Designer Dave Dorn

Flyfoil board designer Dave Dorn has been making boards for almost as long as he has been riding them.  Here is some excerpts from an interview he did recently.

Interview with Dave Dorn:

David Dorn grew up in Australia around the ocean, swimming, bodysurfing, and sailing. Born at Paradise beach in Sydney, and then his family moved to a beach house at Narrabeen. Dave learned to swim in the ocean waves and sail by the age of 6. Growing up, Dave always lived near the beach, so beach access was easy but getting gear was hard as a young surfer. Dave learned how to do ding repairs early on as it was the only way to keep surfing when his gear was bashed and broken. Dave eventually took in his mate’s ding repairs as well, and it grew into a side-business for polyester surfboard repairs. He eventually shared a ding shop alongside his mate who specialized in epoxy repairs. David has tried and tested many types of boards  along the way from various disciplines, and has learned from his experiences surfing, sailing, waterskiing, windsurfing, tinkering, prototyping equipment, and breaking, repairing, and rebuilding all kinds of equipment. So eventually, Dave decided to make his first surfboards in his garage in his home at Long Reef beach Sydney. And started making custom boards for himself, some of the local groms, and eventually for some world-class athletes as well. Taking inspiration and getting tips from from legendary surfers and shapers, like Midget Farrelly, John Hall, Shane Stedman, and learning his way around the shaping room. David was also inspired by the many surfboard makers based around Dee Why and Brookvale area. David worked in the surfing industry and, and was in and around surf shops as well as working in the “Bombora” windsurfing factory.  In later life Dave moved to Maui Hawaii to follow his passion for ocean sports, and to enjoy Hawaii’s “endless summer”.

How did you get into board designing?

DD: “My board riding, lead to board-repairing, which eventually lead to board making, and my interest in board designing. I think that I spent so much time thinking about surfboards, and even dreaming about them, that is was just a natural next step to start making them”.

What kinds of boards have you made?

DD: “I have made lot of different boards for a number of sports. Starting with surfboards, mini-tankers, shortboards, longboards, windsurf boards,  race-windsurfboards, and more recently, kiteboards, foilboards, and now sup and wingboards.” 

What is your philosophy of board design?  

DD: “Riding is a vital part of designing. Every board has something to teach you. I like to think of surfing like it is a daily conversation with the ocean, in which she reveals her secrets and insights. Board riding teaches you how to communicate with the ocean, and board designing is a reflection of your comprehension of that conversation. You ride, you learn, you design, and then you build a board. Then you go and test-ride it, and get the feedback from the ocean, and do it all again. If you “listen” closely you can always gain new insights, and the conversation can go one step deeper”.

Which is your favorite sport to design for?   

DD: “I do not consider any ocean board sport to be separate from the others. They are all related to one another, because the ocean is the common element that connects them all. To understand a board’s design is to understand something about the ocean itself, and this knowledge translates across all disciplines. Of course there are vast differences between the different sports, but there are also many similarities. I try to see the connections, and the places where the designs cross over”.

How do you come up with your designs?

DD: “I am a big believer in experimentation. I like to cross-test my boards in different types of conditions, and with different types of equipment. I will take my windsurf boards out surfing, and ride wing-surf boards with kites, and tow foil-surfers, with the wake boat. Testing the abilities of the gear in all conditions. I basically play around a lot with all kinds of combinations and that gives me new ideas”.

How do you test your boards? 

DD: “I like to see if any board can surf. Some boards do better than others. Surfing is a great test for any board as it is a true indication of a board’s seaworthiness. It is also an indication of how intuitively it rides. If there are no waves to test in, I like to get a board behind a boat, or a kite, to pull it through the water to test its dynamic abilities”.  “The proof of the design is always in the riding. You literally should be able to ride it with your eyes closed (for a short distance at least).  There are some designs that are super specialized for one thing or another, but I believe that the boards that are the easiest to ride will usually win the day”. 

