Monday, July 21, 2014

Join the Retro Alternative Revolution!

My last post discussed the idea of embracing some of the classic shapes of surfing's history.  I mentioned that I have been riding some of the early 1970s transition shapes--in particular, a Bing Glass Slipper and a G&S Little Gypsy.  These boards were the precursor to the shortboard revolution, way before everyone thought they needed a potato chip board because that is what the pros were riding, but also a precursor to the current "alternative" board revolution.  It is the latter movement in the surf industry that I find so interesting.  For decades the idea was to go not only shorter, but smaller in overall volume--thin in the rails and narrow in outline.  This peaked in the 90s with boards becoming tiny and everyone thinking they could ride them because we saw the pros ripping up the best waves in the world on these boards.  But for most of us, we don't surf like the pros nor do we surf the waves they surf.  Something had to change so that the average surfer could enjoy surfing again.  I don't know about you, but paddling around on a sub-6 foot board that barely floats my aging body is simply not fun.  Nor is it fun to sit on the beach and watch the kids that have so much potential flounder around in the water because they too want to surf the smallest board possible when in fact, they simply aren't ready for those board. 

That change began with the rise of the "alternative" board revolution.  The ideas was to create a board for those of us that didn't want a longboard, but still needed more float than the typical ASP surfer's board.  A board that remained short but was wide and fat.  A board that had the float and paddle power for us average surfers to glide on those small, mushy days or get in a bit earlier when things got bigger. Every board company now has an alternative board list or a summer board list, but of course this has also gotten to be a bit out of control.  Instead of telling your average surfer (both in size and ability) to grab a nice alternative shape with dimensions like 6'2" x 22" x 3", the industry started pushing this guy/gal to grab a 5'8" or a 5'6"; again, taking a good thing and going too far with it. Now don't get me wrong, there are guys/gals that can rip on these boards.  But many of those tearing it up on a 5'8" aren't your average surfer.  So what are the rest of us to do? 

What we need is a revolution that truly pays homage to the early transition board era, a revolution that captures the boards of the early 1970s, with their fat, wide and relatively short outlines. Take the Bing Glass Slipper that I rode (pictured above). That board is 6'2" x 21" x 3 1/2"! Yeah, it is FAT to say the least.  But you know what, it works!  The first day I rode it one of my buddies looked at me after I just took on to the beach and said, "You gotta get one of those."  And he was right. 

So Matador set out to help in a retro alternative board revolution (a new phrase that I think best captures what these shapes should be) by creating the Right Coast Rocket (pictured here). The Rocket takes many of its cues from those classic late 60s and early 70s transition boards while infusing the design with some modern materials and other tweaks.  Let's start with the wide, thick outline and a center point pushed forward.  The dimensions on this board are 6'5" x 3 1/4" x 22".  Now many of our stock boards are not quite os thick (I had this board custom shaped to really mimic the old transition boards), but they remain big, usually around 22" and close to 3" thick.  It is a big board with loads of volume.  But I don't understand why so many people see this as a drawback.  The problem with many of those shortboard shapes is they don't provide the paddle power or speed that many of us need because we simply can't produce it on our own. The Rocket gives you the ability to paddle easily, pick up waves early and blast through those flat spots.  It is just plain fast down the line, but that great top to bottom flow that exudes style. The diamond tail gives a little more bite, and in the stock board we have added a couple of little buddies on the side to help with hold and drive.  This adds a bit more versatility to the bard so that it can run in knee high summer slop while still holding in those head high waves.  But it accomplishes this versatility without being completely over the top like many of the modern alternative boards. 

I have always wondered why anyone would need a five-fin setup in a short, wide, fat board.  This seems to fly in the face of history and what works in this style board.  Why not stick with what has always worked and keep the option of a single fin.  In fact, I prefer mine as a straight single fin to give it more of a classic feel.  So even if you want the versatility of side bites, don't be afraid to go classic and run it with just that big fin down the middle. Besides, there is something stylish about running a single fin (or at least that is how I feel when riding one).  To me it seems like a thruster should be ridden in anger, but a single fin should be ridden with a smooth, fluid style.  This is not to say that a single fin can't tear into a wave, pull that big floater or the fin out the back.  In fact, it can do all this and do it with style! One only need to watch the classic videos of Buttons, Bertlemann, and the other greats of the 70s to realize that.  But I have always felt that a single fin had a more fluid feel to it than a thruster or even a quad, which is where it gets all its style. 

