Jive surfboards are unmistakable, the avant garde outlines, intricate airbrushes in perfect symmetry, and unique foam distributions are all the calling card of surfer, shaper, artist and cosmic thinker, Jacob Ells. In creating Jive Surfboards, Jacob has carved his own path, settling into a comfortable spot that he can call his own. Passion, precision and a distinct outlook define Jacob Ells as a surfer, shaper and human.
We recently lobbed a few questions at Jacob to get his current thoughts on surfboard and fin design. Check it out!
TA: Jive surfboards have incredibly unique outlines, foam distributions and design features. What is the inspiration behind boards such as the Lifter or Deep Cut Ski? How do you fin these boards to get the most out of the design?
JE: Thanks so much for noticing! With the outlines, they come from everything I’ve seen that I’ve liked, and it all gets mashed together in my head and that builds a strong impression in me of what is right, and then I just work off of that place and go with what looks and feels right. So, I’ll just be going with a feeling on a curve, and when I get to point of like, oh yeah that looks right, I might then be like, oh, kinda looks like a Lovelace nose, or oh that kinda looks like an Elis Ericson template. So, I don’t set out to mimic directly, but all the influences come through my intuition. And, I have other influences, too, or lots of lack of surfing influences. What I mean is I didn’t grow up surfing, so there is a big space in me that was never filled up with a whole bunch of stuff about what surfing or surfboards is supposed to look like. So that void is actually a great place to create from, it’s fresh, unencumbered, and child-like. I was a snowboarder for the first half of my life. I still am a snowboarder, skier, too, but I don’t get up to the mountains much with surfing and family life. So, my approach to surfing and surfboards is informed by that experience. And it might be obvious that that history comes out in my Deep Cut design, but honestly I didn’t even think about snowboarding when I was working on that design. That’s what I mean when I say that all my influences just form a foundation from which I create. Obviously snowboarding is there, but I wasn’t cognitive of it’s presence. But I will say that design was in some part a conscious emulation of Mick Mackie’s designs, and other shapers playing with those curves. Then, throwing my own spin on it based on waves I was surfing, and the way I wanted to surf. Early on I surfed and made hulls a lot. The way foam is distributed through a hull informs my shaping a lot. The Lifter almost has an s-deck type foil, which keeps the foam just where you want it, and making the nose light and wippy. Both these designs started as twin plus trailer. I found with the channels on the Lifter, that it didn’t need a trailer and went best as a twin. Some surfers like uprights, some like raked. Seems to depend on from where you are coming from with your surfing and where you’re trying to go. The past year I’ve also developed a twinzer and a quad option for the Lifter. How do I fin this board to get the most out of this design? Where is the weight balance, and what wave are you surfing, is what I ask myself or the surfer I’m making the board for. Twinzer, I like the most because I can surf an upright twin, but still have a little more fin there for control. I often surf my twinzer Lifter when the surf gets really good and I like how it still feels fast and nimble but will bite and drive through turns. The twin works in the widest variety of conditions, and the channels give it just that extra control and drive so it’s really versatile. Loose and fast when it’s small or fat, and just enough control when it’s big. But, if you’re a heavy back foot, then you might want more control with a twinzer or a quad.With the deep cut, the quad is my favorite because the board already wants to make tight arc turns, so the quad just amplifies that and gives the board a ton of control and drive. I’m still exploring more fin design options with the Deep Cut. I’m working on something I’m calling a quadzer. Like a reverse twinzer.
TA: I enjoy watching you surf your longer single fins at Rincon. What design elements do you gravitate towards in building these types of boards, and what fins do you like to pair with them?
JE: Again, thanks for noticing. It’s funny, because I mentioned to my dad that it seems like people appreciate my surfing, and he said,”well, you sure have committed a lot of time to it.” Such a dad thing to say, but it also made me think about all the influences there are in my surfing. And kinda like, damn I better have something to show for it. And so, with the designing of these longer single fins, maybe they sorta look like gliders, I dunno, but they’re pointy. And maybe with designing these it’s kinda like a chicken or an egg thing. Did my surf style dictate the design, or does the design guide the surf style? Whatever it is, these boards, the Speed Pin design specifically, offers very nimble responsiveness without needing to move your feet much. And the design features accent this. Flatter nose rocker coupled with a straighter template forward of center. Then both the template and rocker curves accelerate towards the tail. It’s a pin tail, but it has hips. Rolled bottom contours through the board flatten the rail rocker for trim speed, while making the board nimble along the center line. Vee in the tail matches the other curve acceleration of the tail template and tail rocker so you just need one gentle step back to loosen up the whole board. I pair them with a wide base, narrow tip fin. Not too flexy. That’s the longer ones. Shorter ones I put bonzer side fins…
TA: Are you still building many bonzers? What do you like about that fin set up and what Jive model does it work best with?