What types of boards do you consider the best?

DD: “I like intuitive, easy to ride boards. Easy-to-ride does not mean that it is a “beginner” board (although beginners need easy riding boards for sure). Easy to ride, means that even when a rider pushes their personal limit, or goes into extreme conditions, their board will help them to the greatest degree possible. When you are in the teeth of a storm, or the eye of the hurricane (figuratively speaking) you want your most trusted board with you, and one that you know instinctively, that will respond to you intuitively”. 

How do you prefer your boards, light or strong? 

DD: “A light board is always fun for a few sessions, then it sometimes breaks. So growing up surfing Sydney shore-pound, I was very hard on the gear, so I also did many repairs. I learned the hard way that “lighter” is good for short-term reward, but a stronger board will give you many more rides and much more enjoyment in the long run. So I guess my personal experiences have taught me to appreciate the benefits of a stronger board. I tend to build boards that are stronger than most. Because I do not like to worry that if I push my board too hard, that it might suddenly fail on me. I think that causes you to hold back when you are riding and not push as hard. I never like to be limited by my gear, so I like a board that I know I can push to the limit. All boards will break eventually if you push them hard enough. But if you ride responsibly, boards can last decades, with a little bit of maintenance along the way.  But, whenever I have broken one of my boards, it is only after I have dished out a huge amount of abuse, and then I usually can say that it performed extremely well and exceeded my expectations. We can of course make light boards for people as well, and generally we make these for the more conservative riders, specialists, or for people with deeper pockets like sponsored riders for example.  If anyone asks me advice on what they should get, I will tell them a stronger board will be by your side year after year, and that I consider having a reliable board to be absolutely essential”.

What is your favorite board that you have ever made?

DD: “There have been a few great ones that have stood out in my mind. But I remember the experience of making them as much as the board itself. For example, the first board I made for a “paying customer” (who was a grom, with a tiny budget), or the boards that I made with the help of my mates. Very often, my favorite is whichever board I am riding right now, or testing for the very first time. So I must say, I do love the excitement of testing my newest and latest boards. The first moment it touches the water, is a very special moment. But, if I had to choose one board above all, it would be the very first surfboard I made in my garage from start to finish.  It was my first mini-tanker, copied from a Farrelly shape, and that board I rode almost daily for at least 10 years, rebuilding it and repairing it along the way. I eventually sold it to a new owner who was super stoked with it. I do think about that board sometimes and wonder if it is still out there somewhere catching waves”. 

What do you like best about board making?

DD: “It is hard to put into words, but since moving to Hawaii, I have learned that there is a more spiritual side to surfing. It also comes down to sense of respect for nature and the elements. When you are in the ocean you can feel its power. It is important to your survival, to be able to gauge the moods of the ocean. And then you begin to realize that we are only able to be there when the ocean wants us there. This feeling is what keeps you humble,  respectful, and alive. There are so many times when I am in the ocean with just myself and my board together, and there is a very intense connection between all these elements. And there have also been many times when I have clung to my boards as a life preserver. So I have developed a deep respect for nature and the important role of my boards. When I make a board, I put all of my experiences into the design and share part of my “mana” with the board. It almost becomes a living thing. Of course some people think it is silly to name a board, but I think you get a better connection to it if you do. Plus some of the greatest experiences in my life have been while riding a  board so they have really made my life better.”    

What is the newest design you are making?

DD: “I have had a lot of fun lately designing for wingsurfing. It is a relatively new sport, so we are learning so much about it, so quickly. I find that very refreshing and exciting. I am doing a lot of new designs for wing-surf and wing-foil boards, and some crossovers as well. Yet they all tend to incorporate a least some elements from classic designs. There is always a part of the surfing legacy that I grew up with that comes through in any new designs. However finding a way to recombine all of the elements for a new board and a new sport is lots of fun, and the possibilities are endless”. 


Read more about Dave’s board designs here.