In the end, if you are looking for a great board for smaller waves think retro--retro alternative like the Right Coast Rocket.  But don't be afraid to take it out on that head high day either.  It will get you in early, make that steep drop, and hold your line better than most boards.  In short, think single fin for that smooth classic ride.  This shape just goes--top to bottom, rail to rail, it is one of the best boards I have ridden.  With its speed and drive, it will allow you to take your surfing to the next level and pull all the big sweeping cutbacks, fantastic floater and vertical off the lips that you want.  So if you love those classic shapes, join the retro alternative revolution.  And remember, surf for fun! 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Embrace Those Classic Shapes

Seems like this winter will never end.  Snow storms, water temps hovering around 35 degrees and some great waves.  I can do without the first two characteristics of winter but the last is what Jersey surfers wait for.  The tough part about winter waves is the beating that you often take seeking that hollow tube or trying to make that overhead air drop.  So I thought this is a good time to talk about a classic board shape that most of today's surfers have a tendency to overlook.  It is inspired by the Ben Aipa "stinger" shape, with a swallowtail and wings cut-in about 1/3 of the way up the board.  It is also a single fin with lots of volume up front--this board is simply a classic.

I have recently become enamored with early to mid-1970s surfboard design that created what is often referred to as transition boards.  I recently rode a 1970 Bing Glass Slipper that was a blast and from there I was hooked.  (More on this board in a future post, since Matador is creating a similar shape that will be ready to order for this summer.) The Aipa Stinger comes about a little later (mid-1970s) but it was a transformative board because of both its design and its riders.  Think Larry Bertlemann, Buttons Kaluhiokalani, and Michael Ho--surfers that redefined style for the entire surf industry.  I still love watching the old videos of these guys, dragging their hand along the wave, feet tucked close together, and absolutely ripping.  Now I can't take the Matador Gringo (pictured above) to the level of these guys, or anything even closely resembling it, but it does make my winter surf sessions that much more enjoyable.

Let's look at some of the key design features. First, the forward volume gives you the ease of paddling. If you haven't noticed yet, this is a must in almost all my boards.  If you can't catch the wave, you can't surf the wave and when things get steep and nasty on a Jersey winter day this feature is absolutely key. And I know that I have said this before but don't be afraid of going bigger!  The picture below is a little pre-winter session on a smaller Gringo.  It was a great board but then the owner of Matador put me on the one pictured above (6'10"x22"x2 7/8") and it was fabulous.  I got into every wave early, quick down the line and the board just kept gliding.  Doesn't matter if it is thigh high or overhead, the board just goes.  Second, you have the winged tail that makes for those quick maneuverable turns that you see Bertelmann and others performing.  Loose but smooth seems to be what this tail gives its rider.  Add to that a single fin with the swallowtail and the board just oozes style.  I am sure I don't look as cool as I feel, but damn if I don't just feel more stylish when on this board.

This board doesn't ride like your modern thruster and it is not supposed to be ridden as such.  But if you are looking for a fast, maneuverable, classic board then look at the Gringo.  You might just find that the 70s was a golden era for surfboard design.

And remember, surf for fun! I guarantee this board will help with that last bit of advice.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Share the Love

Summer is here and that means the masses are descending on the Jersey shore.  This is great news for those that make their living over the next couple of months, for businesses recovering from Sandy, and for anyone that has the pleasure to enjoy the beautiful Jersey shore.  Who is not good for?  Often times surfers--especially those year-round guys and gals.  This is partly due to the smaller, weaker waves (although the warmer water can offset that issue).  No, the main complaint of Jersey surfers during the summer months is crowds.  And not just crowds, but the crowds that contain so many newbies to the sport.  I know that my favorite breaks often look like the picture above, making a surf session feel more like an obstacle course than a relaxing morning spent in the water with your buddies.  So is this post an angry surfer's rant?  A way to vent my own personal frustration?  Or a call for all those new to surfing to stay away from my favorite breaks? Actually it is none of the above.  This post is a plea to all surfers to remember when they started and maintain the spirit of surfing.

