The Short Board Revolution: An Exclusive Interview With Nathan Pratt

Nathan Pratt speaking with Joe Conway

Curated by original Z-Boy and celebrated Malibu surfer Nathan Pratt, The Shortboard Revolution exhibition presented by Hurley at the California Heritage Museum in Santa Monica, traces the evolution of the surfboard from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, showcasing the shapers, designers, artists and riders that created the phenomenon known as “the short board”.

Through the display of colorful, vintage boards and iconic imagery, Shortboard Revolution illustrates the evolution of the modern surfboard. Highlighting the period between the Gidget Era “Malibu Chip” longboards and contemporary high-flying aerialperformance boards, the exhibition emphasizes the surfboard’s rapid, yet substantialtechnological and design developments—developments that allowed surfers’ capabilitieson a wave to be limited only by their imaginations. From the earliest Vee Bottom boardsof the 1960s to Pintails, Guns, Super Shorts, and Wingers, this exhibition offers a variety of boards and images that spotlight the innovations that changed surfing forever.

Nearly 70 rare and antique boards by surfing legends and visionaries such as Tom Blake, George Greenough, Dick Brewer, Miki Dora, Jeff Ho, Mike Hynson, Horizon’s West, Tom Curren, Bob Hurley and Al Merrick—assembled from the world’s finest collectionsincluding Bird’s Surf Shed, the Jason Cohn Collection, the Hischier Family Collection and the Surfing Heritage Foundation—illustrate the timeline and development of theshortboard.

The Heritage Museum will also present a 1980s-style Shaping Room; dark blue with date-specific florescent lighting, it will contain numerous blanks, which will be worked on by several well-known shapers (including Bob Hurley and Nathan Pratt) during thecourse of the exhibition. An additional history gallery will host covers of Surfer Magazine, each image representing one year of the 1967 to 1984 exhibition.

Historic photographs by Art Brewer, Jeff Divine, Steve Wilkings, Bernie Baker, Tony Friedkin, David Darling, C. R. Stecyk III and many others document the movement and its personalities. Guaranteed to resonate with visitors of diverse backgrounds and experiences, Shortboard Revolution is not to be missed.

This exhibition was funded, in part, by a major grant from Hurley, and additional fundingfrom Wells Fargo, Copyland, the City of Santa Monica Cultural Affairs Department, TheLLWW Foundation, The Fairfield County Foundation, The Victorian/Calamigos Ranch, Dawson Design, as well as generous corporate, foundation and private individual donations.

The first time I met Nathan Pratt, it was at a Denny’s in Santa Monica. In the center of it all, hallowed ground in both surf and skate culture, I had no idea what to expect. Gruff, grizzled pioneer? Jaded, been there, done that scenester? No way.

Nathan exudes surf history. All six plus feet of him vibrates with it — keeping him in constant motion. Tan and clearly still well acquainted with long hours in the water, he held court as we walked his dog and drove around the old neighborhood.

After forty years of watching evolution and innovation unfold around him, Nathan knows it because he lived it. He remembers every board he’s ever owned, and probably every one of the thousands upon thousands that he’s shaped. To watch him put together the Shortboard Revolution show at the California Heritage Museum was to see a perspective measured out in the subtraction of feet and inches — hands-on and in the first-person.

For Nathan, it was all about performance. And if he’s taught me anything, above all it’s that the future is now.

The Short Board Revolution
The Short Board Revolution
The Short Board Revolution
The Short Board Revolution
The Short Board Revolution
The Short Board Revolution
The Short Board Revolution
The Short Board Revolution
The Short Board Revolution
The Short Board Revolution

Joe Conway:Tell me about how this show came about, What was the concept?

Nathan Pratt: I wanted to cover the era from post-Gidget to aerial surfing, which is contemporary, modern surfing. It’s the whole deal of “How do we get from longboarding to where we are today?” ’67 to ’84 ---18 years of surfing.
There was a lot of upheaval in world at that time, What set this particular revolution off?
Look at the world in ’65: it was very Perry Cuomo. Then, in ’67, it really hits the fan.’67 to ’69 -- California was experimental, hippy dippy, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. So it all went together. Kids were trying all sorts of different things, and doing that with their surfboards, too. Like, “Oh, somebody has a board that’s eight-foot, wow, that’s super short, let’s ride it.” Then, “If eight-foot works, let’s try 7’6.” ’66 to ’67, the big surfing craze crashed. From the middle of ’67 to the end of ’69 -- say 30 months -- boards went from night to day. That’s where the show starts.
So we’re talking about the boards getting shorter, but what did that really mean? What was the objective of sawing them down?
Maneuverability. They’re trying to be able to do tighter turns, get deeper in the tube and just get more radical. Everything was really about high performance. Before Gidget and the crash, surfing happened on top of the board. Noseriding was a big cultural phenomenon; it was all about toes on the nose, right? Hang ten -- cross-stepping, moving horizontally on the board. Then surfing went vertical, to now, beyond vertical, where the surfer and the board are one.
But ’67 was the tipping point?
Well, Greenough’s fin design, obviously that changed modern surfing. It went from being the fat, D-shaped fins to the high aspect dorsal fin. That started everything.
Inspiration from nature.
Right, and in ’67 a whole group including Rennie Yater went down to Australia and the Australians had already started chopping their boards down -- shorter, wider, V bottom. Greenough started going down in ’65 and Nat Young, Midget Farrely and Bob McTavish had picked up on it.
Then at the same time, in winter ’67 Mickey Dora was in Hawaii and he had Chris Green make him that pintail. Then there’s a Dick Brewer mini gun. That's how change happens -- the guy down the road suddenly goes, “Ah, look at that.” The Mickey board almost has the beginning of a tucked in nose and the narrow tail, it’s not all the way there, but you can see the beginning of that strain of surfboard design.
This is very much your era, you grew up right here -- right?
Yeah, my dad got out of the Marine Corps after the Korean War, my parents moved to L.A. in 1956 and I was born. My parents rented a house right on Main Street, just up the block here before they got a house down behind the circle. My mom used to take me to the beach in a basket when I was two-weeks-old and then I learned to bodysurf at the Venice Breakwater.