Innovation Session: Recycling A Broken Surfboard – Part 4 – Review

This is part 4 of a 4 part series – you can read the rest here:

After I finished painting the board I dropped it off at Sunset Shapers in San Francisco to get glassed. It was winter, the busy season in those parts, when big winter waves broke boards and drove demand for new ones, so I figured it would be a while until I eventually got it back. I wasn’t in much of a hurry anyhow.

A few weeks later while browsing Surfline I noticed my surfboard had made the weekly social media roundup. It was sitting next to a Tomo creation, nonetheless, which made it even cooler. Daniel Thomson, founder of Tomo surfboards, is a (much, much, much better than me) shaper that I really respect and who I had met a few times while working on SurfScience.com. He really pushes the boundaries of what is possible and backs it up with amazing surfing – to have my experiment share a page with his as ‘look at these weird things’ felt like an honor.

That picture let me know the board was in progress, the fin boxes were in and it looked like he was getting ready to glass the bottom. You can see that I decided to go with a twin fin design with the fins really close to the edge and just a slight angle.

A bit after that I saw another post on Sunset Shapers’ instagram feed and new my board was ready.

I brought the board home, put on a nice coat of wax and took some pictures to marvel at the finished work.

Here is the finished board sitting next to its other half. This pictures makes it pretty obvious how much I shaved off of the back of the rails in order to get a decent outline.

Finally, a nod to the movie that inspired the board – Back to the Future.

As a project I am really happy with how it turned out, the board looks cool, generated a good amount of attention while being built and always draws comments at the beach. If all I do is have it on the wall as an art piece, it was a worthwhile project.

But, it is a surfboard, so I’ve got to try and ride it.

Part of the reason this review took four years to write is because it took me a long time to find the right conditions for the board and get a few solid surf sessions in so I could actually figure it out. Here are my thoughts.

How It Surfs

All said and done the board measures in at 4’3″. That is over a foot shorter than my next shortest board which measure in at 5’6″. I pride myself in being able to ride all sorts of surfboards, from that 5’6″ slop chaser to my 10’6″ Mavericks Gun. I ride shortboards, longboards, retro boards and anything else I can find – so I figured I could make this board work.

I eventually did, but faced three big issues:

The Bad

1. It paddles horribly

There is very little foam to begin with, so it sits completely under water. There is almost no rocker (the curve from the front to the back of the board) so it has a tendency to dive. It is short so it doesn’t carry momentum like a longboard does. It is so small that it is really hard to position your body on and it isn’t convenient to grab a rail with your hands between strokes to help stabilize it.

I’ve surfed on a piece of wood before and paddling this was a comparable level of difficulty.

I tried various methods, starting with attempting to paddle it like a normal board, then trying to use it like a kick board. At one point I gave up and just walked out most of the way while carrying it under an arm. I eventually settled something that is more like swimming with the board under my chest and readjusting it every 4th or 5th stroke. It isn’t exactly easy, but it sort of works.

I tried a lot of different waves and found that I needed really glassy and kind of steep waves, but it was ok if they were small. Chop would kill attempts to catch waves because there wasn’t enough board to cut through it. Mushy and slow waves just weren’t catchable, there wasn’t enough power in them and I couldn’t generate the power to compensate through paddling. My favorite day on this board ended up being a low tide beach break on a glassy winter day in Southern California when the waves were 2-3 ft. They were pitching enough they’d give some kick to help me get up and breaking down the line to give me a nice place to sit while I rode.

I ended up having my best luck getting right to where the wave broke and using that force to get me up to speed. I actually had really good luck using a move where I applied my weight to the board to get it to sink and then used the rebound to get some speed before doing two quick paddles as the wave broke.

2. The fulcrum is really far forward

Once I caught the wave I had to try and stand up. I didn’t have much luck with this at first and ended up riding a lot of waves on my belly or front knee. It seemed like maybe this board was better as a hard bodyboard or kneeboard.

On a surfboard you achieve balance by identifying the fulcrum point and having your weight distributed evenly in front and behind it. If you aren’t balanced you’ll either nose dive or stall back. This takes some time to get good at while paddling but the real trick is keeping balanced as you transition from lying to standing. Having surfed for 20+ years, I can pop up quickly while staying balanced practically in my sleep. I push up and my feet end up in position with the fulcrum located about where my hips were previously.

