Read an Excerpt
A Guide to Longboard Surfing
By Doug Werner
Tracks PublishingCopyright © 1996 Doug Werner
All rights reserved.
The Long and Short of It
In general, a surfboard is considered a shortboard if it measures no more than seven feet or so in length. It's considered a longboard if it measures nine feet or longer. A board that measures between eight and nine feet is often called a funboard, but that's really just another name for a longboard on the short side. Because anything over eight feet will probably ride like a longboard. Meaning that the surfer must move fore and aft in order to maintain trim during the course of a ride.
By and large, a surfer can remain in one spot on a shortboard. Most changes in trim and/or direction are made with weight shifts.
So it's the length of the board that determines the style of riding. Longboarding requires stepping and weight shifts, shortboarding requires mostly weight shifts, with very little footwork.
Since the turning radius on a longboard is so much greater than a shortboard, maneuvers on a longboard are more drawn out. It takes more time and effort to swing all that board length around. And the length limits where the board can fit and go on the wave.
Longboard surfing often has a swooping look and feel to it.The rider seems to be performing a dance or a martial arts exercise while riding. All that swooping and dancing can make for a very graceful display with an experienced rider.
The best ones make it look like Art.
In stark contrast, shortboards are made to whip about in tight turns and ride in tight places. Surfer, surfboard and wave can meld as one during a ride, slashing back and forth, up and down. Expert shortboarders appear to hurtle with the wave in one careening maneuver after another. The pure athleticism among the world's best shortboard surfers is as breathtaking as any in all of sport.
Michael Jordan has nothing on Kelly Slater.
There is alot to choose from these days. Surfboards come in various lengths, thicknesses, shapes, and fin arrangements. Surfboards are not mass produced and popped out of some mold. Each is hand shaped and, as such, inherently unique. It's one of the reasons why surfing isn't a sport on the scale of in-line skating, basketball, or even snowboarding. Surfboard manufacturing is an intensely individualistic and personal endeavor that keeps the Real Big Boys out of the game. The heart and soul of the industry remains in the hands of highly talented craftsmen who have learned their shaping skills from creating and personally surfing countless wave riding vehicles.
Although surfboard design is right up there with NASA and cutting edge computer technology, materials and manufacturing haven't changed much since 1958 when Hobie Alter and Gordon Clark came up with the first urethane blank, or foam core, for a surfboard. The foam core is reinforced with wood stringers that run the middle length of the board, hand shaped with planing and sanding devices, then sealed with fiberglass and resin. Here are some basic elements:
Length: As surfboards get longer, the influence of edges, or rails, become greater and must be taken into account before any change of direction is considered while riding. Shortboards can be flicked almost at will because the amount of rail involved with the wave at any one time is so small. Longboard rails set a track in the wave. They, along with the fins, determine direction.
Also, the longer the board, the greater the glide. As surface area increases, surfboards become easier and faster to paddle. They pick up waves sooner, ride faster and are able to sustain momentum through the flatter areas of a wave.
Rails: Rounder, more full rails tend to push water and reduce a board's ability to turn and gain speed.As the rail is turned down to form a harder edge, a board can be released from its track more easily, resulting in quicker, tighter turns and increased acceleration.
Outline: If you were to trace around a surfboard lying upon the sand, you would be tracing that board's outline. Surfboards with wide and curvy tails are easier to turn and are turned further back than boards with straight and narrow tails. Boards with straight and narrow tails are designed for bigger surf and need alotta speed to turn properly. At slower speeds they tend to track, or dig their rails when a rider attempts to turn.
Rocker: The flatter the board, the faster it goes. The more bend or rocker a board has, the easier it is to maneuver. Different degrees of rocker can be shaped into different areas of the board to achieve specific results. For example, boards designed for noseriding have a pronounced rocker in the tail that flattens out towards the nose. Boards designed for vertical surfing (off-the-lips, floaters, etc.) have heavily rockered tails for quick turns as well as lifted noses to prevent pearling.
Fins: Fins function as pivot points and stabilizers during directional changes. A traditional large, single fin arrangement provides stability. Tri-fins hold the rails in the wave and enable the rider to pump his board rail to rail to gain quick acceleration and to execute power turns without spinning out. Small dual-fin arrangements rely on an expert surfer's ability to use the rails to control his turning.
