Of all the boards in Slater Designs range, the Sci-Fi has attracted the most attention, both in the media and in surf shops around the world. Other Slater Designs models include the Banana, which is a high performance board for excellent waves, and the Omni, which might not fit your average surfer’s taste, or skill profile.
The Sci-Fi is quite obviously not your ordinary surfboard. It boasts flyers, channels and a double bat tail that would make Batman proud. It’s not a performance shortboard template, but it’s not really a fish. So, is the Sci-Fi a glimpse into the future, or are the Slater Designs team overcomplicating things?
About this Sci-Fi surfboard review
I tried a 5’10” Sci-Fi in a range of conditions, from fun-sized Cloudbreak in Fiji to the saddest of onshore mush in New Zealand. I surfed mainly with a quad setup of FCS medium fins, but also experimented using the board with thruster and twin fin configurations.
In the process I learnt a lot about the board – and about my own surfing.
It’s strange when you spend almost all of your life chasing waves, yet sometimes feel like you’ve landed back close to where you began. I had moments on the Sci-Fi where I felt I was re-learning the fundamentals of flow and weight transfer, unsteady in such simple manoeuvres as a cutback.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’ve surfed unconventional hybrids before. My favourite boards of all time were the Stretch F4, which also sports a bat tail, and the Firewire Potatonator, which has an unorthodox diamond tail.
The Sci-Fi, however, takes design complexity to a new level, with straight rails, an aggressively jagged tail, a broad outline and a quad concave within single concave that runs way up the bottom deck of the board.
Based on Daniel Thomson “Tomo’s” modern planing hull concept, this board is essentially a fish, which has been augmented to match, or even exceed, the surfing potential of a performance shortboard. In my books that is a pretty cool evolution, because a fish is usually a step down – something you reserve for substandard days, or for when you get a little older.
Yet, by enhancing the fish design and adding high-performance characteristics, Tomo has brought modern hybrid surfboard design into interesting new territory. It’s futuristic, developed based on proven scientific principles and, unsurprisingly, a collaboration with the master of progression, and the best surfer of all time, Mr Kelly Slater.
From the shaper
Daniel Thomson describes the Sci-Fi as follows:
“This board has more of a straight rail, high-performance fish outline and then we break it into a really tech tail. The tail of this board features a flyer into a double bat tail and that gives you a release point for the straight rail, so you have a pivot point from your back foot. The double bat tail is a low drag template that pulls the tail in from being ultra-wide and gives it a real clawing effect in the water, so the board holds through radical turns.
That’s accentuated with a quad concave running into a channel out of the bat tail, and that helps with the grip. Running forward the quad concave is located within a single concave… basically what that does is allow the rail to be planing on the rail portions of the board, so it almost acts like little water skis. Once you’re on rail it scoops out the edge and you get increased sensitivity through your turns and a general sense of lift when you’re on the board. I think it’s a real step forward in performance bottoms and I’m definitely going to be using it in most of my work in future.”
How does the Sci-Fi surf?
In the beginning I found the board unpredictable, especially compared to a traditional shortboard. All of those tail “claws” make it somewhat cat-like in critical sections. You’ll have absolutely no problem generating speed and driving down the line – in fact, the Sci-Fi may just be the fastest surfboard I’ve ever tried. The challenge is that after you’ve projected up towards the lip you’re going to come swivelling back down – and herein lies some unique behaviour. The board does claw, and you’ll find yourself able to kill your speed and execute dramatic, powerful top turns, with more precision than you’re used to.
The challenge is that you need to learn how this board will latch onto the wave face so that you can optimise your surfing and not disappoint yourself by braking too hard, or losing control.
Having caught a few hundred waves on the board here are my top four observations:
- It is tight around corners. All of those serrated edges from the wings through to the bat tail give you less drag and more grip on the wave surface. I found 80% of my rides felt amazing, with effortless pivot and flow. The other 20% felt awkward, with many resulting in embarrassing displays of “over surfing” – think a layback hack that results only in laying back, with the board continuing onward to the beach, sans rider. Sometimes, instead of clawing, it felt like the board got stuck. Now remember – this was most often in substandard conditions, or when I was trying too hard. Quad fins are also much tighter than thruster, so this plays a factor.
- It is fast. There is no denying that the Sci-Fi generates rapid speed both in big waves and small. Sometimes you need to get creative to lose some speed, especially if you’re surfing it as a quad, or want to lengthen your stay in the barrel.
- The fish design and added volume carry momentum. You’ll ease your way through fat sections that would sink a shortboard. When I found a rhythm on the Sci-Fi I felt like I had longer rides than on any of my other boards. I’d like to test this observation with a Trace or a Rip Curl GPS watch.
- The board feels capable of seriously radical manoeuvres. I have never proclaimed to be a great surfer and perform these tests based on my experience, rather than skill. I managed some cool close-out whacks and I know that a better surfer combined with a ramp section, will make this board fly.
- Works best in clean conditions. The Sci-Fi excels when the wave face is smooth. All the concaves and claws are designed to channel water in a very specific way, both beneath the board and along the rails. When you add chop and bumps I find that the Sci-Fi is way too unpredictable. However, on clean days where the wave face is glassy, you will not find a better performance shortboard.
Best moments on the Sci-Fi
My favourite thing about the Sci-Fi is that it forced me to rethink some of my automatic actions and reactions while surfing. For example, I needed to rethink cutting back, while also adjusting my default foot positioning. You get so much speed on the Sci-Fi that you can find yourself on the shoulder faster than you’d like. So don’t go there when you can help it: surf more vertically.
