Fred Simpson is one of the most generous people in the surfing industry. The owner of Viper Surfing Fins, he has helped out countless of bodyboarders and bodysurfers. However, he is also known for his years bodysurfing the famous Wedge in Newport, California. I had a chance to talk to him during the 96 Morey International.
HSA: So Fred, how's the Wedge been this past year?
FS: 1995 experienced the worse summer in the history of the Wedge, as been recorded by the historian Mel Thoman (sp), which has been going on since 1976. It only broke three times.
HSA: Is that all? South swell only, yeah?
FS: South only. In fact it broke last week. Sometimes it'll sneak up in the winter.
HSA: So it was a bad summer, huh?
FS: It was the worse summer. It never broke past four poles. Big Wedge break at eight or nine.
HSA: How far apart are the poles, by the way?
FS: Their about thirty feet apart. The Wedge is about twenty poles long. Big Wedge, I mean epic Wedge, breaks at eight feet. That would be a Hawaiian twelve foot wave.
The sand's wrong, so the Wedge just hasn't been that fun. Of course, I'm addressing this whole thing from the angle of bodysurfing. Bodyboarding has a lot of fun in those closer in waves--they can ride um because they can get out of the pit, down the wall. Now they're out of the whole, whereas bodysurfers eat their lunch their because it's real shallow down there.
The big shoulder and the huge sidewave that the Wedge is known for, and the big open, round barrels--didn't even have them this year.
HSA: How is the situation between bodyboarders and bodysurfers at the Wedge? I know it's a touch and go thing.
FS: It used to be, but with the blackball rules, it works out pretty good nowadays. For six months, half the year it's blackballed from ten to five. That has eliminated any altercations. The bodyboarders do the dawn patrol, and are gone by noon, so they don't miss out very much, and if it's any good, it starts to glass off around four or five, and the sun comes right and that's when the photographers come down and the bodyboarders go back out and they have their fun. The pictures are taken in the evening anyway, if it's any good. It keeps the lions from the tigers. And both sides respect it because it is defined and it's not variable; it works out pretty good.
HSA: What about that huge south swell that we got earlier in the year, did you catch that?
FS: You know what, it missed us. It did not affect the Wedge. I think it was a southwest and it came from New Zealand. It wasn't a southern hemisphere storm. It did not do anything at the Wedge--everyone was sitting there watching the ocean, waiting for the end of the earth, but it never happened.
HSA: How about Viper (surfing fins)? How are things going there?
FS: It's going good.
HSA: There's so much competition in the swim fin industry.
FS: There's a lot of competition, but I always look at it this way, 'If the products any good, the more competition there is, the faster the cream rises to the top.' And besides, Viper is only looking for a small percentage of the market anyway. We never wanted to be a mass-market company. I made them so their strong.
It's funny how you watch the metamorphosises of fins. First there was Churchill's, then Redley copied them. Redley didn't know how to make the rubber very well, but they were stiff. Churchill said, 'Oh, wow!', but they (Redley) made them in multiple colors. The guys did like the stiff blade, but it came in multiple colors, so Churchill stiffened up their blade.
So then, when Viper came, it was just the nature of the beast...it was strong. They way the short blade is tapered to its toes, it makes the fin spring loaded and stronger, and the U.S. rubber we use has lots of memory; it's extremely strong compared to being board stiff.
When Redley came out with their new design which is board stiff, and finds out it doesn't sell, and they find out the soft ones are the ones that are selling in the stores. And Churchills gotta be looking over their shoulder and asking where is this mass market.
I don't know, you know. But Churchill is going to depart from their old design.
There's all the others too, but my market that I'm looking for is just one plain design, for one group of guys.
But I'm even going to change. I first came out with a double-edged blade, seven inches long. Then we decided we had to have a flat bottom for practicality. When you walked, you'd trip all over it, and when you stepped on anything sharp it would cut and split right down. It just seemed impractical. Flat bottom was a must.
At the same time, I asked a whole bunch of guys what length should I make it. Well, it started at five and it was trimable so they could trim it back.
Right now we are producing a competition model--it will have tapered side rails. Most of the guys (bodyboarders) in competition like the side rails cut down for drop-knee and 360s.
And then I made a softer blade for women in pink. So we'll have a seven inch blade for bodysurfing, and a five inch blade with tapered rails for bodyboarding. It's going to be a visually more appealing design: light and more manueverable.
Other fin designs look more like rocket ships; the Vipers are not very sleek looking. The tapered rails are pretty simple--it's going to be an after production thing.
HSA: So how do you like the name, "Wedge Patriarch?" (from Surfer's Journal)
FS: You have to always consider the source. People should never believe what you read and hear and half of what you see. The source for that is Ron Romanowsky who will stick a barb in there any time he can. Twenty years from now, I think that's me...