Ola Helenius is the chief board shaper for Simmer, being a major part of the new Simmer range. Ola has come up through the industry in a more unconventional route, with his knowledge and understanding of board shaping seeing him working with some of the top riders in the world.
Name: Ola Helenius
Company: Simmer Style
Role: Board shaper
First job in windsurfing: I guess this is the first real one in a sense. But I worked with Starboard for many years, writing on their web, testing and shaping some boards.
Your next career step: I'm pretty happy with doing what I do now. I still have my regular work as a mathematician at a the Swedish National Centre for Mathematics Education. The windsurfing stuff is part time. But for me that's a good solution.
How did you make it into the role you have today: Trying to understand more about board shaping has been a hobby for 25 years, since I was in my mid teens. Or rather an obsession. I made my own board design computer program, sailed and measured many different boards, discussed it, wrote about it and obviously designed boards too. In around 2000 I sailed Starboard boards and ended up writing a lot on their forum. I wrote to Tor Backe who was with Starboard back then and simply asked for a deal where I could help out handling questions on their forum more formally in exchange for some gear. Surprisingly they thought it was a good suggestion and gradually I got more and more involved. Around 2010 I shaped a board for a friend that Scott McKercher ended up riding and liking a lot. So I was asked to shape some boards for the Morenos and Boujmaa. One of my shapes, a small quad, ended up in the production lineup. Later 2010 Simmer Style contacted me to ask if I was interested in shaping boards for their new board programme. I did some test boards for some of their team riders that they ended up liking a lot and after that started to work on the production program.
Outline your day:
with the family
A lot of my board design work, customer contacts etc is interwoven with my regular work at a university in the sense that I don't set aside particular days for this or that work. But I also have periods when I go on test trips etc and I will describe a day in such a period. For me, it is about juggling the many important aspects of life, and typically I try to involve my whole family in those trips instead of just going away alone. This particular day I will describe is from the past summer in Portugal.
We went to Portugal in out VW that we converted to a camper ourselves. It's a bit tight but we can live in it all five (me, my wife Gisela and our children Lisa, 2; Hedda, 6 and Sigge 10) also for extended periods of several weeks. We wake up, convert the car from sleeping mode to eating mode and make breakfast. In Portugal, the sailing is usually in the afternoon and evening, so after breakfast we might spend some time at the beach or me or Gisela might take Sigge or Hedda for a morning surf session.
Time for business
We are setting up a proto/custom workshop in Portugal together with Red Eyes Surfboards. Today we went there to pick up new boards, ready for testing. I was there to check it out a few times during production, but it is still always exciting to see how the final board turns out. I do all my shaping in the computer and it is important to check that the final product corresponds to the 3D computer shape. Since this was the first board Red Eyes built for us, we spent some time discussing how to proceed, what to change with the construction and production and so on.
In the afternoon the wind picked up and I rigged a 5.6. I very seldom use big sails like that, but this particular spots is a bit tricky at times and you need some extra power for mobility. Later the wind picked up some and I changed to a 5.0. Obviously I was pretty keen on testing the new board which was a variation of the Simmer FlyWave Quad 75 with some minute changes to the flow of the double concave and the flow of the rails around the front strap. During the session, I moved between the new board and an older proto that I know very well and I also went through three or four different fin setups and went in and adjusted fin position, mast foot position etc. This was only the first test of this particular shape but the conclusion of the day was that it seemed like the changes to the rail really did add some extra magic to the bottom turn entry, like intended. But it takes many session in different conditions to make sure are not a result of a particular wave or even something just in your head. In fact, once I have decided to design a particular style of board, I think it is rather easy to make a shape that lives up to the intention. But then, to (really) find out the limits of the board in different conditions, how different riders appreciate it and how it reacts to trim and so on takes a lot of time - like a whole year of both riding the board yourself in different conditions as well as collecting feedback from team riders, customers and other people that rides the board.
Testing time …
After sailing and packing the gear on the car, we made some coffee and played some cards with the kids for a while. Then we drove into Ericeira and checked out some surf stores and other shops before parking the car at a spot where we could potentially spend the night.
With the crew …
We went to a local restaurant in Ericeira with a playground outside. The kids went out to play after quickly eating their Bitoque (fries, a steak and a fried egg). Gisela and I had some fish soup and a bottle of wine. We played with the kids for an hour or so before going back to the car and putting Lisa to sleep. After reading for the bigger kids they also went to sleep. I spent some time over the computer, making some final adjustments on 209*57cm fish style wave board, soon to be built. After a "testing day" like this I never take any notes or so, but I spent a lot of time thinking about the session. When I sail I don't think very consciously about what my boards are doing, but just concentrate on sailing. But afterwords I recollect the session and specific instances when a board behaved in some particular way. I think about if other boards have done the same thing and try to find patterns between this particular behavior and some specific aspects of the shape of the boards. In a way, this mental side of the testing to me is the most important part of the board design process.