'Whatever happened to the Lazor Zap' originally published on Swellnet
Never has surfboard design been as open and accepting as it is in 2011. For the first time since the thruster was invented there is no single design element monopolising the marketplace. Surfers are being encouraged to ride a variety of equipment and the shapers are replying in kind, many knocking out a variety of designs, from short sidecut quads to refined Indo guns, in order to increase their market reach.
Despite this there is one design that hasn't been copied or cannibalised by other shapers – the McCoy Lazor Zap. Geoff McCoy is still the only person shaping boards with the Zap's classic teardrop outline - narrow nose and extremely wide tail. They stand in stark contrast to the recent trend of boards with fuller noses and wide point pushed forward.
The Lazor Zap has a chequered history; born from a period of great experimentation but largely forgotten in favour of the conventional thruster, its popularity mirrors the success of its most famous pilot - Cheyne Horan. Horan was a surfer who many feel didn't reach his potential because of his propensity to experiment, and rightly or wrongly the Lazor Zap has worn some of the blame.
Yet considering it is a design with a proven track record I found it curious that unlike Fish, Simmons Twins or Alaias, the Lazor Zap hasn't had a popular revival. I recently test rode a Lazor Zap and also spoke to Marc Atkinson, owner (but not for much longer) of the McCoy showroom in Manly.
Swellnet: How did the design first come about?
Marc Atkinson: The Lazor Zap came through a revelation that Geoff had in the mid-70's. Geoff was constantly trying to understand the ifs and whys of surfboard design and the concept came to him in a big flash, so to speak. The idea came suddenly but he says it took a while to formulate in his head, and for a long time Geoff didn't have the guts to shape a Lazor Zap. He knew what it looked like yet it was so opposed to everything that was happening at the time that he thought it was too far out there. So he sat on it for a while.
When he eventually drew out the planshape on a blank he went "well, fuck, what's that?" It was so far removed from what was happening. He was viewing it in his house, and the story goes that the McCoy team, guys like Cheyne, MR, Mark Warren, Dappa, the very best surfers of the day, egged him on to give it a go and the design worked. It was a period of great experimentation and the no nose, wide tail concept worked.
To boil it right down...Geoff was trying to understand how an object works with an energy source – the energy source being the wave. The Lazor Zap was scientifically designed with that goal in mind.
Obviously they were single fins then, but does the concept work with thrusters?
Originally it was a single fin because that's what was happening. But for mine, the Lazor Zap suits the thruster entirely - it makes sense with the narrow nose, wide tail and the necessity for back foot surfing. Cheyne rode single fins because he loved single fins.
To ride a Lazor Zap requires a certain technique. If you don't apply that technique you'll have problems. All the energy is down the back of the board, unlike most boards where the energy is in the middle and the front of the board. So unless you're on top of that energy you cant control it. It makes sense to have a thruster set up with it.
How long does it take to learn the correct technique?
Geoff says himself that it takes six months to learn the correct technique. But there are plenty of people who are natural back foot surfers. I've seen guys walk in here who struggle on their current equipment. I put them on a Zap and bang! All of a sudden their surfing's improved 100%
Someone like myself who has a front foot technique, I have to adapt when I jump between boards. It can take two to three weeks, and I've got experience in making the adaption. For someone who's never done it it might take months.
These days everyone's got quivers and they're swapping equipment regularly, it makes it hard to devote yourself to a singular design like the Zap.
Yeah, it makes it a bit hard, because people jump around on surfboards so much they may be reluctant to ride a Zap. I can understand. If you jump from a six foot thruster to a fish you're surfing a very similar board. At least one that is in the same ballpark. You can take the technique from one to the other with just a little bit of adjustment. You can't do that on a Zap. Maybe that's a reason you aren't seeing as many of them?
I had ten surfs on a Lazor Zap. The dimensions were 6'0" x 20'3/4" x 3'. It had a touch too much foam for my 75kg frame and a 5'10" would've been better suited.
The waves I rode it in were between two and four feet. In surf this size the first turn on a regular shortboard is nearly always off the front foot – a quick pump to get the board planing and the rhythm established. The first thing I discovered on a Lazor Zap is that such a turn isn't possible. Every turn, even small speed pumps, must come from the back foot.