JE: So, yeah, I’m using bonzer fins a bunch. I’ll split up the four fin set, using the bigger ones as side fins on 2+1 setups. It’s a nice option for when you want some more control along the rail, but don’t want a full upright fin. Supports the board to transition onto rail easily, and still drive. The longer bonzer runners do that, too, but just more so. And I really like using the longer bonzer runners without a center fin. Plenty of control that it’s really not too slidey, but super fast down the line. I’m currently experimenting with the best side fin options on the Speed Pin, which started out as a single fin. But the shorter ones like more fin. I’ll be testing out one soon with the longer boozer runners. An 8’3”, pretty stoked on it.
TA: I always know when I see one of your boards because of the distinct and intricate air brush work. How did you go about developing the art and what’s the inspiration behind these designs?
JE: It’s been fun adding color to the board in this way. And the art has evolved a lot over the years. Early on it was mostly foam stains using resin, and that design established itself as an identifying aesthetic of the brand. It’s cool, the board is really mostly white, but adds just enough color and uniqueness with a bit of patterning. Then I started using sprays to accent design features of the boards like the triplane edge or the channels. And that complimented the foam stain patterns. And I still do all of these and they do keep evolving, but the latest is taping off designs that wrap around the rail top and bottom, and I spray gradients, or multi color fades within these designs. And I realized recently that having an eye to spray a fade is really just like having an eye for shaping. Because you’re working with gradients the whole time in the shaping room to shape a curve in the foam. The lighting offers you the gradient along the curve of the foam, it’s just greyscale. And it’s very subtle. But anyway, I wanted a design that traveled across all the contours of the board. The 3d, ever-changing shape of the board gave life to what would be a flat pattern. A straight line becomes a curved line when wrapping the rail. I didn’t have much of a conscious understanding what these designs would end up looking like, I just knew I wanted a full board thing. After doing a bunch of em, and watching it evolve and become more complex, I realized these designs were really similar to the work I did as an engineer, fabricating lasers. My job was drawing the two dimensional patterns that would be used to build the three dimensional structures and electrical pathways that comprised the laser components on the semiconductor surface. The phd engineers would give me the general dimensions, but I would draw them the way I wanted. I insisted on symmetry, concentric arcs, and pleasing curves. To differentiate between different aspects of the laser design, I would add color to the patterns. As long as they functioned as they should, I had free reign. And no one would ever see these designs, and even if you wanted to you’d have to use a microscope. Because the art has always taken a backseat to the necessary function of the surfboard, it’s had space to evolve on its own. So, it just sorta comes thru. I have some conscious intention around it, and often have clear designs in mind, but it’s better to open up and let it flow.
TA: What board model are you most stoked on building right now and why? What fin setups have you fired up?
JE: Right now I’m most stoked on building the Deep Cut Ski model. There are so many different curves that come together to make it work that it is an awesome visual experience in the shaping bay. The template, bottom contours, rocker, and deck contours are all joined with the curve of the rail, and it surprises me every time they come together. I’m sure other shapers can relate to having a shape emerge from a set of curves. That’s what it feels like. Like it pops. But it seems like that complexity doesn’t impede the natural surfability of the design. It still feels very approachable. I mean, most of my designs have an adjustment period. But it seems like the best boards are a little mysterious. Leaving parts of themselves to be uncovered gradually over time, bread crumbs along the way that tease you and keep you curious. So, shaping and surfing the Deep Cut is stoking me with its freshness. And shaping and surfing the Lifter is stoking me with its reliability. Every time I shape one, again I’m pleased to see the shape emerge. And actually, I’ve been playing with quads on both of these models. But it’s not really your typical placement. Well, the leading fins are pretty normal, but the rear fins are set in more, like almost centered between the stringer and the rail. And that started out that way just because I wanted to try a quad on the Lifter but I didn’t want to put the box within a channel, so I scooted it in more so it would be on the spine in between channels. The Lifter channels are soft and symmetrical, more like convaves. I really liked how it felt. Less like a quad, still loose like a twin, but drivey like a thruster. I dunno. Who knows?! Anyway, I liked it, it worked great with the shape, so I plopped the same setup on the Deep Cut. I’m still playing with varying the sizing of each fin.
TA: What should we be looking out for next from Jive Surfcraft, anything new in the work?
JE: Hmmm… hard to really know what’s down the pipes. It’s been a big couple years developing and now refining the Speed Pin and the Deep Cut Ski. Usually creative impulses come out in sort of a fit. I’ll get burnt out, and there will be a bunch of energy building up to create something new. So right now, I’m in a refining mode. It’s a matter of time, though, until I get nuts. But, I want to play more with optimizing flex and twist. That’s next. AND! Way down the pipes, I have an idea for a snowboard. Like I said, I’ve snowboarded most my life, and spent a bunch of time in the backcountry. Like surfing, your board will determine the waves you can surf and the crowds you’ll battle. I mean, Dave Parmenter has always been making boards to help him get away from the crowds. So, I have a snowboard idea that could open up new terrain. It’s fun, surfing and snowboarding have been informing each other since the beginning.