Curtis Hesselgrave was born and raised in Nyack, N.Y., on the Hudson River. Hesselgrave briefly attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn before finding work as a lab assistant at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. He spent seven months at sea with researchers who were documenting the theory of plate tectonics. By age 20, he’d been around the world.
A personal turning point came when he was befriended by Ray Hicks, a NASA aeronautical engineer, who trained Hesselgrave in the fundamentals of science. At age 22, he moved to Laguna Beach and quickly discovered surfing.
In 1971, he fell into a job working for Mike Hynson’s Rainbow Surfboard Co. A year later, he was hired by Bill Bahne of Fins Unlimited, whose adjustable fin-box systems for longboards would become the industry standard.
While always hovering around the surfing industry, Hesselgrave explored some side roads, too. He spent years in the skateboarding industry as a magazine writer for SkateBoarder magazine and promoter of the sport.
Designing the now-defunct Del Mar Skateboard Ranch helped him realize his talent for engineering. The park was actually designed by IPS (Inouye’s Pool Service) staffers Tom Inouye, Chris Strople and Curtis Hesselgrave
By 1982, skateboarding as we knew it, mainly pool riding had died and Curtis Hesselgrave started manufacturing surfboard fins at his own shop in Escondido.
At the end of the decade, he was swept up in the windsurfing craze. He designed fins that in 1990 helped sailboarder Pascal Maka set the world speed record for sail-powered craft at 43.6 knots (50.2 mph).
The fins Hesselgrave designed for windsurfing came in handy during the late 1990s, when tow-in surfers complained of having trouble turning their boards in waves over 30 feet.
Working with Hawaii’s Laird Hamilton, he designed fins for a tow-in board that were slightly concave on the inside surface, a feature that increases stability at high speeds. It evolved into a four-fin board that became a breakthrough.
“This has enabled modern tow-in surfing (where surfers are towed into waves by partners on personal watercraft) to become what it has become,” Hesselgrave said. “Fins were a huge part of building the bridge to that new frontier of surfing.”
This fall he left Future Systems, a Huntington Beach-based fin company, to rejoin his longtime friends Bill and Bob Bahne at Fins Unlimited in Encinitas.
The company recently acquired a computer-driven milling machine that can make sophisticated fins at high volume. Hesselgrave adores it. He can design a three-dimensional fin on his laptop computer and the machine will make a precise copy.
His current experimentation were exploring how flex in fins stored and released energy. Template, foil and flex are the three controlling factors that determine how a fin performs, he said.
“Flex is the least understood design component in all of this,” he said.
Looking to the future, he envisioned advanced designs that would speed up classic longboards by 20 to 30 percent.
“We’re not done, not at all,” he said. “Surfing is still a neolithic culture. We’re still in the new stone age. We haven’t reached the Bronze Age yet.”
Curtis Hesselgrave died yesterday and it’s a big loss for skateboarding. R.I.P. Curtis Hesselgrave.
Her is one of Curtis Hesselgrave in SkateBoarder Magazine:
(From SKATEBOARDER Magazine, Vol. 3, No. 2)
RELAXATION IS THE KEY
By Curtis Hesselgrave
“One of the most important parts of performance skateboarding is relaxation. From the beginner to the most seasoned pro, keeping the body in a relaxed condition is totally beneficial. (Like, totally.)
The type of relaxation referred to is not when you feel like jelly, or the complete letting go that you do when you sleep. What we mean is a living, dynamic state in which your body works at maximum efficiency. The reason relaxation permits maximum efficiency is that only the muscles that are needed to perform the action used, and the rest of the muscles are allowed rest and conserve strength. This permits greater blood flow to the relaxing muscles so that when they are called upon to work, they have maximum strength.
Here is an example of how much more difficult it is to perform action when you are tense. First, stiffen all the muscles in your arm and pick your skateboard up by the tail so that the board stays parallel to the ground. You will notice that it is difficult to move and lift when all the muscles are stiff. It is as if the body were fighting itself. Second, let your arm relax completely so that you can feel, when you stretch it out in front of you, that the weight seems to be all on the underside of your arm. Now lift the skateboard the same way. Pick it up by the tail, keeping it parallel to the ground. This time it should feel very easy to move in any direction, and that lifting seems easy and the board seems lighter.
These examples show the two extremes between stiff and relaxed. Naturally from this test you can see that it is easier to perform any action when you are relaxed. Yet it is surprising how often people tense up before they start a maneuver.
Now let’s use an example from skating. We will begin with one of the most basic of maneuvers: a simple “S” turn. Get on your board on a flat surface, give yourself a couple of pushes, put your arms out and stiffen all your muscles. With all muscles stiff, do a simple “S” turn. (a right turn, then left turn.) You will probably notice that you look and feel pretty funny, and also it is very difficult to be sensitive to the board and the flow of the turns. Begin again, and this time before you push off, shake your body lightly up and down (by bending your knees) so that all the muscles get loosened up. Then push off, and maintaining a relaxed feeling with arms outstretched, make the “S” turn again. This time you will feel all the sensitivity of the board very clearly, and the flow of the turns will be smooth and easy.
Progressing to more difficult maneuvers, we will look at bank kickturns. As you begin to go up the bank, stiffen your muscles so that your body is fairly rigid. You will find that it is more difficult to find the proper time to begin your turn, and that it is much more difficult to keep balance properly. As you begin to go up the bank on the second try, let your body feel like water, and very fluid. Feel that the weight is on the underside of your arms, and your weight is over the board. This time it will be easy to get the timing on the kickturn, and your balance will flow right through the maneuver.
It is a good idea to try these tests a few times, even though they might seen simple and obvious. The reason is that it is a good idea to consciously make extreme examples for yourself so that you can really feel the difference. If you train yourself to understand what your body is really doing when you perform maneuvers, you will be able to correct many of the problems your have. This holds true not only for maneuvers you already know how to do, but when you are learning new tricks, it really helps to figure out the right way to do them.
Learning new tricks is especially difficult if you are hold some part of your body stiff as you are trying to get the hang of the trick. It is just like when you are trying to do the “S” turn example when your body is stiff like a board. It is difficult to feel the sensitivity in the board and your body, therefore it takes you longer to learn the trick. So remember when you are learning new moves or perfecting old ones, let your body relax and flow.
Safety in skateboarding comes from being on control at all times, control comes from diligent practice, practice produces familiarity with the moves and relaxation. If you begin your skating consciously thinking of relaxing, you will achieve control much more quickly in all you do, so stay loose, stay relaxed and skate safe.”