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Shape Shifters

SD’s surfboard designers dream big, in and out of the water


(page 1 of 3)

Carl Ekstrom in his studio. He patented the first asymetrical surfboards in 1967. Today he designs furniture.

UNSHAVEN AND COATED in resin dust, Point Loma native Stanley Pleskunas recalls the dinner party three years ago that changed his life. On the guest list? His business partners George Greenough and Peter Maguire, plus officers from the Air National Guard.

Earlier that day, Pleskunas and his team had impressed military members with a prototype of a jet-powered rescue watercraft. Still, over steaks at a restaurant in Santa Cruz, the officers were skeptical.

“What business do you have designing boats for special ops?” one flatly asked.

It’s a fair question. After all, Pleskunas is best known for designing the “twang fish.” A surfboard. Greenough is renowned for popularizing the shortboard. Going from sporting goods to advanced military machines is, well, a bit of a stretch.

Or is it?

More and more, SD’s surfboard shapers are innovating in fields that appear to be unrelated to surfboard design. In Pleskunas’ case, he and his team brought a little chaos to the military’s strict order.

“The structure of the military is more top-down and regimented,” he explains. “There’s certainly something to be said for that philosophy. But our outlook is more individualistic. Each of us have methods we feel very strongly about and that we’ve developed on our own.”

Pleskunas, for example, works with sophisticated tools, while other shapers are generally more hands-on. Materials, tools, and design theories—no two shapers have the same preferences, and it’s no wonder. Surfboard shaping isn’t learned in classrooms or books. Mastering the art requires years of quality time in a garage or warehouse, sanding and tinkering in a cloud of fiberglass dust. While some shapers have backgrounds in engineering or architecture, most learn through trial and error. It’s a highly intuitive approach, the jazz of engineering.

“It was kind of like the Hells Angels building a church for the Pope,” Pleskunas says with a laugh. “They were shaking their heads, going, ‘Who is this patchy team and why are their ideas so out there?’ ”

⇑ Unlike a jet ski, a GARC doesn't capsize in rough  surf, can withstand tough waves, and can carry four men up to 175 miles.

Yet, the odd coupling worked. Officially called the Greenough Advanced Rescue Craft (GARC), the surfers’ invention could revolutionize rescue missions in high seas. Unlike a jet ski, the GARC is air-droppable, doesn’t capsize in large surf, can withstand being battered by waves, and is capable of carrying four men for up to 175 miles—an impressive feat considering most two-man jet skis won’t go more than 80 miles on a full tank of gas. The person being rescued also doesn’t have to hang on for dear life—an issue for unconscious victims.

“We went out on it with some special-ops guys and they told us they never wanted to ride on another jet ski,” Pleskunas said. “It was a case of strange bedfellows that was really good for both parties. Now there’s a lot of mutual respect.”

Pleskunas and his team are set to build more than 20 GARCs for the military this year, and anticipate commercial orders down the road.

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