Branching off the high-performance surfing path that began in the 60s, Hawaiian Ben Aipa created the Stinger model in 1974. Originally named the Sting, this type of board served more as a stepping-stone than a turning point in the history of surfboard design. Design-wise, it didn’t introduce any major innovations. Rather, through its winged outline, the Stinger expanded on tried-and-tested fundamental components of the previous decade’s experimentation with mini-guns and fishes in order to supply surfers (particularly bulkier ones such as Aipa) with the means to optimise performance in smaller waves. The result was a surfboard that turned quicker and rode faster than conventional models of the time. As versatile as it was, however, Aipa’s Sting was soon overshadowed by Mark Richards’ more refined version of the twin-fin.
The Historical Context
While the mid-to-late 60s was a period of remarkable experimentation in surfboard design, the beginning of the 70s saw a slight change in focus. With a relative standstill in technological developments, the crystallisation of the Shortboard Revolution, and high-performance surfing as the new standard, surfers saw the opportunity to bring the sport to another level, seeing themselves less like craftsmen-cum-wave-riders and more like athletes with potential professional careers. This triggered a process of “professionalisation”, increasing the number and importance of competitions – which would later give birth to surfing’s first governing body, the International Professional Surfing (IPS). Commercial factors led to several major contests of the time being held in small-wave spots that could draw bigger crowds and better sponsors, but the standard boards of the day were all variations on the teardrop shaped, single-finned Mini-Guns of the Shortboard Revolution, that really came to life in waves of consequence. Surfers of taller and bulkier build in particular found their performances compromised in those smaller, weaker waves, which proved that there was still some room for design improvements and consequently enticed surfer-shapers to keep experimenting with board design.
Why Was This Development Necessary?
The Shortboard Revolution re-standardised the length of surfboards to around 7ft and wave riding to a more radical and vertical style of performance. At the same time, contests were being held in a wider variety of different venues with varying quality surf. That meant that surfers were attempting bolder manoeuvres in some very diverse conditions with boards that had been fine tuned for powerful waves. While average-sized surfers could milk some performermace from the conventional designs, those of taller and/or bulkier build, which was the case of Ben Aipa and Mark Richards, struggled to get their boards to perform well in smaller waves. When choosing a board with more volume, they gained floatation but lost manoeuvrability – and vice-versa. There was also the problem that, equipped with the standard single fin, the wider outlines required in small waves, would cause the fins to pop out of the water. Although similar split-outline designs had been used in the past (namely by Dale Velzy) Ben Aipa’s Sting coupled just the right features to increase floatation and planing speed, improve manoeuvrability, and add bite to sharper turns.