All design roads lead to the Surf Ranch – Firewire’s ‘No Brainer’

Dan Mann designs boards for Firewire and is responsible for some of the brand’s most popular models. He recently made a board for Kelly Slater specifically to go in one-foot mush. However, a board that Kelly rides in one-foot mush is going to be very, very different from what 95% of the surfing world rides in such conditions. Surreptitiously, Kelly, Dan and crew discovered that the board also excels in way-above-average surf at The Surf Ranch. A board review by the Boardshop UK continued on this theme (clip at bottom of story).

Surfboard savant Chris Grow interviews Dan Mann on the role the Kelly Slater Surf Ranch played and didn’t play in the Firewire board du jour, the No Brainer’s development.

So the No Brainer is definitely not your first groveler, right? You’ve been pursuing shapes for small waves for a while… Why the obsession with grovelers?
Well, because that’s what most people, including myself, surf the most. And I’m still kind of chasing that balance of a shortboard feeling inside a board that also goes really good in small, small surf. Also, in good waves, the wave can often compensate for a board that’s not all that great because the surf is just so good… But if you’re surfing junk waves, those waves don’t hide the imperfections of a bad groveler at all. It’s rewarding to design really good boards for really bad waves. If you make an outstanding groveler, it makes people laugh at how much faster they can go and how much fun they can have. I really love it.

The FRK origin story is widely known, but the No Brainer’s, not so much. Where and how did the No Brainer start?
Kelly and Travis (of Slater Designs) walked into the shaping bay I was in one day, and Kelly asked for some really, really far out stuff that I was into. What he wanted was something that I still tinker on today, on the side, but it would probably take a couple of years to develop. They wanted something sooner, so we focused on what was immediately possible, and that started the program that became the No Brainer eventually.

On the path to the finished model, I did some really crazy squash tails with extreme concave and then we slowly mellowed those versions into what we landed on in the end. In total it took four boards, four separate design iterations to get it final. The critical turning point in the process was Kelly asking for the addition of a swallowtail, I think because he likes the idea of the water being focused from the rail onto a single point at the end, so I added that instead of a squash and then we were mostly done.

Was it Kelly who rode the final version first and signed off on it? Or someone else?
Kelly rode it first and then Kalani Robb rode it immediately after and really loved it. Actually, I think Kalani’s enthusiasm was what got all of us over the line, and we really felt like we’d landed on a final version. His session was at lowers, and he really got hyped on it.

Did you personally have a session on the No Brainer that convinced you it was done?
Honestly no. I was surfing all the revisions, but those guys have more time to surf than I do, and at the end of the day their opinion matters more than mine when it’s a board for Kelly’s brand, so I trusted their intuition and didn’t have a perfect session on the final version until later.

Of all the surfing you’ve seen on the No Brainer, what’s your fav?
Ummmmmm… Finn McGill and Bo Raynor.

What is it about Finn and Bo’s surfing does it for you?
Watching Finn surf anything is a lot of fun because of his power and speed, while still being so humble, he’s just a rad guy. I think anyone who saw that method grab alley-oop thing he did in France on the FRK recently was pretty shocked… And then Bo Raynor is just full of juice, going bananas at a wave pool, young and hungry with an enthusiasm that was infectious.

At Surf Ranch you’re really riding on the rail almost all the time I think, so the point on the swallowtail and the relative narrowness of the tail with how curvy the outline is, even though the rocker is so flat, it just clicked.” – Dan Mann

For a board that was originally referred to by Kelly Slater as ‘The One-Foot Oceanside Model” how weird was it to make that video about the No Brainer at Surf Ranch, where the waves are very much not one-foot slop?
So coming into it I wasn’t sure if we were even going to ride a No Brainer, and then when someone said, hey – ride that No Brainer… I was like yea, totally… I’ll do it. Driving up there I only had it in the back of my mind, because we didn’t have plans to surf it there, I don’t think. I was just going to ride an FRK. Anyway, it turned out to be super fun because of the lines it let me draw. I also go lucky on fins. When I scrambled to set up the board I grabbed the Mick Fanning fins and Performer quads that FCS makes, and they felt good.

Brent Reily Texas: Photo Firewire/Bernard
Brent Reily Texas: Photo Firewire/Bernard

You designed the Baked Potato years ago… Would that be fun there, or is it pushing it too far?
I think it would be insane but just way more drawn out. You really wouldn’t be anywhere near the pocket, but you’d be out on the face and drawing fast, carvey lines which I actually don’t think anyone really does there, so it would be a fun look. 

So hypothetically, you get a call that says you can surf ten waves at Surf Ranch tomorrow but you can only ride one board. What board would it be?
It would be a 6’1 FRK. For sure.

Last wave pool question – after your sessions at Surf Ranch and Bo’s sessions in Texas, is the No Brainer any less of a board for the ocean? Is it a wave pool board now?
[laughing] Oh no, not at all… I was talking to Mark Pesce yesterday about all the people who are riding the board around El Porto (Los Angeles) and Santa Monica Pier and all these other waves around Orange County and stuff. It’s just fast down the line in closeouts where you’ve got to go in a straight line forever before you finally hit a section. It paddles well. Good for doing floaters and hitting lips. Surprisingly tight in quick transitions and creates speed even in really shallow bottom turns.. All stuff that matters in the ocean. At a wave pool, I think it’s a novelty… Thankfully a novelty that works [more laughing].

Okay, the last question of all – what fins and why on a No Brainer?
So I ride the same front fins that I ride in every surfboard that I ride, which are a pretty swept-back, rather large tipped template. For the No Brainer specifically, I actually dropped the quad trailer size. I surf smaller quad trailers in the No Brainer. I think it feels good because of how low the rocker is along with how narrow the tail is, so you just don’t need as big of a fin as you would with more rocker or a wider tail. Even though the No Brainer works at Surf Ranch, Dan would still surf the FRK if he could only ride one board in Lemoore.

The No Brainer is made in the following dimensions

5’0 x 18 7/8″ x 2 5/16″ x 24.6L
5’2 x 19″ x 2 3/8″ x 26.1L
5’3 x 19 3/16″ x 2 3/16″ x 24.8L
5’4 x 19 1/4″ x 2 1/4″ x 26L
5’4 x 19 1/8″ x 2 3/8″ x 27L (Kelly’s personal dims)
5’5 x 19 5/16″ x 2 5/16″ x 27.2L
5’6 x 19 3/8″ x 2 3/8″ x 28.7L
5’7 x 19 1/2″ x 2 1/2″ x 29.9L
5’8 x 19 5/8″ x 2 1/2″ x 31.2L
5’9 x 19 11/16″ x 2 9/16″ x 32.6L
5’10 x 19 3/4″ x 2 5/8″ x 34L
5’11 x 19 13/16″ x 2 11/16″ x 35.4L
6’0 x 20″ x 2 13/16″ x 37.7L
6’2 x 20 3/8″ x 2 15/16″ x 41.1L
6’4 x 21″ x 3″ x 45.3L
6’6 x 21 1/2″ x 3 1/8″ x 49.2L

Top of page image: Dan Mann and Kelly Slater. Photo by Glaser/Firewire

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