Friday, March 27, 2015

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Ski Tale

Ken Horton & 70's Skitail
Google skitail kneeboard these days and a name that always seems to be synonymise with that search is Ken Horton. Being a 70's knee child and ,a huge fan of power surfing, Ken Horton is a surfer I have always known of . During my formative years both me and  my fellow kneelo mates drew long distance inspiration from numerous icons of our chosen , and stubbornly unique genre of surfing. Western Australia ,history will dictate, has not been renown for producing kneelos of repute or kneeboard designs of any significant substance. This is not to say there wasn't anyone to draw inspiration from .

 Growing up I was heavily influenced by a somewhat unknown mate by the name of Richard Van Lievan. A totally original power based surfer of incredible ability around the barrel . From him without a doubt is where the power preference was hatched . His was a fully crossed up natural stance that dictated the kind of waves we searched out and preferred and 40 years later I still have an awkward distain of going left. Slab style boards just didn't work around his, and as a consequence, my style. So the search was permanently  switched on for alternatives. Ross O'Brien was the next to tick all the power and style boxes for me and the boards he knocked up , possibly influenced by east coast tastes , were a definite progression .

But progression is a category that has been in general terms the sole domain of east coast shapers and surfers. Names like Ware , Crozier/Crawford  and  Artis and siblings Parkes , Ponsford and Whiteman were the heroes I looked for to shine the light on anything that could be shaped into or performed on a kneeboard.

But then there was Ken Horton. The bastard child, the leper, the alien, the unicorn, the god father of everything that shouldn't be surfable in a kneeboard. Skitails were his weapon and his alone . And Rodney Ball the wacky scientist who conjured them up. While fat and wide was considered the ticket to efficient knee surfing Ken's boards were pointed and narrow singles with Ball's snow ski inspired skitails being the engine room dominating their performance. I had no idea about how they worked , I just knew what he did on them is what I wanted to do , no matter how unachievable that may be. Obviously Ken had that awesome power , but the style he destroyed waves has in my opinion yet to be surpassed or ever replicated . Through the 70's the only knowledge about kneeboard surfing I garnered was from mags like Surfing World , that once had a sick feature on Ken and Parksie and regular D'Bar contest write up's. And of course Tracks also ran a kneelo section for many years. To say I devoured these token gestures is a soft statement. Any photos of Ken were hacked out and added to the grotty collage splayed out over my bedroom wall . Shit I wish I still had those unmutilated magazines now ....but.....

I simply craved information on kneeboards. My very first custom was actually a Steve Artis Hot Buttered, again thanks to magazine adds of the time. But to actually see what the best guys could do on these boards still had me guessing. Not until 1980 and a chance meeting with Parksie during his trans Australia trip, when he camped at a mates house in Cottesloe , did I truely get my cage rattled. WA hummed for months after his trip with bullshit tales of his exploits from North Point to the North West that left a progression of every type of surfer tripping over their bottom lips. After witnessing what he was doing I immediately ditched what ever I was riding to get on whatever he was riding. Although his was a style I didn't prefer , I sure preferred what he was capable of doing over the lip than what I could fudge at the time. And fortunately the following year when I got around to ordering off him three fins were the new black.

I was on my fourth Indo season in 1982 ( I think! all very hazy )when another chance encounter in Bali warped my mind even further as to what is possible on a kneeboard. In fact I have remained warped even until now as nothing I've seen since has surpassed what I witnessed over two days at Bingin . Firstly back then Bingin was top secret and a full day mission to get  to . Queensland mates from a previous season slipped me the green card and that year we surfed it every swell , normally to ourselves. Anyway , first day I roll up and it's pumping , optimum size at 4 to 5 feet so it's top to bottom with no wide fatness . Two guys are already out as I arrived , a surfboard rider and a kneeboard rider .Victor Levitt from Manly and Ken Horton from Mars. Till then I thought of myself to be of mildly competent ability but my ego probably had beliefs I was a lot warmer . Fuck was I wiped! For the next couple of hours the surfing by these two scard my already scrambled mind . Levitt was super deep and ruling the sets and pulling the most unbelievable first ever witnessed by me pig dogs . Just incredible and bewildering at the same time. But Ken was on every wave after Levitt's and more incredible because he was no less dynamic or deep or powerful or fuck me why am I out here when all this is going  on. I gingerly paddled around watching my tiny world shrink and my cage not just rattled but destroyed.

Ken introduced himself , commented on my Suburban tri by Parksie , then paddled away to blowup all afternoon. Fully crossed up natural stance that had him eyeing over his shoulder as he blasted vertically , like straight up vertical ,turn after turn and full freefall airdrop recovery every time like he meant it. Who means that? This is pre Gorilla Grip days , knees get drilled , but not Kenny's for some reason. Super fast and fluid and stitched together with that power style I just new I'd love , without ever having seen it until now. I still redirect my blood flow even today reminiscing of that day. Not in a weird, man love way like Willsy has with De Sas , but in a healthy bathed in light kind of way as to what is possible on a kneeboard by an alien . I think I surfed there the next day in equal awe and didn't see him surf again for probably another 10 years. 

Rod Ball shape 2014
Like I said only Ken could surf his boards. A few years later again in Bali I snapped my only board with 6 weeks left on my visa and so the hunt went out to find the only other kneeboard on the island. One of Ken's ex Simon Anderson thruster surfboards ( actually a kneeboard but you wouldn't know ) was owned by a very shady seppo character by the name of Reckless Eric. He owed friends of mine a shady favour and so they lent on him to relinquish it which he did for a very rude fee , but I didn't mind being bent over as I was back in the water. But first I had to rip the fins out and move them up , and even then I couldn't turn the thing. This only added to the bewilderment of his ability , nothing made sense , how can you possibly surf like that on this.

Then 10 years ago Dale forced me to try one of his skitails and the Horton essence and  intrigue subconsciously drifted back into my own surfing . The more I surfed them the more I imagined what Ken could do on them , even though I could surf them ! Which brings me to the photos you see here . Until recently on Rodney Ball shapes ( pictured )  Dale told me Ken had collared him for a new board , the ski's Dales been refining for 35 years and of course I needed to see for myself. So I've been told Ken's fit again , frothing and still peering over his shoulder punching vertically . Turn after turn .
Dale handing over


Ken Horton 2015