The trouble was the back of the board was so far forward that my normal pop up was leaving my back foot off of the board entirely, causing me to fall back into the water. Even when I managed to get it on the surfboard, my weight was usually so far back, relative to the surfboard’s length that it pushed the nose up and caused the surfboard to act like a giant brake. Then I’d lose momentum and the wave.

It turns out what I needed to do was to get my feet spread out and up closer to where my chest had been. If this doesn’t seem tough, practice at home, lay down and up a piece paper under your chest. Now push up and in one move bring your feet onto that piece of paper while remaining balanced.

After a lot of practice I was able to get up consistently.

3. Steering and maneuvering is very different

I’ve surfed an alaia before, which is basically a big flat piece of wood that is rounded at the front. Steering this wasn’t quite that difficult, but maybe half way between the difficulty of that and a normal board.

I chose to go with two fin boxes and got a few sets of fins to test out including two nubs, like the ones pictured below, two small fins from a quad setup and two of the larger fins from a quad setup.

My first tests I used the smaller fins from the quad setup. You can see from the picture that even those stuck out beyond the back of the board due to where I placed the boxes. That meant that my knees or feet would periodically hit them when paddling, going to sit on the board or even popping up. Though these fins offered more control, the puncture risk seemed too high to continue to use them.

The nubs were actually what I had in mind when I designed the board. The originally Simmons boards had much longer and sweeping fins dropped from the top straight to the base as opposed to cutting back like a shark’s fin. They don’t give as much hold, but seem more true to the spirit of the board.

Once up on a wave, leaning over and applying pressure to make turns isn’t really doable. The rails aren’t very curved, so you can’t get a nice arc off of them. The board is likely to spin out if you push very hard at all because the fins don’t have much hold and the board is so short. You also don’t have much surface area to rely on to cary you over the water because the bottom is so small. You also don’t have much foam to re-catch the wave if you make a quick pivot like you would on a log. So basically all of the normal turning options don’t work well.

I found that I had the best luck crouching and taking very slow & wide turns, much like those on a displacement hull. A better surfer might have better luck. I’m reminded of Ryan Burch surfing an unglassed piece of foam in head high waves – though even that was 4’10”, which gave a bit more float and carry.

The Good

All of that said, this isn’t a very good surfboard. At best it is a novelty.

Not all boards need to be good though. Sometimes what I’m looking for is the best board for the day, but other times I’m just looking to have fun.

I’ve got a few novelty boards – retro, slop-chasers, soft tops and black ball beaters. None of them are the boards you take out on a perfect day, but all of them help add some stoke to your year by letting you get out the water and have fun on a day you might otherwise not.

What I liked about this board is that it felt like it could be the center of a fun day at a beach break. It could sort of be surfed, enough that it felt like surfing, and it was so skatey that if I practice enough I might even be able to pull off some cool spins. But it could also be ridden prone. It was a great board for hunting 2′ close out barrel because there wasn’t much board to worry about breaking. It could even work as a knee board. It put me close to the waves in a different way and changed things up. Sometimes changing up the conditions is a great way to get out of a rut or to open up a new door. This board seemed perfect for that.

Shoot, give me a few friends with a soft top, a hand plane and some fins and we might even have a really great group session, trading back and forth and just enjoying the water. What more can you ask for?

Innovation Session: My Fantasy Football Auction Draft – Retrospective Part 2

This is the third post in a series about my fantasy football auction strategy.

I first wrote about the strategy here.

Then after the season I started with part 1 of the retrospective.

In this final post I have a few other thoughts that I’ll share.

The Importance of the Draft

Below are the positions each team ended in and the difference between their expected and actual results.

draft-skew-vs-end-result

We can see that in general, teams that predicted well on draft day performed well in the season. The r squared for the linear trend line here is .63 which means that for my seasons we can contribute about 63% of the final results to draft performance.

What accounts for the other 37%?

I would simplify the decision types in fantasy football by describing three.

  1. Draft day – who you predict will perform well
  2. In-season transactions; waiver wire, free agency & trades – the adjustments you make to your team
  3. Coaching – who you start and sit each week

Improper Optimization

Looking back at my draft I realize that I optimized for a scenario where the draft accounted for >90% of the final results. I assumed a greater level of predictability than was possible and minimized the importance of in-season transactions. I also created a coaching nightmare for myself.

In Season Transactions

Thinking about in-season transactions, it is important to understand how many players went undrafted but ended up being extremely valuable. In fact of the $1,945 of actual skill player value my league saw, only $1,553 was drafted. About 75%.

