The Mystery Of Tom Curren's Tiger Toe

Have you ever wondered about the beautiful Tiger Toe in our Brooklyn shop? Andrew Kidman writes how Tom Curren's idea for the design came into fruition below.

Raised at the classic right cobblestone point Rincon, Tom Curren had a natural affinity with the surfing going down on the Queensland points in the late '70s and early '80s. Rabbit was one of his early favorites, Curren admitting he used to mimic Rabbit’s candor. Watching Curren surf you can see a definite style link, a link that can be traced back to one of Rabbit’s influences Michael Peterson.

As fate would have it, Curren flew into the Gold Coast earlier this year to work on the Spirit of Akasha film and music project with me. There was a small east swell running down the point at Greenmount. Naturally, I had a period 1971, Morning of the Earth, Michael Peterson shape waiting in the car for him. It was a joke really, “Was I actually going to re-create that classic MP sequence from Morning of the Earth with Curren for Spirit of Akasha? No, that would be ridiculous.” But it was a nice way for Tom to get his head around the project - a couple of small peelers at Greenmount on an original MP shape.

All the grace Curren has as a surfer didn’t translate too well on Michael’s board. Thirty years of habitual thruster jive made little sense to the pinched rail, roll bottom from '71, with the 9 ½ inch fin set 3 ¼ inches off the tail. The fact the waves were wind-effected and sluggish, with no draw on the bank did little to help the master’s flow. It wasn’t one of Curren’s most flattering sessions, though something from that surf planted a seed.

A week into the trip Tom asked me if he could shape a single fin. “What kind of single fin?” I asked him. Tom had some ideas and he went onto explain them, I’ll do my best to unravel them here, though, to be truthful, I had no idea what he was talking about most of the time.

Tom believes there’s no reason why a single fin can’t be the fastest surfboard one can make. Reasoning that one fin, set straight has less surface area and drag than a cluster of multi fins toed out at different angles. This I agree with. The problem he went onto explain is getting the control over the speed, as this is what toed fins on the rail achieve – control.

Over the last year Tom has been riding a number of Daniel Thomson’s shapes. Daniel’s boards are heavily influenced by wake and kite-board shapes, narrow but parallel in plan shape with a forward wide point: this helps with planing and floatation, as the shape never pulls in too far in the nose or tail. Thomson calls them ‘Modern Planing Hulls.’ The board Daniel made Tom was small – a 5’6” Thruster. Tom loved this board, explaining to me that Daniel was basing some of his design theories around the ‘Golden Ratio.’

So I gleaned from this that Tom wanted to make a single fin that incorporated the ‘Golden Ratio,’ with the wide point forward. The more I read about the ‘Golden Ratio,’ and the more Tom attempted to explain it to me, the more confusing it got. In short, after more research, it’s a ratio that can be applied to art, mathematics, engineering, design and architecture to create aesthetically pleasing form, it is also found in nature, a spiral curve found at the core of the universe and also inside the shell of a humble Nautilus Squid. It is a magnificent curve.

When you break down the formula the ratio equals 1.618… Tom wanted to apply the ‘Golden Ratio’ to his surfboard by putting the wide point forward of center at 1.618…of the overall length. This made some sense and was easy to do. What didn’t make any sense was that Tom wanted to shape the board backwards, putting the nose in the tail of the blank and the tail in the nose. This defied all logic to me, as rocker is crucial to the way a surfboard performs. Modern blanks have standard rockers that have been refined to near perfection over the last thirty years. A slight tweaking with a planer can customize your rocker to suit the way you want to surf; a basic rule is: flatter rocker makes the board faster, tail rocker makes the board more maneuverable, nose rocker stops you from nose-diving. It’s worth noting the blank manufacturers are providing shapers with tried and tested curves. But Tom didn’t think so and wanted to re-invent the wheel, or curve so to speak. He drew the plan shape up back to front. The outline of the board looked nice, but the rocker looked weird. I couldn’t convince him that it wouldn’t work, “No it will work,” he said, “I want to do it this way.”

