If this Firewire surfboard was small and hairy (and you squinted enough) its symmetrical outline, which tapers to a point on either end, might just pass as a unibrow. They could have called it the Cat’s Eye or Almond, but Unibrow is funnier and self-deprecating humour is something we like in surfboards.
In reality, the Unibrow certainly isn’t small and hairy. In fact, our 2014 Timbertek model looks more like a trophy board you’d hang above the mantelpiece in your dream house of the future. The wood veneer is reminiscent of pine and the beige-yellow timber is offset by dark grain patterns that run down the length of the board. It’s a refined creation and every last detail has been polished, down to the fact that the Firewire and Timbertek logos have been burned into the wooden surface. The board has beautifully crafted rails and a sleek outline that differentiates her from cousins like the Sweet Potato and Potatonator.
The Unibrow sits in an interesting place within Firewire’s range, bridging the gap between their performance models and the fun boards and hybrids. Making things a little confusing is the fact that even though the Dominator and Potatonator are classed as hybrids, they can easily be used as performance hybrids too. It’s really down to each surfer’s unique style and what they’ll use the board for. In small, average surf the Dominator and Potatonator will outshine any modern shortboard. You could call them grovellers, but that wouldn’t be giving enough credit to the designers, for these boards are more than capable of performing well in excellent surf. I used my Potatonator through a perfect Indonesian winter and got the waves of my life. The extra width and buoyancy helped me paddle faster, which meant that I could sit further out and actually get more.
So what is the point of choosing a Unibrow over the Dominator, Potatonator (or any of the root vegetable family)? First off, the board was designed by Dan Mann, who is one of Firewire’s most acclaimed designers. His shapes include the Potato series and the award-winning Dominator. He is the master of taking a fun board and tweaking it so that it performs like a high performance shortboard, yet retains the fun factor in mushy conditions.
But why choose a Unibrow when you could transition from a hybrid straight up to a performance shortboard. This is especially true if the standard hybrids are good enough to cross over into better than average conditions. It’s also interesting to consider where Firewire want to position a board such as the Unibrow, because it sits within a very eclectic range of “Performance Hybrids”, including the fishy Activator, the Spitfire and even the wide-nosed Nano. The sales pitch tells the story of the Unibrow being a souped up version of the Dominator and for Dom fans that’s certainly an attractive proposition. The proof is in the ridability and how much each individual actually needs the additional performance enhancements. Many Dom fans might be kidding themselves in thinking they need a more high performance board. However, if you’re after incremental progress or have been getting frustrated in more critical conditions, then this could be the baby step you’ve been looking for.
My only critique of a board like the Potatonator is that you really have to adjust your surfing style to ride it like a shortboard (and that’s a ridiculous critique, for it’s the wrong tool for the job). You need to take a heavy back foot approach, exaggerating your weight shifts to make the wide chassis change direction. The Dominator requires less manipulation and performs well both in the pocket and out on the open face. So, if all things are considered, the Unibrow should offer Dominator-like propulsion with a looser, more responsive turning circle.
Unibrow on the face
I’ve been using the Unibrow for about four months and so far haven’t had any overhead, clean days (yes, a sorry state of affairs). But I have had a handful of days where conditions have been head high, clean with a few fun walls running in both directions. This board features five fin plugs and having surfed a few combinations I’d recommend using it as a quad.
My first observations are that the board feels much more like a performance shortboard. It turns easier and quicker than the Potatonator and seems primed for rail to rail surfing. The round tail means you get plenty of release and encourages a different approach to riding a fish or hybrid. You don’t have to be so heavy on the back foot and it enables you to surf more naturally, even gracefully.
The Unibrow is super light. I suppose because it looks so wooden and beautiful you almost expect to feel the wood grain and hear a sound like a door when you knock on the deck. But in reality it is comprised of a lightweight EPS core covered with wood panels and sealed with ‘Entropy’ bio-resin. The surface actually reminds me of an old Surftech (tuflite) board I used to own. Tapping on the deck sounds somewhat hollow, especially compared to Firewire’s FST boards. These models are also comprised of EPS cores but have additional high density composite and layers of fibreglass and epoxy to seal everything up. They have more of a traditional Polyurethane surfboard feel, while the Timbertek construction feels a bit more rigid. With the Unibrow you can of course opt for FST construction and that’s totally up to you. Timbertek has more environmental advantages, and one of the smallest carbon footprints of any surfboard, whereas FST possibly offers higher performance with parabolic balsa rails and high density aerospace composites providing a different kind of flex.
Who is the Unibrow for?
The Unibrow is for people who find themselves frustrated when the waves get good and they’re struggling to do the manoeuvres they’d like to do on their hybrid. I have been one of those people, where you’re over-adjusting your surfing to pivot toward what should be easily achievable positions on a wave face. If you’re digging rails half way up a perfect face, that’s either a sign that you’re a kook or using the wrong tool (probably a bit of both). Having the right board for the right conditions really does amplify your surfing performance. You shouldn’t need to hang your back foot off the tail to turn, or do awkward weight shifts just to cut back. The right surfboard should be responsive enough to assist you in getting to wherever it is that you want to go on a wave, based of course on your skill level (and the wave).
The Unibrow design features all the basics of the Dominator and that means it has buoyancy and a higher volume profile than a performance shortboard. You’ll find paddling easy and that the board sits nice and high in the water. It’s like they’ve taken the Potatonator and shaved off the fat edges. This board has a more refined nose and an almond-shaped round tail, making it more responsive in good waves and agile when turning in the pocket. An aggressive single concave runs down through the nose, splitting into a double concave which funnels water through the inside of the front fins.
Designer Dan Mann said, “The goal was to design a very high-performance shortboard that didn’t feel too bulky in good surf when you can ride something other than a groveller. The rail profile is dropped and very sensitive, especially through the tail.”
If you love your standard hybrid board and enjoy the wider base of something like a Potatonator then the Unibrow may not be for you. I think it is for someone who finds himself frustrated by the limitations of the standard hybrid board and wants to replace or augment his quiver with a second board for conditions that are a little more challenging. If you’re a one surfboard guy then this is a great choice as it offers diversity.
I’d say a board like the Potatonator is strategic. You’re going to get plenty of waves and have a fun session, no matter what. You won’t be turning as fast or as hard as the shortboard guys but you’ll probably be getting more speed and enjoying the smaller, wider footprint. The Unibrow however places you in the mix with the shortboard guys. You will be able to do proper turns with the advantage of more paddle power. It is a tactical board, meaning that high speed power shifts become possible, as do tailslides, airs and more subtle adjustments.
It’s a great board for the average surfer and it is an advancement from the Dominator. I found myself not enjoying tiny grovel as much as I did on Potatonator, but as soon as it got around chest high this board enabled more fluid transitions and truly came into its own.
The board is light and made from durable materials using proven construction techniques. The wood grain glistens under sunlight and looks more like an artwork than a surfboard finish. It certainly attracts attention when you walk down to the beach.
Firewire have a strong commitment to environmental sustainability and this board is a perfect example of their pioneering approach and Timbertek technology.
If you’re after a board that is a swiss army knife in terms of application and performance while also being robust, durable and environmentally sound then the Unibrow may be for you. I love it.
Photos by Evgeniya Ignatova, taken on Great Barrier Island, NZ