I didn't start surfing until I was 18 years old.  I was going to college in Florida and the guys I started hanging around with all surfed.  I always wanted to learn how to surf so I thought, how hard could this be? Well, it was a whole lot harder than I anticipated.  My buddies eventually helped me out but initially they gave me an old beat up longboard and said paddle hard. I survived the paddle out (barely) to only get worked trying to take off on wave after wave.  This went on for quite a few sessions before my friends got tired of laughing at my epic wipe outs and offered me some real advice and tips.  Slowly but surely I started to get it and eventually I was capable of not totally embarrassing myself.

That brings us to today where my talents have not progressed much further, but I still love every session.  The point is that we all may not be tremendously talented surfers but we all share two things: 1. A love of surfing and being in the water.  2. A similar starting point where we all floundered to get to our feet.  So as the breaks get crowded and the newbies start dropping in on you, remember your starting point and how difficult surfing can be.  Then offer some advice, teach them the etiquette of the lifestyle, and make sure they respect others and the rules of surfing.  By helping them become better surfers it will make everyone's summer surf sessions that much better.  Surfing is a great lifestyle and I firmly believe the world is a better place when more people surf; so share a wave, share the love and remember, surf for fun!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Ignorance May Be Bliss, But Not When Buying a Board: Part II


After a little hiatus I am back.  Summer is coming quick and what does every surfer want when the weather turns sunny and the water breaks the 50 degree mark? A new board.  Honestly, surfers always want a new board.  It is a bit like a disease.  We walk into a surf shop, see all those gleaming new boards, with the latest, hot shape and our mouths start to salivate and our spouses start to get nervous because they know that they can either relent and allow a new board purchase or suffer hearing about that shape endlessly until they do relent.  But make sure you don't just buy a board because it looks good.  You want a board that fits you--your style, your experience and maybe most important, your level of surfing.  The wrong board can make an enjoyable session miserable, while the right board can make you dream of more waves and water time.  So with that in mind, let's revisit what you should be looking for in your new board.  This time, let's focus on the outline of the board.

Now this discussion can get quite technical--too technical for my liking.  The purpose of these posts is to give the average surfer a little more information to make a solid purchase for their surf style.  So when looking at the outline of the board, what should you be looking for? The outline covers the lines of the board from nose to tail, so it is the point where you need to consider how all of these curves and lines are going to work together; and it IS important to consider how they all work together.  In essence, you are considering how the surface area is configured and distributed throughout the board. Take the board pictured on the left--this is my newest board, the Matador Bandito.  This is one of the more popular models in the Matador/BoneYard family and for good reason. 

The outline of the board is set up so that it is both user friendly (for the average surfer) and yet able to turn on a dime and go vertical for those that want a bit more performance.  The outline has several key features: first, the round nose and increased volume up front. The beauty of this outline feature is paddle power.  This board will literally catch anything and catch it early.  If there is one underrated aspect of a surfboard, it is how early it gets you into a wave.  Ever have one of those sessions where you seem to be standing up on the edge of a cliff every time you catch a wave.  This results in a few airdrops that you make, but generally it ends up being a frustrating day of pearling and going over the falls.  This is typical of bigger days in Jersey.  The reason is that you can't catch the wave early enough.  You could paddle harder but if your board isn't right, even that won't matter.  Make life a little easier and get yourself a board that lends itself to getting in early.

If you look at the other end of the Bandito it has another great feature--a winged tail that pulls in the outline and ends in a nice thumb tail.  Now the winged tail is going to release the water from the board, meaning less contact with the water, but it also gives you a great pivot point and less surface area so you get maneuverability.  Now think about this, you have a board with a wide front for paddle power but a tail that provides release and maneuverability.  This may be the perfect shape.  It allows you to catch the wave early, but smack that lip when needed.  And this board is versatile--from knee high to head high or bigger--this board just flat out works.

So when going to buy that new board for those warm summer waves, pay attention to the outline.  What you need in your board depends on how you want it to perform and even more important, how you are able to surf it.  We are not all young, hot rippers--but we are all still surfers.  So remember, surf for fun!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Parko and the Bird

I did say this blog would discuss all things surfing, so this week let's take a little break from discussing boards and meander into the world of competitive surfing.  In terms of full disclosure, I have never competed in a surf competition.  The whole idea of "competition" and surfing seems a bit odd to me, but I admit that I love watching the best surfers in the world battle it out.  Last week was the first ASP tour event of the year taking place on the Gold Coast in Australia and it did not disappoint.  First, because it was a Quiksilver event you got ASP tour dropout, competition hater, and free surfer extraordinaire Dane Reynolds in the show.  If you weren't aware, in December 2011 Dane posted his "Letter of Independence."  It was a letter of resignation from the ASP tour.  I have to admit, I loved it when Dane walked away (unlike many other surfers).  It just seemed that he did it for all the right reasons.  For me, here was the paragraph that said it all:

and so here i am. 26. officially off tour. wasted talent. blown potential. refusing responsibility. ‘all he wants to do is sit at home and play with crayons and ride fucked up boards.’ but wait! but wait! that’s not true! don’t listen to chris mauro. he’s a dinosaur. doesn’t get it. this may be the end as a wct contender, but its also a new beginning. i feel like a baseball. the skins been carefully pried off and there’s a thread and i’m gonna pull it and i’m gonna end up a pile of string on the floor. but then maybe i’ll be knit into something more useful, like a sweater. or perhaps something beautiful, like a hand embroidered masterpiece of a deer and two fawn drinking cold clear water out of a creek. but you never know. i hope to achieve some sort of balance. yeah, i do like riding fucked up boards, but i also like doing airs and taking some aggression out on a cutback. and competings rad if you can stay inspired, but rankings and trophy’s mean very little to me. i wanna learn, i wanna make things, things of purpose, be productive. travel. new experiences. new sensations. and most importantly explore the outer limits of performance surfing. i’ll still compete. but its not going to consume me.

So Dane is not the best writer and a little quirky, but he is honest and one hell of a surfer, so I was stoked to see him at the Goldy, even if it was because Quiksilver probably held a paycheck over his head.  Tour dropout or not, Dane is still a big draw.  Yes, I thought it was great that Dane walked away so as not to be consumed by the competitive nature of the ASP, but I still love to watch him surf.  And when he does "compete" it looks more like he is in a free surf session with a buddy or two at some of the best breaks in the world.  Who wouldn't love to watch that? Eventually eliminated in the third round, it was still fun to watch him score some fantastic waves.

Then there was the side of competitive surfing that Dane was trying to avoid; the side that brings out the self-interested ass that exists within us all.  The finals came down to current tour champion Joel Parkinson (Parko) and the 11-time tour champ Kelly Slater.  It was an epic battle, but as you watched the heat it just seemed that Kelly had the upper-hand (what else is new).  So as Parko dropped in on a big, throaty barrel that he said had "12 points written all over it,"  it seemed inevitable that Kelly, with priority, would drop in down the line.  So he did and there is the source of the picture--Parko looking down the line flipping Kelly the bird.  Absolutely classic!  The picture goes viral and Parko gets tagged with the sore loser label and shows the dark side of competitive surfing; the side that has lost its soul.