It’s hard to argue with a surfer of his caliber and shaping pedigree. Even though he’d only ever shaped one board in his life, a single fin in 1980, he still has his father’s blood - Pat Curren being one of the original North Shore shapers to take on Waimea Bay; Pat shaped Tom’s first handful of boards when he was a kid.

“Alright,” I said to him, looking at what he was about to attempt, “I’ll leave you to it, I’m going out to mow the lawn.” An hour later I returned. Tom was standing outside the shaping bay with the blank in his hands, looking over the rocker with a perplexed look on his face.

“It’s not going to work,” he said finally, “we’re going to have to turn it around. Which means the ‘Golden Ratio’ is going to be in the wrong place.” “Well, instead of the ‘Golden Ratio’ wide point being forward, the ‘Golden Ratio’ wide point will be in the back. The ‘Golden Ratio’ is still in the design of the surfboard,” I said. “Yes it is!” Tom agreed and he seemed happy with that.

Tom wanted his rails down and pinched, not dissimilar to the rails on the MP board he’d ridden earlier that week. He did a good job of shaping them, taking his time, getting them just how he wanted them. The roll in the front third of the board helped him achieve this. What he lacked in skill he made up for in knowing exactly what he wanted. He reasoned that having surfed for as long as he has, one really gets to know what one wants in one’s boards, “The kind of rails I like, the volume and widths.” From an observer’s point of view, Tom really likes to ride very small, submissive surfboards.

‘Tiger Toe One,’ aptly named after Tom’s obsession with the song, 'Ride the Tiger' by ‘70s outfit Jefferson Starship dimensions were: 5’8” x 18 5/8 (this is the wide point which eventually fell at 1.618… down from the nose) x 2 ½.

The interesting thing that happened when Tom finally worked out the rocker, with his wide point back from center, was that this has actually been a feature in most of the Al Merrick’s boards that Tom has ridden over the last 30 years. Weird, but true – could it have been the mystery of the ‘Golden Ratio’ coming into play?

Tom’s first session on ‘Tiger Toe One’ was on a North Coast beach break with Terry Fitzgerald. Terry likening Tiger Toe’s shape to the ‘Paddle Pop’ sticks he built in the early ‘70s. “See, it all comes around,” said Terry.

Watching Tom surf the board reminded me of Cheyne Horan and the round nose singles he rode in 1985-‘86. Prior to this Cheyne had finished second in the world four times riding Geoff McCoy’s single fins. In ’85 and ’86 I believe Cheyne was crucified by the system for his unique lines on this odd looking equipment. In the judges’ view, his surfing was seen as obsolete when paired against the radical new edge thrusters were giving his competitors. The irony is that Tom Curren won the world title in 1985 riding an Al Merrick thruster as Cheyne was falling out of the top sixteen riding round nosed single fins. When questioned by journalists why he wouldn’t move to the thruster like his other competitors, Cheyne always stood by his surfboards, replying, “I like the way they feel.”

Watching Tom ride and rip on the round nose single fin in the beach breaks that day, I couldn’t get past the irony of the past catching up with the future. It made me wonder how far ahead of his time Cheyne may have been. As single fins start to make a quasi comeback in surfing, maybe those who have felt that feeling are starting to comprehend what Cheyne was onto nearly thirty years ago.

So what did Tom think of Tiger Toe One? Let’s just say he liked it so much that he took it home with him and called me the following week to tell me he was putting a shaping bay in his backyard so he could shape more boards.

The following week I built Tiger Toe Two for myself, leaving it basically the same as Tom’s but customizing it to my weight and height. It performs incredibly well in sucky waves up to three feet, it’s very fast and rips through turns with hold and power. I’ve had some amazing feelings forward on the planing hull and leaning on the vee panels. It loves forward riding in the barrel. Once overhead, I had trouble controlling the speed and it tends to over steer. It goes shithouse when the waves are fat and gutless.

-- Words by Andrew Kidman

Spirit of Akasha is a film and music project celebrating 40 years of Morning of the Earth. It will feature tom Curren’s music and his surfing on Tiger Toe One.

Read more about Andrew Kidman here and here

Photos of the "Tiger Toe 5" shaped by Andrew Kidman and Joseph Falcone: