Naming something is a difficult business. And, you only get one shot. Sometimes, a name comes instantly as if it was always meant to be, whilst at other times the right name takes a little longer to reveal itself. Every model of surfboard that we design and make here at Otter Surfboards is given a name, and this is standard practice not just here but in almost any industry that produces something, be it surfboards, watches or cars.
It took us a while to find the right name for our latest model, a 7’10” “Sunset-style” single fin mini-gun inspired by those developed in Hawaii in the 1970s to successfully ride the powerful waves of Oahu’s North Shore. It needed a name that implied both speed and power. We spent a good bit of time over numerous tea breaks throwing ideas around, but none felt quite right. And then, as is often the case, tea provided the answer. Stacked up, at the back of the workshop, are a number of old tea chests that we use for storage. Tea chests stamped with their port of origin, from India, Kenya, and China. They made us think of the ships that originally raced to deliver tea from the East Indies to London in the middle third of the nineteenth century: the Tea Clippers.
“To sailors, three things made a ship a clipper. She must be sharp-lined, built for speed. She must be tall-sparred and carry the utmost spread of canvas. And she must use that sail, day and night, fair weather and foul.”
Named after the verb “clip” which historically meant to run or fly swiftly, clippers were fast square rigged sailing vessels with three masts. They were very narrow and incredibly fast, designed to “clip” over the waves as opposed to pushing through them. Every element of their design was concerned with achieving optimum speed, rather than cargo capacity or comfort. Internal space was given over to stowage for extra sails and accommodation for the crew required to handle them, and so they were limited to carrying low volume but high value cargoes such as tea, opium, spices, mail or passengers. Clippers raced each other to complete standard journeys in record times, competing to deliver the first cargo of a year’s tea harvest to London, and thus fetch the greatest price. To do so, they were sailed hard and few had lifespans exceeding twenty years. When other ships would reduce their sail area to weather a storm, clippers were known to push on regardless, and the last China clippers were the fastest commercial sailing vessels ever made. Despite their ability to deliver a cargo in the fastest possible time, the age of the clipper came to an end when they had to compete against steam ships that were not governed by the wind and could keep to a schedule, and which could utilise the newly built Suez Canal in 1869, compounded by the effects of an economic slump.
We thought that naming our latest offering, designed for fast, powerful waves, after the clippers of old seemed appropriate. When other surfers are under-gunned, the Clipper delivers the ability to keep going, getting in early and delivering the goods. And it’s nice to take inspiration from the old tea chests in the workshop, and to have finally drawn some direct inspiration from a humble cup of tea!