This board was a toughie to review.
Not because of anything to do with the way it rides, but thanks to all the distractions we had. Everywhere we went the reaction was the same: People wanted to hold it, touch it, feel its weight under their arm and give it a ride. They would stroke its resin-tinted finish lovingly and hug it close to their body. They treated it like a work of art, which isn’t surprising – it is. Functional art.
Johno Hutchison was one of the first SA shapers to embrace the retro-fish revival in earnest and has honed this model down to perfection over years of refinement.
The dimensions are fairly straightforward for a fish – thicker, wider, flatter. You’ve heard it all before: wider and flatter with more volume equals greater paddling power and planing speed, especially in softer or fatter waves. Hutch likes to throw an extra deep double concave into his boards and it works nicely towards the tail area of this model. The end result is a board that catches waves easily and quickly gains cruising speed, much like a longboard. But that’s about where the log comparison ends.
The Retro Fish feels loose underfoot and can certainly belt a lip or two, but it’s not a hybrid either. The real difference between this board and the hundreds of hybrid models found on surf racks nowadays lies in the outline. From the nose to the tail, the fish is shaped much like a bullet that gets pulled in towards the deep, deep swallowtail with a twin keel-fin setup. And this is where the magic lies.
Hutch builds his own balsa wood fins that he designs specifically for these boards. The big twin-keel shape generates loads of drive and speed, but unlike a conventional twin-fin, you still have ample control through directional turns. The theory goes that this is thanks to the keel fins working in conjunction with the deep swallowtail. You get the benefit of all that easy planing speed thanks to the outline and fins, but then the tail works like two pintails, giving you extra drive and hold when you put it on a rail.
What this all translates to is a board that surfs very differently to your conventional thruster or even your fishy-shaped hybrid. Where hybrids look to combine the best of both worlds – the easy paddle power and planing speed of a fish with the performance of a thruster – the classic fish shape demands to be ridden differently. The simplest way to describe it is you surf these boards laterally, instead of the vertical attack favoured by the thruster. This makes the Retro Fish feel magical in down-the-line waves, where every skim off the top sends you flying faster into the next section. It also makes these board feel amazing through carves and cutbacks but you can still throw the tail around, thanks to the looseness underfoot.
The downside is they don’t go that great in dumpy, bowly waves or care much for the onshore. We’re guessing it’s the combination of the über flat rocker and no centre fin, but the board tends to get stuck in the trough in these conditions or bog rail on steep, unpredictable sections. This is not to say the Retro Fish does not like hollow waves. It loves the barrel, especially the highline, but generally goes best when you have a wave that pushes you into the bowling section like a point or tapered sandbar.
Mikey loves his Retro Fish – he’s kept this one in his quiver since he was 12 years-old.
We took this model all over the show, from Durbs down to J-Bay and on to Cape Town. It even got kidnapped in the Kei for a couple of months thanks to an over-zealous reviewer who could not bear to part ways with it. But we digress. The point is, the Retro Fish loves the points, as well as all types of peeling beachies from North Beach to the Berg.
THE VERDICT: This board is not the same type of Fish you see Wardo and co doing airs and massive fin throws on. It demands to be ridden a different way to your conventional thruster/hybrid, and that’s a beautiful thing. Definitely recommended as an addition to any serious quiver.
ABOUT THE ZAG REVIEW:
The Zag Review is an independent editorial feature on surfing hard goods, ranging the full spectrum from boards and wetsuits to tide watches and travel bags. None of the reviews are paid for by advertisers or part of an advertising deal, and we retain the right to give honest, critical feedback that is in the interest of our readers. The product is reviewed by Zag staff and everyday surfers who rip, not pros who are paid to endorse the goods. We test the gear for a minimum period of two weeks (and a month for boards) to give you comprehensive feedback for the surfing layman. We know that surfboards are not a “one size fits all solution” and different surfers prefer different aspects on a board according to how they surf, even if they are the same weight and height. In the case of surfboard reviews, we’ve made sure to seek feedback from at least three different surfers to get well-rounded input.
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