Graduating To a Bigger Surfboard
I SPENT SEVERAL teenage summers ripping it up in the water on my little 6 foot short board. Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, it was all about competing to see who could be the most rad. Flash and speed and showing off always won the day. Surfboards back then were shaped like kitchen knives: sleek and narrow and pointy and sharp. And short. Really, really short. It wasn’t unusual for us surf punks to paddle out in big surf with nothing more beneath our bellies than a 2 ½ inch thick sliver of foam measuring 5’11” or less.
I hung in there with my short board for as long as I could. Until this year, I had been paddling out on a 6’4” board that did the job all right, but something was always amiss. Way too many waves were passing me by, and I would spend much of my sessions flapping my arms around in the water like a broken windmill falling off a cliff. My board would always sink in the water when I would sit on it. Sure, it is supposed to sink to a certain extent, but when I constantly found myself chest deep in saltwater each time I sat up on my board, I decided that it was time to make a change.
I took a chance and tried something different in April, purchasing an 8’0” surfboard. To me this was a longboard, but I learned that this is considered a “mid-length board” among surfers. That’s fine, because whatever you want to call it, I love it. The board has a large single fin with a pintail, which holds up steady in big surf. I initially had quite a bit of difficulty turning the board after dropping in on waves, but I eventually learned that moving my back foot closer to the tail gave me considerably more leverage and made turning a whole lot easier.
Perhaps the most difficult part of my transition from a short board to a longboard has been learning how to plow through heavy surf and get out into the lineup on big days. There is no duck diving with a longboard. In other words, you cannot simply shove a longboard underwater and swim beneath a large wave that is about to crash on your head (as you can easily do with the short board). When you are paddling out into the lineup on a longboard and the conditions become nasty, all you can do is roll over onto your back and cling to your board and hold on for dear life.
Surfers on longboards are always doing a dance of sorts, which requires significant footwork. After spending 30 years on a short board I was used to getting up on my board and placing my feet into their assigned positions, as if they had been dried in cement. My feet would usually not move a single inch until the ride was over. On a longboard, you are walking up and down the board constantly — up to the nose for more speed then back to the tail to slow down or to make turns. This must all be done by feel, as your eyes are focused on the wave coming to life before you.
There’s definitely a laid-back 1970’s vibe that comes with riding waves on a longboard. I swear that every time a wave propels me forward and I plop my feet onto the hefty hunk of waxed board beneath me, I can hear The Eagles sing Take It Easy in the background. Riding a longboard is not about being rad or showing off or catching airs — it’s about finding a sense of harmony with nature and just simply enjoying yourself amongst the ocean.
VERDICT: We’ve had a grand time, short board, but I’ve got a new girl now.
Maybe I’ll hold onto my short board for big days when I don’t feel like getting beat up by the surf. But I am enjoying this new longboard adventure quite a bit, and I can’t say that I really miss sinking in the water and flapping my arms around while juicy waves roll along and leave me in the dust.
Whatever you decide to ride, just remember to keep it fun. If something’s not working, don’t be afraid to try something new. The beauty of surfing is that it is not competitive (unless you’re a pro, of course). There is no scorekeeping, no judges, no spectators, no phones, and no hassle. It’s just you and the ocean, so drop in and tune out!
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