Oct 19, 2017

4GF ''Transition Era'' Mat

Ian J. wrote the other day, and it triggered an interesting memory...

"Hi Paul,

I'm hoping that you and Gloria and the family are doing well. We're getting ready to leave Tasmania and head back to Ireland and add a new addition to the family along the way - exciting times.

I was lucky in the last week to pick up something rather special. It's an older 4GF and though others have thrown in their two-dimes with estimates of its vintage and design characteristics I thought it would be best to go direct and ask the guy who built the thing! Attached are some photos - if there's anything else you'd like to ask me in order to clarify specifics let me know.

What's the story behind this 4GF Surfmat?!

I would ID this mat as a 2007 vintage. This was a fertile window of time, design-wise. 

We had been building essentially the same mat for over 20 plus years...a Standard model, with a gripped deck.
The thin nylon tops we were using were just something we accepted as a necessary evil. They were floppy and unstable, especially at low inflation levels. And the grip was either/or. You either stuck, or you didn't. Takeoffs required a "hop" to pull yourself onto the deck, and if you landed in the wrong spot, it took half the ride to get re-situated.

With the old canvas mats, you had enough grip to stay on, but you could slide forward easily on takeoff. You could also move around on the deck during the ride. The stability of the firmer deck helped with that as well..

Of course, the all-canvas Hodgmans or Merrins were comfortable to be on, but a complete horror to surf by modern standards. What was once state-of-the-art in the 60's and 70-'s was now crap.

Around 2006, at George's urging, I built a couple of nylon mats with an entire sheet of canvas bonded to the thin deck. While they were fun to be on, they were insanely stiff, and performance suffered.

The next step forward was to bond as much canvas to the deck as possible, without interfering with the performance. The result was the run of mats like the one Ian found...

These were good mats...the best we had generated up until that point. The performance was good, and the grip was almost perfect.

Key word: almost.

We started looking around for canvas that was compatible with the nylon I-beam and bottom fabric. After a bit of research, I found what we were looking for, and started a run of mats in early 2009 that continues today. For a short while, we called them the "Black and Blue" series...

Our initial impression was that they were good, but not perfect. Over time, we learned how to manipulate the fabric to gain a bit more grip and enhance performance -- grinding the decks and applying hot wax to be specific.

There is a break-in period with canvas-decked mats. 4GF mats perform better with age, as the fabric gets a touch looser.

What's interesting is that mats that start out a little too stiff, then break-in with use, are better than mats that are loose to begin with (IMO). The stiffer mats break-in in the areas of the deck that bend and flex, and thus ''need'' to break in. The passive areas stay firmer. (Should we have called them "SmartDecks"?)

We continue to tweak our mat designs to get the most out of the new deck material. The return to canvas decks also allowed our design range to expand, because larger mats like the XL and UDT were more feasible with a stable deck to hold the rider in place without overly distorting the deck.

Another benefit of canvas is that it can be ridden comfortably with or without a wetsuit...like in the olden days.

And surfing critters appreciate the stability...

Of course, deck configuration is a matter of personal preference among experience mat riders, and reasonable people can and do disagree. This is merely a little essay about the evolution of 4GF design.

In any case, Ian, you have a slice of 4GF history!


Geoffrey Levens said...

I always have preferred the old add on Vulcan caulk, the black rubbery stuff (applied in narrow bands and stippled with an old toothbrush or similar). A bit of practice and I almost never landed in the wrong spot even in late take-offs on stand-up overhead waves (It's always overhead on a mat!!!) I found that with canvas, even waxed, I could get knocked well out of position on the mat by hard lip pounding but with the Vulcan, a fair percentage of the time, that same lip impact would just translate through my body into acceleration down and around the section.

Obviously, different strokes for different stokes for different folks. ;)

Anonymous said...

Yea,those were better!

Unknown said...

Thanks Paul. Great stuff.

Dan said...

Was hoping for an explanation like this when Ian posted that mat on Instagram.

I'd like to experiment with a little more grip one of these days. I spend a lot of time pulling myself back onto my mat after a tough drop. That said, one of my favorite things in the world is coming off my mat after a messy drop, pulling myself back on, and then shooting out of the foam to salvage a ride on a wave I never shoulda gone for.

thekraftpack said...

Cool find. Used mats are rare indeed! Stoked!