Knowing this we can see that trying to draft a team with a lot of mid level talent can actually be detrimental. Lets think back to my scenario where some teams drafted 10s & 1s, while I tried to draft only 6s & 7s. We now know that 25% of the value of the season had yet to be discovered. Many of those were 5-7s though Knowshon Moreno was arguably a 9. On my team of 6s & 7s I had a hard time acting on the emerging talent because it meant giving up an equal player from my team. Another teams with some 1s however would have easily given up those duds for a mid level prospect.

The pre-draft % of money spent I had allocated to starters was 90% of my budget. Next year I’m going to consider spending all of my money on 70-80% of my team, knowing that I’ll have a few duds in there for the first weeks, hopefully to be quickly dropped for emerging talent.

Final Thoughts

All of the above analysis optimized for regular season performance. Unfortunately, fantasy football, like real football isn’t all about the regular season. On Sunday we saw how a team with a great regular season performance could blow it in the championships. The same happened in our fantasy league. The team that crushed it all season lost in the finals.

So as I think about a strategy for next season, that is one more factor to take into account.

Innovation Session: My Fantasy Football Auction Draft – Retrospective

Last August, before fantasy football season started, I came up with a strategy to approach the auction draft my work league was having. My season is now over, I didn’t make the playoffs, so I want to take a look back at that strategy to see what I can learn. The important part of this analysis is figuring out how much of my poor performance I should attribute to my draft strategy and how much to other factors.

Streaming Defenses & Kickers

The first thing I want to evaluate is my decision to ignore defenses & kickers in the draft. I instead focused my draft strategy around skill players; QB, RB, WR & TE. I did this because I planned to employ a method called streaming. This involves picking up and playing people based on their match-up each week instead of relying on one team.

Over the 13 week season I played 8 different defenses. My total score for defenses was 281.6, an average of 21.6 points per week. (FYI – We have crazy defensive scoring) That would be the #10 ranking defense in the league – after accounting for bye weeks. The #2 defense averaged 24.97 points per week though, so the difference is negligible.

Going forward, I’ll continue to stream defenses. As I get better at it I might even be able to beat single team scores, I noticed that most weeks one of the top three highest scoring teams was available. The maximum possible streaming score was much higher than the maximum possible single team score.

Over the same 13 weeks I played 6 kickers. My total score was 85 which would be the #28 ranking kicker. There were only 6 that did worse. This clearly wasn’t the right way to go. However, the difference between my score and the first place kicker was 4.5 points per week so this isn’t horrible, but certainly didn’t help.

I think next year, I’ll avoid streaming and instead focus on grabbing a kicker from a high scoring team and sticking with them. That seems to pay off more and offer more predictability.

Auction Draft Strategy

Now that I have some insight into my decision about drafting for the D & K positions I can evaluate my approach to drafting skill players.

The strategy I employed was to optimize for value. I wanted to get the most points for each fake dollar I spent. I based this strategy on the idea that players are interchangeable commodities and that it was better to avoid hyped and price inflated stars and to instead grab people that were undervalued. I had hoped that most teams would draft a few stars and then only have enough money remaining to scrape the bottom of the barrel, leaving me to grab a team full of upper-middle tier players.

To state this mathematically, I thought most teams would consist of 10s & 1s, for an average around 5-6, while I’d have a lot of 6s & 7s, for an average of 6-7, thus a slightly better team overall.

Predicting Production

To figure out value I used some projections that football experts had put together about how many points each player would score during the season.

After the draft I evaluated my team based on the projections I used. I compared what was paid in the auction with the pre-draft valuations I was working off of. It looked like I had crushed it. In the table below, positive numbers represent overpaying and negative numbers represent underpaying.

pre-season-evaluation

I had gotten 25% (~$50 of $200) more team than I should have and if my numbers were right that should have resulted in an awesome team.

The major flaw in this system is that it is heavily dependent on the accuracy of the projections I used. In a world where those were mostly correct, I would have fared well. Reality however is very hard to predict.

Actual Production

Now that the regular season is over and I have actual point values, I reevaluated the draft using the actual production of players rather than their projected stats. The second column compares the price paid by each team with their actual season production.

post-season-evaluation

It turns out that my draft was basically a waste – $150 of the $200 fake money I spent did not help me. I of course generally knew this, having suffered through the season, but it is interesting to see the exact figures.

