Photos by Jonee Wright
Houdini was the ultimate escape artist of his time, and it’s pretty obvious that this was the reasoning behind the naming of the Firewire Houdini; a board built with large, powerful barrels in mind, as well as the act of disappearing into those barrels and then escaping while still standing. So will the Firewire Houdini have you escaping the best barrels of your life, or will you suffer the same fate as the namesake with a fatal punch in the gut when you paddle out into some bombing lineup?
Anyone that’s ever surfed with me is probably asking themselves, why would Mattie be reviewing a board meant for big barrels? This is a great question, as anything a bit overhead makes me second guess whether or not to paddle out. I’m also far better at dodging barrels than I am getting into them (let alone getting out of them). Maybe you’re thinking this is going to be one of those magical stories where I jump on the Firewire Houdini only to discover it unlocked my deeply hidden barrel riding abilities, and now I make every barrel I pull into with it. While I wish that was the case, sadly, it’s not, and the Houdini has not made me any better of a barrel rider whatsoever. In fact, I have a completely different view of this board than maybe it was intended for, and believe it might resonate a little more with your average surfer who is realistic about their abilities (be honest with yourself, you’re probably not pulling into stand up barrels, and you’re definitely not getting spat out of them).
Some backstory to this board. It was not meant for me. I never once had the Firewire Houdini stand out to me as a board I wanted to acquire at some point. This board was originally ordered by Moment Surf Company team rider Tyler Cunningham (who does actually get in and out of stand up barrels on occasion), and it happened to arrive at Moment on a day I was chasing some phantom peak in Pacific City. I stopped by the shop after my session and ran into Tyler, who was swooning over his new stick, which was meant to be a step-off board for him in large, heavy beachbreak. He loved the feel of the board, but stated that it felt like it might be a little smaller than he had anticipated. I grabbed the 5’11” Houdini and it immediately felt great under the arm. It instantly gave me flashbacks to an old favorite step-up board that ultimately met its demise into 3 pieces from a single poorly timed drop, and was never replaced. Within seconds I knew this board was too small for Tyler, and knew it was only a matter of time before he’d hit me up to see if I wanted to try it.
Fast forward a month or so, just after the first big swell of the season, and sure enough, I get a phone call from Tyler asking if I wanted to try that board, that it just felt a little too small for him. Perfect!
My outlook on step up boards has changed a lot over the years. I used to see them as boards only to break out when the surf was huge and when I wasn’t really sure I even wanted to be out there. Now, I think of them as a little extra foam, with more paddle power, and just something to help me out when it’s slightly bigger, or there is a lot of water moving around and you have to paddle a lot. The extra few inches of length and a bit more width and thickness make all the difference between catching more waves, or spending a whole session getting only a few and barely scraping into them.
I’ve admittedly only had a handful of sessions on the Houdini, but it has been a great experience for the waves I’ve caught. It felt right at home on some overhead beachbreak, and it made a questionable session much more enjoyable as I was able to catch waves earlier than I would with my normal shortboard. The waves weren’t super heavy, but it was a decent swell with a longer period, and most everyone that paddled out with me was struggling to get into waves. Once up, the board feels like a stiffer version of my normal shortboard. It doesn’t feel overly stiff, but you’re not going to be sliding the tail out with the Houdini anytime soon. It engages the rail solidly and pushes through turns and cutbacks easily, and I can imagine that if you were in a barrel, it would hold its line extremely well. On a couple critical late drops, it pushed through a bottom turn with ease, whereas my normal board would have struggled to hold onto my rail.
The board came with Futures plugs, which was perfect for me since I own about 20 pairs of FCS II fins (insert eyeroll emoji)! I ended up going with the Futures WCT thruster fins as my fin setup (I’m not much of a quad guy). It seems like it’s fine, but I have nothing to compare it to either, so that might not be the best fin setup. I would recommend experimenting if you can.
The bottom concave is a single to double that moves to a slight vee off the tail, which is probably why it doesn’t feel too stiff for normal people waves, so that’s nice. The rails are tapered and very performance oriented which is what you’d want for critical waves, but it does have some foam stacked up under the chest which gives it that paddle power that you instantly notice. My standard shortboard is a 5’7”, and at 5’11” the Houdini paddles significantly better. However I’m still able to get it under any wave I would be able to duckdive on my shortboard, which is great.
It’s built in Firewire’s LFT construction which is supposed to be lightweight and strong. The board actually doesn’t feel ultralight, which is a great thing in my opinion, as I don’t think you want a super lightweight board for bigger or more powerful surf. There is an aerospace composite “stringer” of sorts that runs down the centerline of the board giving the board the majority of it’s strength, and also giving the board the optimal amount of flex. I’ve ridden a fair share of epoxy boards, and they almost never feel quite right, however most of the LFT boards I’ve tried feel good to the point of not minding any difference to a polyester board, and this one is no different.
Firewire’s website brags about this board being under Kelly Slater’s feet during the 2019 WSL season (a year he finished 8th with zero wins, so I’m not sure how big of a brag that is), and performing in big surf at Pipe and Margaret River. I always chuckle when I read things like that. Cool, the arguable GOAT of surfing road this well in big surf, just like he’d also probably ride a door well. As if that fact is going to translate to 99% of surfers out there. But I’m here to say while it absolutely won’t help you become that barrel charging monster that you dream of being (that’s on you, not some surfboard’s job), it sure as hell will make those bigger or more powerful days a little more enjoyable and more surfable.