Thickness: In general, fatter boards float better than thinner boards. Of course, thick and thin can be shaped into the same board. For example, a board may be thin in the nose, tail and/or rails, yet thick in the middle.
Weight: Weight is determined by a number of things: foam density, length, layers of fiberglass and resin, stringers and width. Heavy boards are stronger, yet less maneuverable than lighter boards.
Width: Wider boards are more stable, while narrow boards yield quicker directional changes. Like thickness, wide and narrow can be incorporated into the same design and the middle measurement is the most important measurement.
The Board for You
Beginners should opt for a nine-foot board or thereabouts, with either a normal single- or tri-fin arrangement. The outline should be somewhat curvy and the rocker average. Thick and wide is good for stability. It's nice to get a heavier seal of glass and resin because the board will last longer, however, this will also make the board heavier.
Stay away from narrow and thin because they'll be very difficult to even sit on properly, let alone stand.
As you progress, you'll develop your own style and preferences.You should start and maintain relationships with shapers who surf the same spots as you and know how you surf. That way the surfboard shapes that you buy can develop with your surfing.
If you're crossing-over from shortboarding, you'll want a higher performance design that will allow you to still surf with alotta the speed, acceleration and turning capabilities that you enjoyed as a shortboarder (no, you don't have to give them up!).That'll probably mean three fins, hard-edged rails, a thinner, narrower shape and a rockered out nose.
But in the end it's all preference. And finding a shaper who will work with your needs. Be honest about your skill level and find something that works for you as opposed to keeping up with the latest trend.
Wetsuit, Leash & Wax
Outside of the tropics you'll need a wetsuit. The cheaper ones fall apart. Buy a leading brand with quality double stitching and sealed seams. Cold water requires 2 or 3 millimeters of thickness, or some combination thereof. Very cold water requires at least 3 millimeters and may require more.
Leashes are a must for most of us. Get one that will last.
Wax is the stuff you rub on the top of the board to prevent slipping. The best wax rubs on in perfect little beads.A comb-like gizmo, called, oddly enough, the wax comb, is used to furrow and roughen old and slick wax already on the board.
It's very easy to get into surfboard design. It's only natural to want to keep up with the latest thing. And it's always so great to get a brand new board from a talented shaper.
But one of the most moving surfing photographs I've ever seen shows a guy surfing a door.That's right, a door. And it looks like a pretty good ride, too. The wave's hot, the rider's in the slot, and the water is a perfect emerald green. The surfer is obviously without means in a third world country that probably doesn't even have a surf shop. Chances are he has never even seen a modern surfboard.
But there he is ... surfing. Maybe not exactly like the rest of us on our signature models, but surfing, and having a great time doing it, just the same.
That picture tells me everything I need to remember about why I surf. Looking a little farther beyond the glossy thrill of owning a slick new stick is the utter joy of just being able to ride waves.
For many of us not a whole lot more even matters.CHAPTER 2
Not all waves are surfable. As a surfable line of swell reaches the shallows along a given stretch of coastline, it begins to rear up and break at one point along its length. Then from that initial point it continues to pitch in a gradual manner in either one or two directions, depending on the geography of the area.A gradual break provides the surfer with a moving wall of unbroken wave surface upon which to angle away from the breaking part of the wave, or curl.
Waves that break all at once along their length are called close outs and do not allow the surfer to angle.All one can do is ride straight ahead with the surging white water. Although this is a part of surfing, riding the soup really ain't where it's at because it's just a bumpy, boring journey into the sand or rocks. Racing ahead of, or under the pitching peak provides the real thrill.The essence of surfing is located along the line of ledging swell that stretches out ahead like a perfect peeling highway.
Surf spots can be roughly categorized as beach breaks, reef breaks and point breaks:
Beach breaks are sand bottomed and depend on the shifting moods of sandbars to provide the mold for the shape of the swells that arrive. Because sandbars are changing things, so are the shapes of the waves that break over them. Waves begin to break over the shallow areas of the bottom and peel towards the deeper water at either or both ends of the particular sandbar.
Reef breaks have beds of rocks, rock formations and/or coral that shape the bottom. These breaks are usually more consistent than beach breaks because the bottoms are literally rock solid.The waves break over the highest levels of the reef first and taper in one or two directions towards the deeper water.
Point breaks provide a jutting point of land to influence the lines of swell that sweep towards it.As the lines arrive they wrap themselves around the point and conform to the special land and bottom formations. As each line gradually reaches the shallow water, one end touching before the other, the swell begins to break and peel in a perfect sweep as the rest of the line catches up to meet the shallows.
