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Monday, July 9, 2012
Neck Beard gets a trim

By Jake Howard
ESPN.com

Channel Islands Neck Beard
With a new, clean shaven tail outline and a five-fin option, Dane Reynold's new Neck Beard an ideal for the summer surf.

Channel Islands has released a new version of Dane Reynolds' now famous Neck Beard model. Last year, when the shape premiered, it was accompanied by a Marine Layer Prod. video of Reynolds taking a hacksaw to his board, and thus the "chop tail" was born. And while radical surfing requires radical departures from convention, for this year's model Reynolds and the designers at Channel Islands smoothed out the tail block, rounding the corners, giving the board a softer, more inviting outline and more responsive feel. They've also added a couple of fin boxes, so you can go with a quad or more traditional tri setup.

"The 2012 Neckbeard tail is taken directly from Dane's hand-drawn template," reads the blurb on CISurfboards.com, which is somewhat disconcerting, given the rugged detail of Reynolds' illustrations for his t-shirt line, Summer Teeth (also the title of alt country band Wilco's 1999 studio album). But not to fear, the Neck Beard comes away with a clean shave.

On a recent trip to the Channel Islands factory in Santa Barbara -- a marvel of surfboard production if ever there was one -- Travis Lee, who handles all of the team boards, along with a variety of other marketing and production-related responsibilities, directed me towards a stack of beat-to-hell, scribbled upon boards. A consortium of Reynolds' quivers from the last year or two, there was that original chop tail, the first incarnation of Dumpster Diver (originally shaped for Rob Machado), and a bunch of other well-used, well-appreciated blocks of foam. It was immediately obvious how much experimentation goes into Reynolds's boards. No two were the same. Nose and tail volumes, width, length, etc, etc, etc, no dimension or outline's been left untested.

As it was explained to me (and I wholeheartedly agree), because what Reynolds is trying to do on a surfboard is different than everybody else, he puts different demands on his boards. Pick one up and you feel how much more foam it has compared to the boards of somebody like Kelly Slater or Mick Fanning, that surf with more precision or calculation ... as opposed to reckless abandon. For example, take the classic roundhouse cutback, whereas Slater or Fanning ride the arc of the rail around into a rebound off the whitewater (with much success, to be sure), Reynolds buries not only his whole rail, but his whole board underwater. "This means you need a board that can ride and recover underwater," which if you think about it, is a pretty revolutionary.

Below the surface, above the lip, or wherever his creative mind puts him, unique entry and exit rocker, as well as volume and curves in all the right places, make for a very well-rounded piece of surfing equipment. The only drawback: I don't surf like Reynolds ... not even close. But unlike some of Slater's glass slippers over the years that have been tailor made for his freakish abilities, true to his everyman allure, Reynolds' boards are user friendly. Over the past several weeks the surf in south Orange County has been small, gutless and not even close to perfect, which is interestingly ideal for testing the Neck Beard. Meant to be ridden in conditions ranging from one-foot to head high, it's a great grovel machine for those opting out of the fish or mini Simmons option, but that still want to get all trimmed out. Because of the wide tail it's easy to catch waves, and because it's usually ridden a few inches shorter than your normal board it's quick and responsive. The choice between a thruster or quad setup means that you can change up the feeling in your back foot, adjust to the conditions, and travel with easy. But best of all, you don't have to be Dane Reynolds to make it work.

And finally just a little nod to the thoughtful details that go into Channel Islands boards, from gold, engraved leash plugs to that oh-so-silky feeling their finish sanders apply. As Lee pointed out as we walked the factory floor, stringer colors, laminates, fin boxes, resin tints, all of them are carefully coordinated and considered as the board goes through the construction process. They've learned, like Apple Computers, simple, eye-pleasing design should be as important as functionality. Channel Islands employes dozens of craftsmen from the Ventura/Santa Barbara area, and they all very much take pride in their work. It's a collaborative effort to bring a board like the Neck Beard to life, and while Channel Islands may be the biggest, most recognizable surfboard label in the marketplace, you still find that good old, down home, shaper-next-door vibe, which is why the company's been able to be so successful over so many years. In turn, Dane Reynolds is able to take the sport to an entirely new level, and bring us along for the ride with him.