of the first guys to incorporate it into surf craft. Over the years, my dad did early carbon experimentation on surfboards. I learned the techniques of glassing carbon through Mark and messed around with many carbon fiber boards throughout my career. I had a passion for carbon fiber boards and how they rode.



Was there a defined point when you diverged from the standard template that most shortboards seem to currently resemble?

In the early 2000s. I’ve been shaping surfboards since my early teens. When Tom Curren was in Australia in the early 90’s he got to know my dad and got some boards from him. In and around that time he was getting some different boards which included some of those crazy flex tail designs.

Tom would come and stay at our house for a week at a time during the Australian leg of the ASP back then. He would shape boards in our garage and create unique board outlines on butcher paper at the Greenough house. They would make these round-nose templates of all these non-traditional looking boards. Working on those less traditional templates is what really inspired me to become a surfer-shaper because what I saw, at that time, was the best surfer in the world hanging at my house shaping boards. I was like “I want to do this too!”. That was my inspiration to get into shaping and to start doing it on my own. I was immediately influenced by making progressively centered designs instead of traditional shapes from the very beginning. Although I made many traditional shapes in my early career, I pretty much gravitated naturally towards more experimental shapes and different designs right from the very beginning.

So, you never even started out looking to make conventional shapes? From the very beginning, you were looking towards progression…

There were definitely periods of time when I was competing on the WQS that I shaped 'normal shapes' but as I grew as a surfer and designer I started looking for more out of what I made. The designs I was surrounded with as a kid started to make more and more sense and I felt parallel outlines and round noses just felt faster and easier to ride.

What does your R&D process look like with development and rider feedback today?

I guess my whole career in shaping has been mostly based on my own personal feedback of being a passionate surfer myself. I’m always trying to develop my surfing to the highest level that I can. Both my equipment and my shaping have been an addition on top of my passion for being a lifelong surfer. I wanted to explore the equipment I was riding in order to help me with my surfing and to keep things interesting. I’m just always trying to keep the stoke alive.

“For me, it’s always been a really personal pursuit, and everything with a career, and having other people riding my boards has been an added bonus only secondary to that passion of simply being a surfer-shaper.” -DT

That’s still true to this day. It’s always been my motivation, like “What do I want to ride?” or “How do I want to ride?”. I’m just searching for that new feeling to get pumped to go surfing every day and keep my whole surfing journey evolving.

Could you describe what it’s like developing boards and collaborating with Kelly Slater?

That was obviously a cool opportunity, to work with Kelly. There’s no better surfer on earth to have riding your equipment. It was just good timing I guess; Kelly acquired FireWire around 2015. I was already working at FireWire at that time, and I was producing some pretty cool designs. Some of them were the Vanguard, the Vader, and Evo…

So I already had a lot of momentum, and at that same time, Kelly came along. It was a pretty natural fit. Since he has a lot of innovative tendencies we would experiment a lot together, and we came up with some pretty cool collabs like the Sci-Fi, the Omni, and the Cymatic over a few years. The kind of hybridization of our ideas was an amazing opportunity and our experiments were a lot of fun. We’re still buddies to this day, and we’re still messing around with new ideas.

What has been a monumental moment for you in shaping when you felt like you really made it in both progression and innovation as a shaper?

There are some obvious moments that stick out like Stu Kennedy ripping on my boards in contests. He was doing quite well on unconventional shapes. The one that I’m most proud of was when he rode my Vader board in the US Open of Surfing all the way up into the quarter-finals. He was out there on this completely different board from everyone else. You know it’s almost unparalleled how unconventional that shape was from the rest of the traditional pro surfers out there. So for him to really rip and show the world a whole different level of surfing on the stage was a very big accomplishment for sure.

And obviously, the 2016 Quiksilver Pro at Snapper Rocks where Stu made the semi-finals on the Sci-Fi. In that competition, he really beat the world’s top surfers like Medina, John John, and Kelly on an even-playing-field kind of wave. That day his board was clearly outperforming everyone else’s boards. So, for me, that was an incredible highlight too. That was super cool!

Outside of competition, I’d say Kelly riding my equipment on a fairly regular basis is a pretty big highlight, and I won a few awards in the industry for both innovative products and best-selling designs. My personal boards have brought breakthroughs to my own life of surfing. Some shapes have really inspired me, and they have been really big personal highlights for sure.

Not many shapers today are doing anything close to the designs that Tomo is creating. How do you maintain inspiration when developing new designs without having anyone else to compare?

Well, it’s all about chasing those feelings you’re trying to harness. It’s not so much about a specific goal. It’s about staying motivated, and continually trying to evolve some of the shapes I’ve created over the years. At this point, I feel like I’ve got several good foundational shapes to work with. All my designs in the past fifteen years have so much room to improve and room to refine. I feel like the beauty of what I’ve achieved over the last fifteen years has been a whole new category or genre per-say of different designs with a lot of development still left in them with different rockers, bottom contours, variations in templates, and tails. If you take the similarities between how the regular squash-tail pointed nose surfboard has evolved incrementally to be better and better over the years, you could do the same with incrementally improving the designs I’ve created over the last decade. I think a lot of my future lies in solidifying that genre of design that I have helped to create. It has more to do with fine-tuning that function than just coming up with something weird for the sake of being different.