I’m used to being really tail heavy, using my back foot to pretty much control the entire ride. This is probably because I grew up on closeout beach breaks where you often have only the tiniest of walls to execute a turn. For me, however, the Sci-Fi worked best with a balanced approach, less back foot and more flow (watch Stu Kennedy surfing below for the perfect way to ride the Sci-Fi). As always, the key principles of good surfing apply: maintain a low centre of gravity and look where you want to go.
My absolute best memory on this board is getting a proper barrel at Cloudbreak, locking in and then standing up backhand, no rail grab, and, by some miracle, actually coming out over Shish Kebabs. I thought I was going to get destroyed, but the wave opened up and let me out before I had time to even plan my brace position.
A Hawaiian guy paddling back out said it was a cool ride. Life is better when someone notices.
Who is the Sci-Fi for?
I think the Sci-Fi would be wasted on a beginner, so definitely recommend it for intermediate to advanced surfers. I class myself as intermediate, although certainly have kooky moments on an all-too-regular basis.
Tomo recommends surfing the Sci-Fi three inches shorter than your regular shortboard, yet being conservative with volume, so allowing up to half a litre more than usual. My test model was about a litre more than usual, so I’d love to try out a shorter 5’9” to see how that handles.
The board is really wide and fishy, so don’t be scared about choosing a smaller size than you’re used to. After all, if you want this board for the promise of electrifying performance you should be seeking to progress your surfing.
If you want this board mainly because it has a black line down the middle and a Slater Designs logo, you might get more satisfaction out of something a little more conventional.
What are the best conditions?
Firewire say, “The Sci-Fi is a high performance all-rounder with impressive range (1-8ft), with usability for intermediate to advanced surfers.”
I completely agree. I have used this board in tiny mush and found it generates incredible drive and momentum. On the flip side, it was great at Cloudbreak, on my backhand, in way more critical waves.
Take your time to get the feel of that double bat tail, because your turns on steep walls will require tweaks to your usual approach.
As mentioned, this board is especially suited to clean, glassy conditions. If you regularly surf shoulder to head-high waves in mushy, onshore conditions then you might prefer a more conventional board outline and deck profile. The modern planing hull excels when it can glide over a smooth wave surface.
Who manufactures the Sci-Fi?
The Sci-Fi is a Tomo creation, manufactured by Firewire, under the Slater Designs label. Kelly Slater bought shares in Firewire, because of their focus on sustainability and environmentally-conscious manufacturing. Firewire boards are made in Thailand in one of the world’s cleanest factories, where the employees receive a fair wage.
I have no problem with getting my surfboard from Thailand. Everything else we buy comes from China, so there’s no point being precious about the origin of Tier 1 brand surfboards.
If you want a board that was created for you by hand, by all means choose a local shaper – those guys are artisans and deserve your custom to keep their livelihood, or passion, alive.
By the way, Thailand is actually an okay surf destination, and has a devoted little crew of up-and-coming surfers based all along the beaches of Phuket.
What about Sci-Fi surfboard technology?
Probably most significant is that the Sci-Fi features LFT (Linear Flex Technology) as part of its “White Deckskin”. In terms of build, the board is comprised of a high density EPS core with a dual carbon band providing strength along the bottom deck.
The ultra high density black 18mm wide foam stringer is the signature feature of the Slater Design range and, according to Tomo, a significant step away from traditional wooden stringers. It is called a “Springer HD” and is composed of an aerospace composite that provides optimal flex along the length of the board.
Who is using the Sci-Fi?
Ian Rotgans dropped a great little edit, showing him getting to know the Sci-Fi.
Brandon Clarke tested the Sci-Fi out on some fun little waves. He certainly had no problem getting airborne and generally flaring on his board.
Stu Kennedy blew minds and got a third place result on his Sci-Fi at Snapper Rocks in 2016. A wave like Snapper will provide optimal walls for a board like the Sci-Fi – long, fast, and not requiring too many cutbacks. Watch Stu fulfil the Sci-Fi’s potential in this excellent edit by Hamish Mackenzie.
The guys from Surfing Magazine gave the Sci-Fi a field test and got some great waves.
The Slater Designs Sci-Fi: our verdict
The Slater Designs Sci-Fi is a livewire and has been accurately described by Firewire as “electric”. The board generates speed on a dime, so be prepared to use that speed wisely. In terms of manoeuvrability, you’re working with a monster concave and some ferocious claws in the tail, so practice practice practice and you’ll discover your own method for keeping the Sci-Fi on a rail.
Don’t get disillusioned if you’re not surfing like Stu Kennedy after a few weeks. It will never happen, so you need to focus on surfing like you. That means selecting the right waves, using an effective fin combination, going back to basics, and positioning yourself appropriately.
All of this requires tweaking, so be prepared to experiment. If you want a board that rides predictably off the shelf and doesn’t require a learning curve, then choose a standard shortboard. If you’re keen to try something different, and enjoy variety in your surfing experience, then this could be your ticket to a brave new world of fun.
The Sci-Fi is suitable as your all-round board, because it handles pretty much any wave you can throw at it (under 8 foot). However, if it is going to be your only board (i.e. you have a single board quiver), and if you don’t surf very often – then something a little more conventional will probably suit you better.
My score: 4 stars. Once I got to grips with the, well, grip – this board quickly became my every day choice.