Abstractions in symmetry.

Light / Dark

Most surfboards are symmetrical. But a shaper’s template is only half of the complete outline. He or she still must flip the blank over and finish the shape. Calipers quantify consistency through the rails and foil, but refinements are translated by the eye and by feel. Fins buzz in protest at the slightest miscantering. Magic boards can’t be recreated. The machine is programmed by human hands. It’s math. But it’s flawed. Every blank hosts a unique matrix of inner cells. Resins cure at the whims of humidity and heat. Glassers get stoned. The ideal of surfboard symmetry is at best a tolerable guesstimation. Failed perfection as functional art. Snowflakes for the ocean.

The boards in these photos all occupy a place in surf history, sequestered from the collection of the California Surfing Museum in Oceanside. Photographer Russell Spencer created these images entirely in camera and on film, exposing each individual celluloid frame two, five, 12, 20, or even 26 times to create one picture. There’s no Photoshop involved. His complex mathematical computations and stubborn tenacity yielded hundreds of failures. And it produced a few magic moments.