But everything is not what it appears to be.  Parko was obviously frustrated, but even in the moment the gesture seemed good natured.  When asked about it after the contest Parko said, "its all good, that's what it is, competitive nature but all in a good environment."  Apparently Kelly told Parko that he should have given him the bird back--now that would have been good.  So here's my question--why are we trying to make these guys into mortal enemies? Why do we need some grand rivalry filled with disdain (but still respect) to make surfing better?  I just don't get it!  I thought Parko's response was brilliant and something we should all take to the line-up.  The reality is that we have all been dropped in on--sometimes by a buddy, sometimes by a newbie, sometimes by someone just trying to be an ass.  So what.  It may be frustrating in the moment, but it is just that, a moment.  Another wave will come and one after that too.  Isn't the point of surfing to have fun in the water? Some of the best days are those sessions where it is you and bunch of your buddies dropping in on one another, pushing each other off waves, flipping birds, and laughing the entire time.  If you ever find yourself in the line-up with a bunch of Matador/BoneYard guys you better expect this.  But also expect some great waves, good laughs and big smiles through the whole session. There is so much in life to stress over, why should surfing be one of those things. Dane had it right but so did Parko.  A quick flip of the bird, a smirk and a laugh afterwards, but in the end it is all good.  And surfing continues as one of the few things in this world that can have an element of competition but remain mostly about the experience. 

Alright, enough of my philosophical rant--next week I will get back to boards to discuss outlines and tails.  And remember, surf for fun!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Ignorance May Be Bliss, But Not When It Comes to Buying a Surfboard (Part I)

Remember going to buy your first new surfboard?  Or really, the feeling of going to get any new surfboard, whether it is your first or not?  It is a fantastic feeling--knowing that you are getting a new board and hopefully the board that you really want.  There are few things in life that can rival it.  But back to the idea of buying your first board or maybe even your first couple of boards.  There are some different feelings involved in that event as well; yes, it is exhilarating knowing that you are getting a new board, but if your experience was anything like mine, it was also filled with ignorance about what you were getting. 

I will never forget purchasing my first new surfboard.  I was 19 years old (I did not start surfing till I went to college in Florida) and I bought the board while home in NJ for the summer.  To this day I could not tell you the dimensions of the board.  I remember the brand and the color (a dazzling orange that all my buddies in Florida made fun of), and I remember it looked really cool!  I mean, it looked like a great board.  So what the heck does that mean?  Well, it means that I liked the way the board looked on the rack so I bought it.  I was completely ignorant of what type of board I needed, the shape, dimensions, etc.  I basically looked at the board, thought it looked awesome and bought it.  I have since learned about these things and also learned that what makes the board work goes beyond the typical three dimensions that all boards list. 

Take my BoneYard Fly model (pictured above).  I ordered this board as my everyday board, hoping that it would work in everything from waist high to overhead waves.  But as a bigger guy, I needed some extra volume in the board while still keeping it nice and loose.  The Fly was the perfect model for me and the shape provided me all the elements that I was hoping for.  If you look at the usual three dimension--height, width and thickness--the board appears suited for my larger frame.  The board is 6'5" x 20.5" x 2 3/4".  But the beauty of this board goes beyond those numbers.  Let's talk about one of these elements, rails.

One element that people do not consider enough is the rails.  In order to get a little more volume, the Fly carries the thickness through most of the board, especially up front.  So instead of only having the width listed on the board existing in the middle, it carries a lot of this to the nose and the tail. The result is more volume to help me get into the wave sooner--and remember, if you can't catch a wave, you can't surf the wave.  If you want a more performance-oriented board, then look for something that thins as you move to the nose and the tail.  But remember, this type of rail cuts down on the volume of the board which makes it more difficult to paddle and less stable as you take-off and head down the line.  These are two factors that anyone starting out needs to seriously consider. 

