Conversation with Benjamin Smith @shredlocks with the River Surf Lab.
A little background first: Ben bought a 5'x23" 56L Blissuit River Surf Board. (pictures) And he's planning on doing a professional review for his publication and as a courtesy for the river surf community.
I shot him a text and asked if he's had a chance to ride it much so far this season.
Ben - Yeh. I don’t expect it to perform amazing on really good, steep waves. I’m expecting it to be in its element on small stuff. This season has been weird, we were all on lockdown during early season, and it only lifted once the water was already up. I’ll get it on some small waves as the water goes down. I always at least try the boards I review on as many waves as possible, even if I’m fairly confident it’s not going to work great.
Ben - I try to tell people what types of waves, and what skill level is best for each board I review, and I’ll talk about what types of waves it doesn’t work well on too.
Ben - The drop rail, I don’t know if I’m sold on yet.., I’ve had other boards with it, and I didn’t feel like it helped much, but I probably need to surf the exact same board side by side, with and without drop rails to really tell the difference
Jason - I hear ya. It’s a rad thing you do. Good service to the community.
I’m driving now. I’ll shoot you back my reasoning as soon as I can.
Jason - If you can get the volume that you’re looking for and dimensions you’re looking for without drop rails or step rails do it. Oh, and how the drop rails on a board are shaped makes a big difference - not all drop rail boards are created equal :)
Jason - Ha, besides drop rails are a royal pain in the ass to shape and sand.
Jason - OK I'm set. Let's talk. I can get the high volume drop rail scud (SUP Surf) to 145L of volume so it floats a 200-pound person, like myself, while keeping it at only 6' 8" x 30“. The only way I can do that without making the rails a slow 4 inches thick or giving it an extremely domed deck that feels weird is to drop the rails or step them down. Keeping the deck thick but dropping down to the rail profile gives an otherwise really thick (hard to turn) rail profile a much thinner and nicer rail profile.
Jason - The blisscuit you have is only 5‘ x 23“ yet it’s a full 56L of floatiness. that board is 3 1/2 inches thick in the center. Same deal as the drop rail scud, if I were to give that board 56L at those dimensions without drop rails what would that look like?? -The rails would be extremely thick, way too high-volume and the deck would be extremely domed and weird. On softer waves, the volume is HUGE and the necessary volume of the board scales with the weight of the rider.
Jason - A normal 5’x23” surfboard that's 2.5" thick and let's say 30L wouldn’t be able to surf the same wave as the Blisscuit.
Ben - That makes sense. My style of surfing is to use the least amount of fin necessary, to keep the board loose and snappy. To compensate I definitely rely on using the rails to act almost like an additional fin in the water. On high volume boards like the Blisscuit, it’s hard for me to do. I think because the drop rails don’t work quite as well, and it takes more force to drive the rails on a high volume board into the water during a turn.
Ben - Of course on small, mushy waves, I’m not railing turns anyway. It’ll be totally different on the waves the Blisscuit was designed for.
Jason - Yes. Yes. Yes. Skim board-Esque (low fin surface area, and fully engaging the rails) style is the most fun way to ride - that's the dream. The aspect ratio of wave strength to board volume has A LOT to do with this. In other words, to max out this style of riding you have to match the strength of the wave to the volume of the board. Too much volume compared to the speed of the wave means it’s hard to sink/engage rails. Too much lift is created by faster water so a smaller board is needed. BUT (back to the drop rail debate), the drop rails positively manipulate the speed of water to board volume ratio.
Jason - With the drop rails at least you have a thinned out rail which is sharper and requires less pressure to be engaged plus dropping the edge of the board means there is less float or volume at the rails... A non-droprail board would have high volume and thick rails so it would be much MUCH worse on faster stuff.
Jason - That was always my problem with older xxxx (i won't name brands here) style (high-volume) boards. Being an ocean surfer I didn’t like sliding across the wave on a board. I wanted more rail engagement for turns. I’ve always tried to make higher-volume river surfboards feel more like higher sensitivity ocean boards in the way they engage.
Jason - So, the drop rails significantly work, they positively manipulate the water speed compared to board volume ratio.
Jason - But, in Slower water (where that Blisscuit board shines), That 56L can be absolutely necessary (Montrose types, boise kayak days, Kelly’s, most all back east waves, some MT waves, Early season Durango, beginning of season and end of the season for most river waves).
Jason - A rider over 160lbs can’t use a low volume 5’, 32L board at wave 2 in Montrose early or late season (maybe not even peak season)... the 5’ Blisscuit or the 5’3 high volume (drop rail) Cake absolutely rip it up though... or the Drop Rail 112L SCUD rips it up as a SUP. Drop rails make a tremendous difference if properly compared. All things considered, it’s night and day.
Jason - I’ve made plenty of bad boards that have done just this :). You’d absolutely hate it!!! -and I wouldn’t shape it because now, hundreds of boards later, I know better:) Good lord you should see some of my very earliest high-volume shapes. Ugly. :)
Jason - Another example I just thought of... Our Montrose sized Hyper doesn’t have drop rails and riders love it as a high volume board (our most popular shape). It’s actually one liter less than the Blisscuit and the same thickness but it’s a much larger footprint at 5’6”x25”. That's 6" longer and 2" wider and it's actually less volume because it doesn't have dropper rails.
That was a lot of typing. I should throw that in a blog post :)
Drop Rail SCUD in it's element!
Blisscuit 5'x23" 56L
Rail of a drop rail SCUD