Size isn't as critical as many think. Shape, or wave type, plays the most critical role.
Waves can be generally categorized or typed simply by the way they spill over or break. If the breaking part of the wave forms a lip and pitches out, around and down — all the way down to the trough or base of the wave — the wave is said to be top-to-bottom. This is also called a barrel or a tube.
Top-to-bottom waves break hard and have power at any size. The inherent steepness of top-to-bottom waves make riding longboards a little tricky because things get tight real quick. Longboards just don't fit or react well in waves where the bottom literally drops out. There's alotta board to maneuver in very little time.
Not to say that you cannot ride barrels on a longboard, but late take offs are tough to make in hard breaking surf. Longboards, being long, can't squirt out of a ledge situation very well. You need to catch the wave early. And don't expect to tuck into the tube as easily as you can on a shortboard.
Wipe outs in hollow surf can be murder. Unlike shortboards, longboards don't always bob away from your body when you get hammered. Hugging a nine foot stick in the slammer is brutal.
As waves get less steep and hollow, they become more suitable for the larger planing surface of a longboard. And in many cases, less suitable for the smaller planing surface of a shortboard. Actually, shortboards thrive on steep breaking sections because they need speed to keep them afloat and moving. Less steep or mushy waves don't always provide enough speed to keep a short stick on track. Of course shortboards can react sooner to the lickity-split action of a hollow wave and they fit inside the roaring hole a heck of a lot easier than a longboard.
Longboards thrive on mushburgers big and small. They get into the wave better and easier during take offs and negotiate the flat or slow sections with ease. On a smaller board a surfer has to jump and pump in order to make it through the dead spots.
Of course, the real tiny stuff is for longboards only. One-foot mush can't really push a shortboard enough. And if you can't get up and going during the take off, you ain't going. Longboards have more surface to pick up the swell and can sorta glide into wave conditions that are almost non-existent.
Not Really the Kind
Once you're an accomplished longboard surfer you can surf almost anywhere.After all, surfing is surfing. But there are conditions more and less suitable for a longer surfboard.
Before you can surf a wave you have to paddle out to where the waves break, or the lineup.
You can't dive under a broken wave (duck dive) with your longboard as easily as you can with a shortboard. Although it is possible to duck dive with a longer board, it takes a good deal more effort. So paddling out on big, hard breaking days can be very difficult and tiring. Especially at beach breaks where there are no lulls or flat spots in the impact zone.
Getting out in those conditions is sometimes impossible. And even if you make it once, there's no certainty that you'll make it again after a ride. Of course the beating that you'll take trying will render you a broken, exhausted and crying-for-mama mess.
Longboards are also very vulnerable in the impact zone. They break easily in big surf because of all the torque a thundering wall of soup places along its length. Shortboards, with less length to twist and turn, seem to have less of a problem with the tumult.
Getting out is easier at reef or point breaks even when it's top-to-bottom because you can paddle around the impact zone, which is relatively stationary and predictable compared to beach breaks. However, unless you never wipe out, you will have to deal with the impact zone sooner or later.
Good waves for learning are small and mushy. You just need something strong enough to propel you along. Stay away from the top-to-bottom variety. The ideal beginner wave just sorta spills over when it breaks. They're easier to punch through, easier to catch, and they deliver a much softer blow.
Don't paddle out into the middle of the pack. If there's a crowd at a given surf spot, slink over to the side. Now is not the time to compete.You and your surfboard will part ways often during the learning process so stay away from everybody. Also, nice sandy beaches mean nice sandy bottoms. Much better to negotiate than rocks or cliffs.
Although shortboards provide more turning ability than longboards and as such more in the way of spectacular movement, it doesn't mean a thing if you can't catch a wave. If you're just sitting out there (and admit it shortboarders, there is alotta that isn't there?) surfing ain't much fun.
Surfers clock in an unbelievable amount of sitting time over the course of a month of sessions. Not every swell brings us consistent, speedy, well-formed waves. Most of the time and in most places, we're blessed with something less. And it's dealing with the something less that keeps shortboarders sitting and fuming and longboarders up and riding.
Excerpted from Longboarder's Start-Up by Doug Werner. Copyright © 1996 Doug Werner. Excerpted by permission of Tracks Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.