Unpack the history of surfing and surfboard design, and you will be forced to reckon with the exquisite genius of George Greenough. Of course, as a favorite son of Montecito, Greenough has many big fans in Santa Barbara, despite the fact that he bailed on us and our inconsistent surf scene several decades ago, lighting out for the promised land of eastern Australia’s coast. But his legacy is anything but regional when it comes to the wave-riding community. With his trademark bowl-cut bangs and feet so gnarled and calloused that it would make Bilbo Baggins blush, he is a character of the highest order and one with some serious creative and intellectual mojo when it comes to the intersection of board design, fin design, and the behavior of moving water. He is the unrivaled and often romanticized mad genius of surfing and, at 76 years young, he still has both hands on the steering wheel, pedal firmly to the floor as he chases a horizon line most cannot even comprehend.
But you need not take my word for it. This week, bubbling up from the underground of surfing comes On the Edge of a Dream, a film and book project that offers an intimate look into what has long been the white whale of Greenough’s boundless design efforts — the edge board. In short, the edge board is a design novelty that would allow a board to approach the upward limits of terminal velocity on a wave without surrendering control or the intentional pursuit of the rad. Ever see a speedboat flying across the water and arcing a hard, banked turn? If you look closely, you will notice the water breaking across and along the hull of the boat. Brilliantly, the water never actually creeps up the side of the hull far enough to flood the boat despite the high-speed lean. This is due to a design wrinkle that essentially puts “an edge” along a particular latitude of the hull. Greenough has been trying to bring this concept into surfboard design with varying degrees of success since the 1960s.
Enter Andrew Kidman and Ellis Ericson. Kidman is a true Renaissance man of surf with world-class chops as a filmmaker (Litmus and Glass Love are, technically, surf films but could hold their own in any art house of repute), a musician, a shaper, a journalist, a father, and, of course, a wave rider. Ericson is a ripping professional surfer who puts art equal with athletics in his approach both in and out of the water. He shapes his own boards by hand and beautifully demonstrates the vast and varied dance of surfboard riding every time he paddles out, regardless of equipment or wave quality. Indeed, these are two Australian blokes who, like Greenough, are not burdened by having mainstream minds.
On the Edge of a Dream is the story, told on film and in the pages of a limited-edition hardbound book, of what happened when Ericson and Kidman were infected with Greenough’s edge-board madness some five years back and began their own fevered obsession with the design. Of course, the wise wizard himself couldn’t stay on the sidelines for these modern adventures in hydrodynamics, so the trio become co-conspirators in the pursuit of completely functional and dangerous high-speed surfing. “When you see these boards, I mean, I remember the first time Ellis came over to my house with the first three he shaped — they look so radical that, to be honest, they don’t really look surfable,” explained Kidman during a recent interview with the Santa Barbara Independent, “But then you get on one, and, whoa, you know right away that there is something there. Basically, you get more speed than you’ve ever had before …. That’s what the movie and book are about — trying to use that speed.”
Of course, On the Edge of a Dream is about more than just speed on the water. At its core is a story as old as surfing itself, one about multigenerational friendships and innovation and how one so often informs the other. It is a story about the feeling you get from riding a wave and how chasing and trying to evolve that feeling are a fountain of youth for all parties involved.
On the Edge of a Dream premieres Tuesday, September 25, 6 and 7:30 p.m., at Center Stage Theater (751 Paseo Nuevo). For more info, see ontheedgeofadream.org.