The other aspect of the rail to consider is the shape.  Is it a hard rail (often called a down rail) or a soft one (round)? Or does it flow from a softer to harder rail?  On the Fly, the rail is fairly soft in the middle but hardens as you move towards the tail.  On the board I was discussing last week, my biscuit shape, the rails remain soft throughout the board, only hardening to some degree in the tail.  Now there are lots of nice diagrams you can find that discuss all the different variations on this (50/50 rails, 60/40 rails, rolled rails, etc)--the diagram to the right gives some indication of the different rails.  But if you want to get a real sense of the shape, just grab the board and feel the rails. It will be fairly obvious what type of rails the board has from the first touch.  Is it nice and rounded with no edges?  Or do you feel the rail turn into a hard edge?  And remember to feel the rails throughout the board, not just in the middle.  What the hard edge does is provide the board with more maneuverability and hold in bigger, steeper waves.  It will give you a rail that is easy to sink into the water.  This type of rail is more performance-oriented, something we all may want but may not help our surfing.  The soft rail is forgiving, perfect for those starting out or your small wave board.  What I mean by forgiving is you are less likely to catch a rail when surfing and it provides a more stable ride that will also float over the flat spots of a wave.  Of course this can vary, with a medium rail that is often "tucked under."  This provides the best of both worlds--a rail that provides maneuverability and hold, but also is more forgiving and stable.  The Fly is a good example of this rail and so I am able to ride it in head high+ waves but still flow nicely in the smaller stuff. 

So when buying a board you need to consider what the rail will do for you and your surfing.  You also have to be aware of what YOU need in a board.  Not every surfer needs the same type of board. Ultimately, this means being honest about your ability and using that objective assessment to buy the best fitting board for you.  The right board can make all the difference in how much fun you have in the water.  Buying a board because it looks good on the rack or because it will look good as you walk down the beach is a mistake I see far too often.  Buy the board that will help you catch more waves and improve your surfing.  This means paying attention to the big three numbers (height, width, thickness) but also grab those rails and make sure they fit your style and ability as well.  And remember, surf for fun!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Potato Chip Syndrome

Ok, I know, potato chip boards were a thing of the 90s and the industry has moved beyond this shape--or at least provided us with options.  But I am surprised at how many people, when looking for a new board, still want the smallest, thinnest, narrowest board possible.  They just want a board "that shreds." Again, there are those guys/gals that can surf those boards and surf them well, but when young kids who are just starting to surf or even have been surfing for a few years look at these boards I want to scream, "DON'T DO IT."  If only they would heed the advice of North Shore soul surfer Chandler. You remember Chandler, the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the movie North Shore?  I just dated myself with two references from my childhood, but as cheesy (and utterly classic) as that movie was it still had the right idea when it came to surfing.  In case you forget the storyline, once surfing guru Chandler agrees to mentor young surfer Rick Kane he has him begin his surfing lessons on the biggest of logs--and it is literally a log.  As he masters each board, Rick is allowed to move down in board size and shape until he is finally able to surf the shortboard that he craves.  This is a lesson that all young surfers could learn from--you don't start on the shortboard, you progress to that board.

This lesson also brings me to my California trip where I saw all kinds of surfers and all kinds of boards.  But what struck me was that in the heart of the Huntington Beach line-up, in Surf City USA itself, there was a tendency towards bigger, wider, and fatter boards.  Again, I don't want to overgeneralize--there were the rippers out there on their shortboards--but so many guys had longboards, fun boards, alternative shapes, and the one thing that I can say with the utmost certainty, they were all having a blast! I brought my 6'4" BoneYard biscuit shape (custom made--have I mentioned that BoneYard and Matador boards are still hand shaped to your specs) and it was fantastic.  This board (pictured above) is generally flat, 21.5" wide, 3" thick and paddles like a dream.  What most young surfers don't think about is getting into the wave, they only think about how the board performs when on the wave.  It is important to have a board that performs, but if you can't get into the wave then you can't perform down the line.  The flat rocker, wide point of the board pushed forward and the overall volume makes this a great shape for getting in early and yes, it still performs.  The single to double concave bottom is just deep enough to provide a loose feel to a thicker, wider board.  So don't worry about losing that rail to rail feel that is so necessary for riding with style.  This shape worked in the head high+ days at the pier to the soft waist high session I had on my final day.  So when choosing your next board, avoid the potato chip syndrome and consider something with more volume--it doesn't have to be a longboard but the alternative shapes usually make for having the most fun.  It also makes the best surfer--the training of Rick Kane proves it.  And remember, surf for fun!