What Went Wrong?

I would love a simple explanation.  To be able to say that based on those results, my draft strategy didn’t work and I should not try it again. Unfortunately, a single season of football doesn’t have enough data to evaluate a strategy to an acceptable level of significance.

Fantasy football has the rare ability combine a low sample size with high variability. Football is contact sport that creates often unpredictable injuries & this season was particularly injury heavy, especially for high profile skill players. Injuries can and do happen to anyone.

Thinking About Risk

This leaves me speculating whether the players I drafted were available for value because people knew they would get injured or if I just got a run of bad luck.

Qualitatively I can see in retrospect that I had a risk heavy team:

  • Rob Gronkowski – Started the season injured and missed the first half
  • Darren McFadden – Has been injured every year of his career
  • Steven Jackson – A RB over the age of 30
  • Roddy White – Missed pre-season games due to an ankle injury
  • Dwayne Bowe – New QB & coach & no pre-season indications of heavy use

Often predictions will take this into account, but the consensus stats I used were only concerned with averages, not standard deviation. In the future I would be wise to account for that as well, and probably to come up with a few additional risk factors to account for. When drafting, risk is a fine thing, as long as it is balanced with some stability.

Risk By Position

As I think about risk, one factor that I have data on now is risk by position. We can take a look at this season and see how each position played out.

The chart below shows skill positions and how the drafted players in my league on average lived up to pre-season expectations.

skew-by-position

We can see that RBs & QBs really dropped the ball this year. Of course, this won’t come as any surprise to anyone that drafted CJ Spiller, Ray Rice, Doug Martin, Trent Richardson or Arian Foster. In fact, Matt Forte & Demarco Murray were the only RBs, of the 24 with the highest draft price in my league, that performed better than their draft price would indicate.

Meanwhile TE was a gold mine. On average every dollar spent there paid handsomely. Especially Jimmy Graham.

I need a few more seasons of data to see if these are conclusive results. But, common fantasy football knowledge defends that RBs are more injury prone though which turned out to be true this year. If that remains true, what it means for future seasons is that drafting high on WRs will have more lasting value on average. RBs will always be available on the waiver wire as the season progresses and injuries occur.

Risk by Team

I also plotted the difference in actual to expected performance by team to see if there were any trends there.

skew-by-team

The two that panned out the worst were Buffalo & Atlanta. Buffalo because of CJ Spiller who was the only drafted player. Atlanta because of the complete meltdown that team saw including injuries of Roddy White, Julio Jones & Steven Jackson (which resulted in a poor season for Matt Ryan).

From what I can tell, looking at a player’s team isn’t a great indicator of success. Neither the team’s win/loss record or their improvement over expectations seems strongly correlated with the success of the fantasy players on the team. Examples include Denver who was an early favorite, but has done even better than expected, Cleveland who is 4-8, but has had a few players pan out, and finally Kansas City who has turned their team from #32 to #2, but not to the benefit of many fantasy owners.

Methodology Criticisms

The methodology I used to do this analysis has some flaws that are worth noting. I made the trade off of using a less rich analysis so that I could complete it faster.

The figures I analyzed are based off of the total points a player scored during the season. I have not taken into account the week to week scores. This creates a few edge cases and masks the true value of certain individuals. For example, players that performed well up until an injury will appear undervalued and players that were inconsistent might appear overvalued.

Thinking about injuries, Aaron Rodgers for example had a great season through week 8. He sustained an injury in week 9 and hasn’t played since. In reality he would have been a fine QB with high value during the first 8 games. I have yet to take this into account and it is worth noting in future analysis.

Looking at consistency, a player like Dwane Bowe who was likely overvalued in my analysis. In Bowe’s first five weeks he scored; 3, 11.6, 0.4, 11.8, 3.5. That level of variance was incredibly frustrating for a fantasy player. In my analysis I would have valued him the same as a player that got 6 points every week. In reality they are much different. In the future I would like to take this into account. (This might value RBs a bit higher as they tend to be more consistent where as WRs can see high variance due to big plays and TDs.

This year I based my projected values strictly off of projected points, optimizing for maximum points throughout the season. Knowing what I know now, next year I want to incorporate more with consistency ratings. I have realized that the worst thing is not a low scoring player, but a player who brings high and low scores at unpredictable times.

Continue reading my analysis in part 2 here.