Pro Choice (Surfboards)

Happy Monday, Shredderz!

As you can see in the pictures above, I can’t say with a straight face that today’s post features a board in absolute mint condition. Since Shred Sledz prides itself on fostering a family atmosphere, let’s just say this board has been well-loved throughout its lifetime.

What today’s post does bring, however, is a deeper look at one of the most enduring designs in surfboard history.

The fish, as it is known, is one of the more popular variants on a standard shortboard. In a Surfline feature, Nick Carroll described the original fish as “a broad, super-wide-swallowtail with a straight rocker line and long-base rigid twin-fins.” Fish, thanks to their increased volume and better paddling ability, are go to boards for many surfers facing less-than ideal conditions.

Despite having been invented in the late 60s, the fish saw a resurgence in popularity in the 90s. A big part of this was thanks to Tom Curren’s surfing on a 5′7″ fireball fish in pumping Indonesian right handers, which was more or less uncharted terrain for a board seen by many as being suitable for waist high slop.

Photo by Ted Grambeau; via Surfline

…Lost Enterprises also released 5′5″ x 19 1/4″, an entire video dedicated to its stable of young team riders ripping on unorthodox equipment. What Youth recently ran an excellent retrospective on the video, which I recommend checking out.

So, before we get too deep down the fish rabbit hole…who invented the thing, anyway?

The man widely credited with inventing the fish design is San Diego kneeboarder Steve Lis, who created the distinctive swallow tail shape back in the late 1960s. Lis was doing some truly incredible surfing on these shapes in his San Diego stomping grounds, which helped create the initial groundswell of interest in his design. As always, the Encyclopedia of Surfing entry on Lis tells his story better than I could ever hope to.

Steve Lis; photo by Warren Bolster; photo via Encyclopedia of Surfing

This brings us to the board pictured at the top of the post. There is a fish for sale on Craigslist in Orange County with Steve Lis’ name on it, but a few other details that I haven’t quite been able to sort out. And before we get into the history, just check out that awesome 70s airbrush!

As you can see in the first picture, the board is clearly branded with Lis’ name. However, the logo on the board is that of Choice Surfboards.

Choice Surfboards is one of the many brands from well-regarded San Diego shaper Rich Pavel (who also shapes under his eponymous label, Greenroom Surfboards, Axis / Access Surfboards, and even Rainbow Surfboards.) Pavel was a protege of Lis’, and he has continued to pump out fish designs on his own. Here’s a recent Pavel fish produced under the Choice label, and featured on San Diego shop Surfy Surfy’s own site. Notice the bigger Choice logo.

Photo via Surfy Surfy

The board listed at the top of the page appears to be a Lis / Choice collaboration, which I have never seen before. Stoked-n-Board’s entry for Choice lists Lis as having shaped for the brand from 1975 to 2009. However, the vast majority of Lis fishes I have seen have had his own branding, with no mention of Choice.

For example, here’s a Steve Lis handshape that was recently posted for sale on Surfer Magazine’s forum.

You’ll immediately notice a few big differences between the Lis posted to Surfer Magazine and then the Choice / Lis board at the top of the page. The first aspect is a clear Steve Lis logo:

Secondly, Lis hand-signs many of his shapes with a mirrored yin yang design (versus his own name). Here is his signature on the Surfer Magazine board:

Photos via Surfer Magazine Forums

Here’s another example of a Steve Lis handshape. A 1972 5′4″ Lis fish was recently sold via the Surfing Heritage Vintage Surf Auction, and ended up going for a tidy $3,500. You’ll notice there’s no logo anywhere to be found on the 1972 board.

Here’s a picture of Lis’ yin yang signature from that 1972 board.

Photos via California Vintage Surf Auction

What’s interesting about the Choice / Lis board featured at the top of the page is that it does not have a clear Lis signature. My guess – and this is by no means definitive – is that Lis supplied the template, which was then shaped by someone else.

With that said, the Choice / Lis board certainly looks vintage. The awesome airbrush screams 1970s, as do the dimensions of the board itself. According to the Craigslist post, the board is only 5′. Lis’ boards seem to have gotten longer as he has tweaked the shapes over the past few years. For example, the grey board taken from the Surfer Magazine forum is 6′2″ x 21″. There’s no leash plug, and the fins are glassed on as well.

It’s a shame the Choice / Lis board wasn’t better cared for, but oh well. I’m not sure what to say about how collectible it might be. I doubt it’s a Lis handshape, but then again, I have never seen one of these Choice / Lis boards before, and apparently neither have the far more knowledgeable folks at Stoked-n-Board. The board is priced at $200, which isn’t cheap for something this weathered, but this might be a good pickup for someone looking for an unusual example of a Lis-related shape.

Check out the Craigslist posting here.

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