Mow Foam: Bob Pearson

At one time or another, practically every top Santa Cruz surfer has ridden a Pearson-Arrow. From the old photos of Kevin Reed doing airs in the early 80s, to the photos of Barney flipping today, you’ve definitely seen the signature arrowhead. You see, Bob Pearson has been making boards a long time and is definitely one of Santa Cruz’s, if not one of the world’s, most respected shapers.¿A.C. Take a kid who’s thirteen years old and getting better and better. What kind of progression, in terms of shapes, do you suggest for a kid who’s growing in talent as a surfer, as well as in height and weight?

A thirteen-year-old kid’s growing a lot, but not only in size and weight, which dictates changing surfboard design. An increase in weight dictates an increase in plane area.

As they’re getting older and better, they’re wanting the board to perform differently. The way they’d like the board to perform is dictated by their style. Each person has individual preferences that direct how the board is shaped, from the planing area, to the rocker, to the fins, and placement.

In general, what’s the best formula for figuring out a basic shape for any kid, no matter what size?

Through communication. Each guy is different. You walk into Baskin Robbins, one guy likes vanilla and one guy likes chocolate. You have your norms, and 80 percent of the population likes a certain design. But you can’t assume that each individual you’re working with is normal.

For example, Flea liked a lot of tail rocker. He came in and said, “Bob, I want this board to turn tighter.” So we kept increasing the tail rocker.

Barney wanted a little more drive, which is a decrease in tail rocker. He said, “Bob, I want it drivier.” So Barney gets really flat tail rockers that give him incredible drive and speed, which is the way he likes to surf¿it gets him the air that he wants. Flea likes just the opposite; he likes to go more vertical. Not that Barney doesn’t go vertical, or Flea doesn’t get drive, they both do, but in their own style. They are both atypical in that their preferences don’t fit the norm of what the population likes.

In terms of materials, what does the future hold for you?

We’re probably one of the biggest factories in the world. We do everything. Each guy comes to me on an individual basis and dictates what he wants. “I want this board to be stronger. I want this board to be lighter. I’m willing to pay more money for this. I want the cheapest board I can get.”

Then you have all the guys who are caught up in the fads, which are more or less B.S., and say, “Hey, I want the new yahdee-yahdah.” So we give them the new yahdee-yahdah because they believe in it, whether it’s true or not. We need to provide this stuff because they believe in it. I give them my opinion, but I give them what they want whether I believe in it or not. Then they walk away satisfied. They come back and go, “Yeah, it does work,” or, “No, it doesn’t work.” At that point we’ve made progress.

In your opinion, what’s the most reliable setup?

I use all different kinds of foams¿all the different weights: ultralight, super light, super loose, super green, classic, light, regular. I try to shape blanks heavy off the bottom to keep the deck stronger or vice versa. I use expanded polystyrene foam, balsa¿I’m using combinations of everything.

All this is dictated by what the customer wants, trying to fine-tune him. What is good is the norm and what 80 percent of customers want. The normal want close tolerance, Clark Foam blanks, one four-ounce on the bottom, two four-ounce on the deck, normal polyester resin¿give them the same thing everybody else wants. That’s what the customers want, that’s what they’re satisfied with. If 80 percent like that, in terms of cost and performance, then that’s the best.