Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ride Everything by Len Barrow

I have had the wonderful opportunity to ride every type of surf craft in my 41 years on this planet.  I regard myself a lucky man.  I learned something new on each design of surfboard both technique wise and culturally.  All of these boards contributed to my happiness as a surfer today and I thought that writing about my experiences with them could be both fun and illuminating. 

The Knee-Board

Most people don’t even know that these things exist.  The knee boarder is a dying race.  The individuals who still knee board on Oahu full time can be counted on one hand.  They are a breed apart.  Knee boarders strike me as pure surfers committed to pure surfing…..getting barelled.  I should know, I was one.
Being a knee boarder (like a body board) can be kind of hard socially.  As you don’t stand some surfers regard you as a lesser being.  I have been called a “half man” or “the man that took a main round to the stomach”.  People will often drop in on us and my friends still give me grief when I pull the old kneeboard out.
Despite this knee boarding taught me a lot about surfing.  As you are kneeling, your face is almost touching the wave.  It is a very intimate type of surfing to do.  You are so close to the wave that you really feel it’s every movement.  The bonus to being both low is that you can get insane barrels on almost any bowling wave.  Turns on a kneeboard are a blast also.  You learn how to use your arms as a pivot point (fulcrum) and as you swoop around, your face is literally inches from the wave, just like a bird.  Great Fun!

The Body-Board

The humble body board is a gem.  Socially, body boarders get the most flack.  They have wrongly been called Spongers, Speed Bumps, Dick Draggers, Cripples, Launch Pads and other derogatory names that I will not mention here.  There is even a sticker that says “Friends don’t let Friends Body board”.  To me, this is all wrong!  My fondest memories were on a body board.  In fact my surfing addiction started on a body board.  I was a child on the island of Kauai and my brother and I shared a body board at a beach break.  I will always remember my first wave.  I kicked in and the wave lifted me and sped myself strait toward the beach.  At first I was in shock.  This turned to awe, then elation and I laughed my head off all the way to the sand.  I remember thinking “I like this…I wanna do this forever”.  My normal life was all over, due to a bodyboard.  Sorry Mother, you should have not purchased that first bodyboard for us (my brother is a surf addict also)..haha.
If you think body boarders are kooks, you should see what they are doing at Pipeline.  Body boarders routinely take off deeper than any surfer, and do aerial maneuvers that short boarders are only dreaming off.  The body boarder can pull of full 720 degree (two rotation aerials) in the sky.  Think about that if you believe you kill it!

The Short Board

Yes, we now come to the ultra-hip short board.  “Only real surfers ride shortboads was my mantra”.   I was a shortboarder for 17 years and I still bust out the 5’11 occasionally when the kids get a little uppity.  I did the whole short board competition thing and had the attitude of an 18 year old ripper (at least I thought I was one in my head).  But how fun it was.
I may be biased but you can’t call yourself core unless you were a short-board shredder in the eighties (just kidding).  We thought we were soo cool.  I went to Roosevelt High school in Hawaii.  We would show up to school in ultra-tight girls cut board shorts which revealed certain anatomical features of the male.  Why girls cut board short you may ask?  They were the men’s style of the time!  We would also wear Pink Quicksilver jackets on top of these tight shorts.  To top off the ensemble, checkerboard vans would be added with a Flock of Seagull Haircut.  We were walking peacocks and the girls loved it!  Bring back the Eighties!
The short board is tremendously fun and difficult.  People have it easy today as they start on longboards or even SUPs.  I had to start on a 5’11 and it took me a full month to stand up. 
I am very happy to have what surfers call a short board background.  The short board teaches a surfer many things.  Balance is one of them.  As this type of board is both narrow and short it is inherently unstable.  Yet with practice this instability turns in to maneuverability.  Short boards are amazingly fun.  Your turning arc can be one quarter the length of longboard and you can fit into the critical section of the wave routinely.
 I suppose that the most important thing that I learned from the short board was pocket surfing.  With this type of board you must surf close to the curl, otherwise known as the pocket.  If you get too far out on the shoulder the board loses momentum and you may fade out of the wave.  If I did not have this short board background, I can almost guarantee that I would not have achieved a US championship on a longboard.

The Longboard

The Longboard is all about fun.  There has been traditionally a little friction between longboards and short boarders as the Long boarders can sit outside of the short boarders and get a lot of waves.  As an 18 year old short boarder, I used to hate long boarders for this behavior.  I made a promise to myself never to ride a longboard.  If I could look in to the future at the time and see that I would transform into a long boarder I would have probably shot myself!   Despite this the longboard taught me a lot of things in regards to surfing.

Duane Desoto (current ASP Longboard World Champion) once told me that longboards were easy to learn on but very hard to get good at.  This is so true.  A longboard has nine foot of rail compared to the five or six foot of rail of a short board.  There is much more “board” to be dealt with.  This is actually a double edged sword.  The extra board allows you get into waves easily but makes it a lot tougher to fit into places were a short board would easily go.  So when you complete an off the lip in the critical section smoothly you become ultra-stoked as many factors must coalesce perfectly.  In other words it takes a lot of attention to surf a longboard well.  What I learned on a longboard was the critical nature of timing.  With a short board your timing can be a little bit off and you can get away with it.  On a longboard if you go into an off the lip to early you fade out of the wave.  If you go too late, the lip swats you like a fly.

As you see there exists a whole universe of surfing equipment to utilize.  I believe that this endless variety adds to the surfing experience.  Every single piece of equipment forces you to pay attention.  Because you are forced to pay attention, each board type is like a Zen Meditation. Also, by riding different equipment, you develop respect for others in the surf despite what they ride.  Riding all types of equipment creates a win-win situation. The world is your oyster!  Ride Everything.

Coming up:  Lens comical stand up surfing learning experience.  Yes, I am trying stand up surfing also!

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