How do you feel that collaborating with Dark Arts impacts board performance? Are there any specific models that you are excited about being released in our construction?

Absolutely, I’ve been super stoked and excited to work with Dark Arts. I see them as the world leader in carbon surfing technology. Just being able to take some innovative shapes and then glassing them in carbon will naturally be an upgrade. Carbon fiber is the pinnacle material in performance engineering technology. if you look at other sports like Formula-1, and America's Cup Yachts, everything is made out of carbon since it’s the lightest and strongest material available. So, with surfboards, having the lightest and strongest boards in carbon will naturally tend towards high performance with how reactive that material feels underfoot, and with how they can react almost instantaneously. So, your muscle memory feels like it has improved, and it could help you become a better surfer with faster reaction times. Your turns become sharper and faster. It has a really electric feel underfoot which is such a good blend for my boards. I’m trying to make the highest-performing custom-made surfboard and carbon helps to achieve that goal. It’s going to be a super exciting partnership.

What is your personal favorite model to surf the everyday conditions near your home in Australia?

Recently, the Vader V-2, which is the latest iteration of the Vader planing hull which was first released in 2009. This new board I’ve got a new hull configuration which is like a spine double-concave Vee hull that blends into a quad-concave Vee out the tail So, a super technical hull design I’ve been developing which is an offshoot of the V-quad (VQC) concave of more recent years. What that hull design gives you is all this really instantaneous rail-to-rail transition where the board will roll along a spine-vee onto a very narrow surface from basically the stringer of the board to the rail which is nine inches or so. So, riders will be surfing these really narrow concave planing surfaces which give the board such an incredible acceleration and speed. You know, it feels unparalleled to any other hull design I’ve ever ridden. Especially with the outline of the Vader which is an ultra-straight rail line. Just the speed it generates through a turn is the fastest I’ve ever experienced in my life. These new rectangular designs with vee-double concave to quad concave, I feel like it is a new benchmark for my designs. I'm just been super excited to release and promote these new shapes. To have them come out in the Dark Arts carbon is going to accentuate their shape and performance. I think it will really blow some people’s minds.

In addition to swing weight, what are some other advantages of eliminating a large portion of the nose in surfboards in terms of fitting into pockets, and dropping deeper for the everyday rider?

There’s a definite formula in these modern planing hull designs, and it’s not so much about cutting the nose shape, it’s more about having a balanced foam distribution. That maximizes the functional rail line and makes it easier to paddle. The foam is almost equally balanced in the tip of the nose and the tip of the tail, it’s like a perfect symmetrical rectangle with obviously some curve. Basically, the rectangular planing shape allows you to make the length as short as possible. There’s no other format that is as accurate and functional. To me, that formula is the foundation of the smallest high-performance shapes. It’s all about fine-tuning different nose and tail shapes to maximize the performance on the wave.

The more I experiment with different nose shapes, the more I go back to that diamond nose shape since it has that very appealing low swing weight. It still has that pointed nose center at the top keeping that fast whippy performance feel underfoot. It’s really interesting and almost counterintuitive with how it has such defined corners at the nose. A lot of people might think that it’s a catching point, but it’s always important to remember that a board is always surfing off the rail so if the board is on rail then the nose becomes like the bow of the speedboat, and is raised up out of the water. The rail line cuts through the water, but doesn’t catch, especially with the new entries that I’ve been shaping in the hull of the nose. I’m kind of excited about the rebirth of these shapes, and people are going to be blown away by how functional these new developments are.

Can you explain to us some of the basic principles of hydrodynamic theory that you integrate into your designs?

Sure, so regarding the stability you’ve got in your hull: you can put foam in a balanced area so it’ll flow, paddle, and glide in a stable manner. In that parallel-ness of the rectangular shape, the basic hydrodynamic principle is -- the flatter or straighter your curve (rail and rocker) line the less resistance it will have to the water. The water has to move less around a curve to find its way from point A to point B. So, that shows the board has less drag. That means that a board with a really straight outline, and a straight rocker will produce less drag and therefore go faster. You can make a strong argument that the parallel lines in these boards are scientifically faster since they have less curves. Once you have more speed and are using concave surfaces, you’re pulling dynamic forces across the concave to create more lift with less surface tension across the water. Using those concave surfaces will create thrust and drive into your turns. All these formulas, to me, make more sense fluid-dynamically in a hydrodynamic sense. I’m using scientific theory to design boards instead of trial-and-error-based research and development. I’m really grounding my shaping philosophy in a hydrodynamic architectural sense and applying it; then I’m using rider feedback to fine-tune and optimize the shapes.

Do you have any upcoming ideas that you are particularly interested in working with Dark Arts on?

Yeah, I’ve got a new generation of modern planing hulls coming, and those boards are really going to excel. They are such a unique product, and I’m excited to get them out there. Of course, I’m excited to work with Justin Ternes doing new carbon techniques to see if we can engineer some new carbon techniques to use in the future potentially.