Surfer Bear

In the last post, I wrote about the surfer-bear wooden toy, and I pointed out that it had yet to have a thorough testing. Last weekend I had an opportunity to put several prototypes of the surfer-bear toy through its paces and here are the results:

What we tested:
Four boards were tested ranging in length from seven inches long to twelve inches long. All of the boards had been “hot waxed”. That is, painted with melted canning wax and then ironed with a hot ski waxing iron to make them waterproof.

The four boards and three surfers we tested

Three versions of the surfer bear were tested, in case the relative size of the bear turned out to effect performance (all three of our bears performed about the same).

A number of fins made from copper, stainless steel, and mild steel of various thicknesses, sizes, and shapes, were tested.

The fins we tested

The conditions were near perfect; little to no wind, six to twelve inch surf breaking on a slight diagonal to the beach on long Island sound. We also tested all of the prototypes in a pool as well.

The toy experts:
The toy experts were a six-year-old boy, a ten-year-old girl, and a twelve-year-old boy (two of my nephews and my niece).

Descriptions of trials:
First, we tested all of the board and surfer combinations in the pool without fins to see if any of the surfer-bears made the boards top heavy and to see how well they floated.

pool test #1   Pool test #2

Next, we went to the beach and the toy experts experimented in surf conditions that ranged from fairly calm to breaking twelve inch surf. Lastly, we returned to the pool to refine technique and to make more subtle comparisons.

What the tests revealed in general:
The surfer bear toy floated extremely well and with the addition of one or more fins tended to be self righting (something that surprised me). When pushed though the water the surfboard and surfer moved very fast and with the addition of fin or fins traveled straight. With the correct technique the surfboard would “plane” on the water for at least three feet, enough distance to catch a wave if one times the push just right. Timing the push into the wave is critical, and attempting to do this became somewhat addictive. When the surfer-toy caught a wave, the ride could be as long a twelve feet. It was not easy to catch a wave just right and sometimes required a second person to watch the sets of waves and call out just when to accelerate the surfer-bear. When a surfer-bear did catch a wave just right, our toy experts described the experience as “awesome”. The rareness of these perfect rides was offset by the fact that major “wipe outs” were also hailed as “awesome”.

Shortboarder is propelled to catch a wave  Short boarder rides out the wave

Specific observations:
Hot waxing the board is critical to prevent the board from becoming waterlogged and may account for how fast the boards are, but the dovetail that holds the surfer-bear to the board must be kept free of wax.

The length of the board was not as important as the shape. Boards with tapered or even pointed aft ends tended to settle the back of the board while lifting the front of the board, causing the board to surf better. Boards that had blunt or wide back ends had a greater tendency to bury the nose of the board and pitch pole.

Having the weight more towards the back of the board made the board surf better. This can be achieved by either adding fins or placing the dovetail for the surfer-bear further aft on the board.

The dovetail that holds the surfer bear in place needs to be a solid connection because it will take abuse. The best technique depends on propelling the board by holding the bear and not the board.

Long boarder catches a wave  Long boarder rides out a wave

Our toy experts rated the Surfer-bear to be a good toy (good enough so that they wanted to take the prototypes home with them). The short-board (approximately 7″ long) that had three copper fins performed the best of the prototypes we tested, and though it was not as successful, the longest board was also popular. The two mid sized boards worked but did not get as much attention.

The most popular short board with three fins

I think, as is often the case, I might have gotten as much pleasure out of making the toys and setting up the tests, as the toy experts got out of the actual testing. Oh, and practicing surfer slang was another very popular part of the clinical tests of the surfer-bear.
Gnarlatious dude!


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