Water Works : Crafting the hydrodynamic planing hulls on the Yes. 20/20

Words: Ben Gavelda

It's all water under the board, really, and just above the surface is where the fun happens. That's the thinking that sparked the creation of Yes Snowboards' new twin tip, powder-planing snowcraft, the 20/20. Drawing on old naval boat hull studies and progressive surfboard dimensions, Yes board engineer Alex Warburton sought to craft a freestyle twin that could hover through snow like a ship cutting across the sea.

Alex Warburton Photo: Phil Tifo

Alex Warburton.
Photo: Phil Tifo

The roots of this concept run deep. Early surfboard design dates back to pre-19th century Polynesia with the alaia and paipo boards—basically small, finless planks. After studying these boards and their relation to ship hulls, Naval architect and prohibition-era rumrunner Lindsay Lord compiled his scientific findings into a book on planing hulls in 1946. San Diego surfer and mathematician Bob Simmons carried this book around while merging the antique board designs and naval studies into stubby, "hydrodynamic planning hulls" made of balsa wood that spawned the modern shortboard. Simmons' close friend and protégé John Elwell passed this knowledge, inspiration, and a few replicas down to Australian board designer Daniel Thomson, whose Tomo Surfboards now feature short, wide shapes, unconventional blunted tips, and hydrodynamic bellies. All together, these features reduce drag and increase lift, speed, and maneuverability.


Romain De Marchi applying the science of fluid dynamics to snow in Hakuba. Photo: Chad Chomlack

Like some Tomos and several other new powder boards, the 20/20 sports a wide, buoyant build and large volume packed into a shorter length. But the board is exceptionally swift to react, yet stable with an incredibly balanced float, thanks to the twin three-dimensional concaves in both the tip and tail, similar to a modern boat hull.

For Warburton, who started shaping surfboards as a hobby with Rob Morrow back in the '90s, the 20/20 is a lovechild of both past and future. "For me, the relevance of hydrodynamics lies in looking at a snowboard from a new vantage point," he says. "Not just at its shape, or at its rocker, but across its surface as well."

Thomson, who occasionally leaves the surf lineup to chase snow, has always been intrigued by the principles of powder riding. "It's an interesting concept to apply the science of fluid dynamics to snow because, ultimately, snow is a solid. But it does seem relevant in that snow will act like a fluid in its relationship to drag," he says.

Alex Warburton Photo: Phil Tifo

Alex Warburton. Photo: Phil Tifo

Inspiration Road runs both ways between surfing and snowboarding and we're continuing to see some more symbiotic developments in new "surfy pow shapes" while Firewire Surfboards recently introduced sidecut to their Cornice model.

All of these hydrodynamic design traits could have simply been packaged into a fishy, set-back pow board, but that's not what Warburton and his team were looking for. After shredding the 420 (Yes' stubby, tapered pow plank) almost exclusively, riders Austen Sweetin and Romain De Marchi wanted a freestlye twin board with similar float. "We were hitting this road gap in Jackson and I was trying a back five, but kept having trouble landing switch with the short tail on the 420," Sweetin says. "This is where we came up with the idea to make a similar board more freestyle-based to land both ways in pow. I think we nailed it with the 20/20. It's a hotdoggin' pow board that floats and spins around like a finless surfboard."

The 20/20 represents a new breed of boards made for supreme float in soft snow without giving up its freestyle core or ability to handle hardpack. Switch or regular, ice or swell-like froth, the 20/20 was designed to disrupt the norm. All it took was a little liquid inspiration.