To do this required a rewiring of my surfing instincts which I can best describe as learning to switchfoot. If you've ever attempted to switchfoot you'll know that you must override your instincts and make a concious effort to weight your opposite leg. Riding the Zap I had the same experience; I got to my feet and had to resist weighting my front foot for speed, instead concentrating on my back foot, the one I didn't usually use.
It was hard work yet when it clicked the feeling was unique. The sensation not unlike an Alaia (or any finless board) at just the moment it spins out. Except the Zap doesn't spin out, it holds. It feels like the fins only begin to bite once the turn is initiated and it takes a bit of time to understand the feeling and build the confidence to lay it over.
Swellnet: Years ago I read an article by Cheyne Horan where he said he and Geoff were trying to create a board that was neutral. After riding the Zap I'd say it is anything but neutral. Can you explain that?
Marc Atkinson: I remember that but I think what needs to be made clear is the definition. What Cheyne and Geoff were working on was a board that opened up all the options to a rider. Neutrality comes from being able to do anything at any point in time.
Think of the way water runs through a deep concave compared to the Loaded Dome (The Loaded Dome is McCoy's signature bottom design. Space prevents me from describing it fully but think of a shallow dome on the bottom rear of the board, curving rail-to-rail and nose-to-tail). The water in the concave can only go one way. That's not neutrality. Run water across the Loaded Dome and it can run there or there or there (making hand gestures), whatever way the rider wishes to go. The board is lively because it can do anything, but it's neutral in the sense that it has no given track. It can take any track the rider wishes.
The design is closely associated with Cheyne Horan and sometimes derided for that. Is that fair?
I've got an insane amount of respect for Cheyne Horan. As a surfer he really was one out of the box. He could do anything. Geoff and Cheyne's aim for neutrality came from a search for a board that would not inhibit Cheyne's talent in any form or way.
I saw an old photo of Cheyne recently and he was doing this insane bottom turn on a Zap. He had it laid over so heavily that only a fraction of his board was still in the water, just jamming off the bottom so hard and you could see he was just gonna blast that lip. That's what Geoff was trying to achieve for him. Thats why the Lazor Zaps got perceived as being too wild, cos Geoff was experimenting, trying to find the right object to fulfil Cheyne's talent. And Cheyne was trying to push them to their ridiculous limits, like taking a 5'6" Lazor Zap out to 20 foot Waimea.
Cheyne made a lot of mistakes in his career. Mistakes that cost world titles. I'm sure he'll get to a point and say 'yeah, I made some mistakes'. But from Geoff's point of view as designer and shaper he was trying to create an object that would not hold Cheyne back.
You've also got to remember that not all Cheyne's designs came from Geoff. Some of the more extreme boards were made by other shapers.
How similar are the modern Lazor Zaps compared to what Cheyne was riding? Similar in planshape and that's about it. Rocker, hull shape, rail line, it's all a bit different. The concept is the same but they've evolved.
Why aren't other shapers ripping off the design?
I don't know if anyone else would be game! Despite what people may think they aren't an easy board to shape. There is a lot more to the design than just the planshape and they (the design elements) all have to work in tandem. Geoff has been working on it for fifty years.
It appears that McCoy still has a very loyal fan base.
An incredibly loyal fan base, as was found when he did those articles in Surfing World and people had a go at the editor for the way they portrayed Geoff. Some of the comments shocked the SW guys. Geoff is a passionate and loyal person and he has passionate and loyal fans. The people that are into the McCoy trip tend to get right into it.
So who's buying McCoy boards these days?
I send them out all over. All over Australia, and to Japan, Hong Kong, the UK. America is still OK but freight kills it. And they get sold to any and everybody...no, hang on...I don't think I've ever sold a board to a teenager. That may tell you something! But I get customers aged in their early 20's, when surfers are just beginning to experiment, and then aged upwards from there.
A large portion of our business is return business. Another large percentage is fixing people's problems. People walk in here with frowns cause they've been sold lemons and we help them with their surfing. Like I said, Geoff is a passionate and loyal person, and his philosophy holds and attracts many people. Which I guess is the answer to your question. Why would you go anywhere else if you're having fun?