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How does a sidecut surf? Test driving Firewire's Cornice



Surfboard Reviews

The Cornice by Firewire works. It just works differently

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 16 April, 2015 - There comes a point where one realizes that their doorway to the surfing experience is extremely narrow. In my case I’ve grown so focused on performance surfing each session, that counting the number of hacks, tube dips and cutbacks is how I validate each go out. Rule of thumb: If I come out of a session with three memorable waves or maneuvers, I consider that session a success.

The downside to this is that if I choose to surf, say a fish or longboard, I’m not gonna get a solid hack, tube  or rail-burying cutback. In short, the session won’t register as a success to me. Consequently I don’t wander far from traditional equipment. 

This is a shame because there’s a whole lot of innovation out there, The Cornice by Firewire for example. 

The design was initiated by Trinity Technologies with the help of supercomputers designed to crunch data for wind turbines. It was then further refined by longtime Firewire shaper Dan Mann. The Cornice out now is the fifth or sixth work-through by the team.

The design is based on side-cut principles. Side-cuts are nothing new to surfboards. From the designs of Y (Tom Morey) to Meyerhoffer, forward-thinking shapers have been borrowing from the snowboard for a while now.  

The premise is that without a traditional eliptical outward-bulging rail line water will flow more smoothly around the middle part of the board, while the fastest planing, widest parts of a board’s template are kept under your front and back. 

When the board is set into a turn, because of this sidecut, there is less resistance to water when the board is laid into a bottom turn or cutback. In video clips you can see a quicker direction change when a surfer leans into a turn on The Cornice.

While the template of The Cornice is otherworldly for a surfboard, the rocker and bottom contour are consistent with other Dan Mann and Firewire designs. “The bottom contour is a cross between the Baked Potato and the UniBrow,” says Mann. “It’s just updated a bit with some small changes I've found to make the bottom contours flow a little better for the Cornice.”

The Cornice’s super-wide tail has a step-rail (thinner edge) to help it knife through the water. The fin cluster is way out on the rail and way back on the tail. Mann says it’s one of the widest fin cluster setups he’s done.

More adventures in sidecut design by CatchSurf and Meyerhoffer 


What we discovered: It’s a very different feeling. How? Well, let’s break it down.

What we rode: The Cornice in Future Shapes Technology measuring 5’11” X 17 13/16” X 2 5/8” with 32.8 cubic liters. Ridden as a quad and as a thruster. Feedback is that it performed best with a thruster setup. Rider’s weight 190lbs, 40 years experience, intermediate to sometimes advanced

Foot placing:  Right out of the gate you have to ride this board with your rear foot all the way back. With such a wide tail it’s important to be on the very back. I tend to scoot forward in trim when generating speed to pump down the line which doesn’t work well with The Cornice. In this regard the board is like its snowboard brethren (and many modern thrusters) in that it works best with feet planted firmly in the same sweet spots the entire ride.

Performance: The board comes alive in good surf. It performs best when the rider keeps it turning, moving and on edge. But I learned you can’t lean hard into your turn the same way you can on a traditional High Performance Shortboard (HPS).

On the Cornice there isn’t the same amount of rail between your feet to provide resistance to the pressure exerted during a turn, consequently The Cornice turns very abruptly (easily). This was the hardest part of the design to wrap my head around. I’m used to pushing against the resistance of a traditional rail line between my feet to generate torque and a longer arc during turns. However, once you re-adjust the approach and lean into a turn in such a way that The Cornice will respond, then all sorts of doors open up and the board works in new, amazing ways.

When you aim toward the lip, then snap the board down, it will get back under your center of gravity very quickly (because you don’t have all that mid-section of the board to get in the way).  So in some instances you can push the board more than a traditional HPS when you execute snaps. 

The Cornice is incredibly fast, but what you do with all this speed is tricky. If you have a big, open shoulder you can go way out on the flats, do a cutback and maintain drive all the way back to the foam. But, to do this you need to have learned how to initiate turns on sidecut rails. Just remember, less torque when leaning into a turn.

One of our assistant editors Ashton Goggans was an amateur longboard champ and has spent heaps of time on fishes and alternative craft. He’s also a very good surfer on your standard HPS. He had a much easier time with the Cornice’s learning curve.

“It flew out of a drawn-out bottom turn with speed and projection to burn, the wide tail offering a platform from which you could just slam through turns, in a strange, foreign, on-rail type of way,” says Goggans. “It made utterly gutless shoulders into open corners on which to bank cutbacks, and returned to full speed with real kick after bouncing a roundhouse into the whitewater, putting you back onto the shoulder for a second turn almost before you could register the first turn's success.”

Like Cheyne Horan's Lazer Zap, The Cornice gains speed from a very wide tail


Float: The Cornice will feel floatier than your normal volume number because in this shape all the float is under your chest. Which means it paddles well. You can go down a tad in volume because with traditional HPSs, a liter of volume in the tip of the nose doesn’t count when you are paddling. 

The board felt like it gained momentum as you paddled into a wave. Goggans found that it paddled better getting into waves than it did just paddling straight out the back. 

Tubes: The board worked surprisingly well in hollow surf. Because the mid-width is so narrow and the edges so thin, it holds in really well when a steep section presents itself. You also have more control in the tube as the board knifes through the water better than a board with full rails. But, it is easy to overcorrect when making subtle adjustments to your line.

On a couple hollow waves I felt a really slippery kind of forward ‘scoot’ sensation underfoot, very fast and glidey and unlike a traditional HPS. 

So yes the board worked. BUT, it worked very differently. The motions used to make the board come alive had to be learned and are very different from the way many of us are used to surfing. 

What we liked:
It’s totally unlike anything we’ve surfed!
Sensational “fast and glidey” feel underfoot
Holds an edge in hollow waves because it’s narrow
Maintains speed through turns in flat, open parts of the wave
Direction changes are quicker due to lack of rail between your feet
When turning on your toe side or heel side the board cuts a very tight arc
Paddles well into waves

What we didn’t like:
It’s totally unlike anything we’ve surfed!
Could not figure out how to lean-in and burry the rail
Needs to be kept moving rail-to-rail through the slower parts of the wave
Turns needed to be nursed with a sort of lift-and-pivot motion rather than Occy-esque full rail work
Really comes alive in good waves,  however a standard HPS would work well in these conditions too

Who would like this board:
Anyone willing to mix up their high-performance shortboard game
Beginning surfer who would benefit from an easy-to-turn, fast board 
Someone coming from a different boardsport to surfing, like a skateboarder or snowboarder
Someone wanting to get away from the non-functional primitive equipment aspects of the ‘ride anything’ movement 

The Take Away: The Cornice surfs very, very differently from 95% of the boards out there. We’d suggest demoing one for a solid session before buying. The Cornice has many great performance qualities and traits in a variety of waves. It’s built to go fast; it turns quickly, holds in hollow waves but I found it is missing in that hard-off-the rail turning sensation. That said, you can watch power-surfer Chuy Reyna riding The Cornice in the below video. He has no trouble throwing gouges and setting the board on rail.

Does the sidecut concept have any longevity? Firewire’s aim, and I’m guessing here, is to make a non-traditional high-performance shortboard. And they've succeeded. The board works; it’s fast, loose and holds an edge (albeit in with a very different sensation). 

We all know surfers are reluctant to step away from their high-performance thrusters but right now is a fantastic time in surfboard design as experimentation is (thankfully) once again socially acceptable, so maybe it’s time for the sidecut design to stick around. It could open doors to new surfing sensations to stuck-in-a-rut surfers like myself.



Bryan Dickerson

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