Standup paddleboard designer Dave Boehne dedicates his life to watercraft. He and his brother Dan were raised in a Dana Point shaping bay under the wing of their father, legendary board builder Steve Boehne, who’s been shaping since the ’60s under his brand, Infinity Surfboards. Dave started making boards at age 12 and 30 years later he’s the company’s lead designer. While SUP race boards were once a niche subdivision of the family business, his avant garde shapes have attracted some of the fastest paddlers on earth to his team—Kai Lenny, Slater Trout, Candice Appleby and Shae Foudy, to just name a few. We sat down with Dave for some insight on the evolution, current trends and future of SUP race board design. –DM
On the family business
Dave Boehne: My dad used to design all the boards, then around four years ago I took over creating all the designs. I like to race and ride a lot of boards and I'm a little more current on what's happening, so it just made sense. What put me on the map as a race board designer was the Infinity Blackfish model. Other than the Focus Bluefin, the Blackfish was the only board at the time with that bulbous nose profile, and now most brands have a shape like it on their line. It's definitely a buyable design.
On bulbous noses
A lot of the design inspiration for the Blackfish came from our very first mini-simmons surfboard shape. We stretched out the mini-simmons so the rails ran very parallel, and gave it a bulbous nose more like a prone race board. The nose on the Blackfish runs into a centralized channel called an 'inverse V', which helps a lot with tracking and hugs water to the centerline to create lift. It also gives the board 'recovery volume,' or volume set back from the tip so when the board dips in the water, the volume is closer to you and helps you recover quicker. It's a key feature to help with going in and out of waves and chop.
On three-fin race boards
The three-fin was a project I worked on really closely with Larry Allison. Back in the day, I wanted to make a twin fin SUP surfboard, and Larry was the only one making plugs that hold well enough for a twin fin SUP surfboard not to fail. He made me a specific template, which worked pretty well, and eventually we decided to try it on a race board. The idea was to have a board with less drag by creating shorter fins.
After experimenting with shallow twin fins for a while, we found it wasn't enough to hold a race board upright, so we inserted a shallow center fin as well. The combined surface area of three small fins adds up to the same as one large fin, so the idea is: if you're getting the same area and traction using multiple fins at a shallower depth, in theory you'll go faster. But the real key is that it's way more stable. More stability plus less depth translates to narrower board widths and more speed.
Dugout designs definitely have their benefits. They're super stable because they sit lower in the water, so you can ride a lot narrower board than you would with a flat-deck. A lot of dugouts have huge rails—10 or 11 inches high—with eight-inch deep cockpits. With downwinding it's almost cheating; you can pretty much stay in one place and let the board do the work.
But that stability comes with a downside, too. Dugouts fill up with water so it's hard to get it out of a hole. They're also harder to crawl back onto if you fall off. And last but not least, the stance footprint in a dugout is narrower than it should be, so riding them can feel a little unnatural to some people. That said, I love them for flatwater where you're locked into your stance because you don't have to move around the deck much, and they’re so stable that you can ride a much narrower board.
The future of SUP design
My dad and I have been making SUPs together since 2004, before SUP racing was really a thing. We've done everything there is to do, so at this point it's about incorporating all the ideas into new ways to make faster boards. I make a conscious effort not to look like everyone else's design. A lot of brands copy the leading designs, but where's the passion in that? Shapers are definitely willing to try new designs, but a lot of it is about demand. Basically whatever athletes are winning on is what people want. Whether that's a drop deck, a flat deck, a dugout or whatever just depends on the results in a given year. It's kind of a cycle but it seems like innovation these days is all about how you can do a rendition of the past and add some new ideas along the way.