Thursday, June 28, 2012

Is Lighter and Thinner Really More Maneuverable: A Personal Story

By Len Barrow
Author Len Barrow on 15 pound heavy Longboard

Common knowledge would have it that lighter thinner boards are more maneuverable and superior to heavy and thick boards.  Many of my friends are obsessed with the weight of their boards.  You don’t know how many times I have heard the phrase “check out how light my board is” in the past.  This article will explore the advantages of how a heavy board can be utilized.  I will also add in an amusing recollection of my first time riding an ultra-thick and heavy board.

You might find it strange that I would argue the merits of a heavier board as this seems counterintuitive.  Today, everyone is trying to get boards that are as light as possible.  Light boards have a plethora of positive aspects but let us not fail to look at the advantages of a little extra weight on your surfing SUP or Longboard.

Meet Power with Power (loading the spring)

Ben Aipa used to tell me “power meets power” in surfing.  What did he mean?  Well, if you have a powerful lip you want to bash, you cannot hit it gingerly, or with little force.  If you do this you will get swatted like a fly.  When you hit a powerful lip you need to drive into it with the speed acquired in a bottom turn which is released in a powerful connection with the lip or in a long noseride.  This is where a heavier board can have advantages.  As the board has more weight and mass you can derive more energy off your bottom turn than you can on a lighter board.  This is because you really have to get low and over your board to bottom turn on a heavier board.  You have to “put the board on a rail” and store the energy from the bottom turn, like a compressed spring, to release it off the top or project this energy into a long noseride.  A heavy, thicker board allows a surfer to “store” energy in a bottom turn just as energy is stored in a spring.  This energy may be later transformed in to speed, just as when a spring is released it dispenses with its energy. This “efficient use of energy” allows you to hit a powerful lip that is throwing down at you. In essence, you match power with power.   Heavy boards are conducive to “spring” power surfing like this.  A heavier board forces you to surf properly.  These boards help you establish a good “line” in your surfing.  By saying this I mean that you have to bottom turn before every top turn.  Your surfing looks good as you are drawing swooping lines on the wave, just like an expert snowboarder or skier draws big lines down a mountain.

Style and Flow on a Heavy Board

Having a heavier board can have advantages in relation to your style.  Sometimes surfers with ultra-light boards often look jerky.  Ultra-light equipment can have problems on windier days as the board gets blown around by the wind. Also, they don’t slice through the water as efficiently as a heavier board.  As an extreme example, imagine a lighter yacht verses an ice breaker.  In icy water with chunks of ice the yachts line will be disrupted by the ice as the yacht is forced to make jerky direction changes as it encounters obstacles.  On the other extreme imagine a heavy ice breaker.  It just smoothly slices its way through the ice due to its large mass which is converted into energy.  The same applies with your board which influences your style.  Super light longboards can sometimes make a surfer look jerky.  Again, they are also almost impossible to ride when it is windy as the board is overcome by the winds resistance.  If you have ever have seen an expert traditional long boarder (Joel Tudor, Donald Takayama)  on a heavy longboard you will notice that they stand up straight and use the minimum amount of movement as the board is doing much of the work.   They just slice through the water and flow, almost as if surfing were a wonderful dance.   Heavier boards allow you to flow from one section to the next in a fluid motion or dance just as an ice breaker has no problem moving through ice. Quite simply a heavy board and its mass creates your speed and thus you have a minimum of body movement. In this way a board like this can improve your style.  If you don’t believe me look at videos of Joel Tudor and Phil Edwards.  They are riding tanks (hence the term Tanker), some weighing over 20 pounds, and they have beautiful styles!

The above discussion may seem a bit theoretical yet I have firsthand experience with heavy thick equipment.  The following personal story is an account of this.

Heavy, Thick Boards…..A Personal Story

When I first got into longboarding, I had a problem.  I was surfing on an ultra-light longboard which forced me to hunch my back and I was hitting the lip and surfing in a weak manner with an ugly “line”.  Ben Aipa said I looked like a mosquito trying to bite someone.  He also likened me to an a’ama crab as I looked like a crab as my back was so hunched over!  He also likened my backside bottom turn to someone “taking a shit”.  Ben Aipa’s solution to my “crab/mosquito” style was to purposefully glass my board heavier and make my board a little longer and thicker.   

 At the time I did not know that Ben was going to “cure” my style deficiency with a heavier and thicker board design. I ordered a board and as usual I just let Ben shape it as I had full trust in his abilities.   When I got the board I was horrified.  It was super heavy and super thick.  The longboard was 3 and ¾ inches thick (a normal longboard thickness is 2 and 5/8 to 3 inches thick) and  it was glassed with double layers of 6 ounce glass!  In my head I was like “oh my god, how the hell am I going to ride this”. I did not say anything as I did not wish to offend Ben Aipa.  He looked at me and told me to surf the board and stated “You don’t want to look like an A’ama crab right……go surf and tell me what you think”  He then added… “Leonard, this board is to be surfed on, don’t ride it”.  I was like WTF?  

Perplexed and confused at his coded language, I left the shop. ( Ben always used paradoxical saying that are like little riddles, just like Zen Koans.  He truly is a Zen master when it comes to surfboard design and he had a plan for me!)

Anyway, I showed up at the beach with my new board.  My friends laughed at the design.  They said it looked like a “door with fins on it”.  Some of my friends commented, “Ben’s up to his silly designs again” and some warned me that “Bens Aipa is steering you down the wrong road”.  I shirked away in embarrassment and jumped in the water.  As I paddled the board I was surprised at how the board glided through the water.   It was a windy day and the board was just slicing through the chop.

I caught my first wave and stood up.  A section began to form in front of me. Automatically I put the board on a rail and began my bottom turn.  The heavy board had so much momentum that I flew off the shoulder after the bottom turn.  I thought to myself, “I could use this momentum in an off the lip!”.  As I caught the next wave I waited for a section to form up and I bottom turned and used the speed derived from my heavy and thick board to hit the lip extremely late.  On any other light board I would have been thrown off, yet with this heavy board, power met power and I slammed into the lip and made the landing.  I thought in my head wow…..this is what Ben meant by “surfing” the wave and not “riding” it.  To Ben “Surfing a board” was all about engaging the rail deeply with big off the lips and committed cut- backs.  “Riding” was what I was doing before.  Riding to Ben was soft, unengaged “boring” surfing.  I was finally learning how to truly “surf”!

  As the surf session progressed I found that the board was a spring that allowed me to load and release the energy where ever I wanted to.  I had one of the best sessions of my life.  I came in to the silence of my friends as they were watching me surf.  They could not understand how a thick and heavy board could be so maneuverable.  Suddenly, out of the side of my eye I saw someone standing down the beach.  It was Ben Aipa.  He was secretly watching what I would do with the board.  He had a huge smile on his face!  I smiled also.  No words needed to be conveyed. Zen Surf Master Ben Aipa did it again.

I later went on to qualify for the US championships.  I won it on the same thick heavy equipment that Ben put me on.  Don’t be afraid to experiment with heavier and thicker boards.

Thanks Mr Aipa for teaching me to “SURF” and not to ride. 

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