When your mate’s surfboard of choice is a battered up 7-foot long pink foamy with the fins unceremoniously ripped out, you may wonder whether the world of surfing has gone a little mad.
He’s riding the ultimate craft for low performance surfing. But when you inform him of this he just laughs and nods and runs into the water with glee. The very notion of low performance surfing almost sounds like an oxymoron, but that also depends on whether your idea of what surfing is and should be, is contained in a box. The latest thing to hit the quiver at my house is an odd hybrid number; two boards cut up and messily banged together by a friend from a small town to the south. It’s called a strange homemade, and features five plywood strips where the fins would usually be.
The friction-free movement has been gathering pace for some time now, but what I’m noticing is a larger philosophical shift towards an ‘anything goes’ outlook in regards to surfing. One positive thing about thinking outside the classic high-perfor- mance paradigm is that it opens you up to a whole range of new experiences. Riding unconventional equipment also removes much of the pointless aggression associated with hyper-competitive line-ups. Waves are often more fun when shared, and you can surf to your mood. In some ways, modern surfing has evolved to a point where near perfect waves are necessary, and having a shit time in the surf is a very common occurrence. Bring logs, alaias, air mats and strange homemades into the equation however, and there’s fun to be had in all conditions. Derek Hynd, the ultimate finless enthusiast summed it up pretty well when he said: “For myself, riding finless reminds me that surfing can still be like listening to a great independent record, say like Galaxy 500 from the late ’80s, and not getting bored with it.”
But when is it no longer surfing? When you’re sitting out The Pass in Byron Bay and someone shoots past you on an air-mat, followed by someone sliding by backwards, bum to board on a finless backyard job, followed by a man channelling Jesus Christ on the cross, arms asunder, feet planted horizontally on the deck – it might make you wonder where the line is drawn. We give body boarders a hard time about not standing up, but these days we participate in so many variations of surfing that there really is no clear-cut definition.
Around the North Coast where I live, the movement is in full swing. And of course logging is a deeply entrenched culture in this part of the world. Sometimes as a conventional shortboarder, you can feel part of the minority. One surfer recently recounted an experience he’d had surfing in the bay, when a guy on a finless told him to ‘fuck off’ as he skirted past him to set up a turn. The guy on the finless, cranky at having to cop a one-footer on the head due to the fast-paced surfing of the shortboarder, told him to piss off back to Tallows (the punchy beach break around the headland). What was the underlying message? You’re not alternative enough to be out here, bro. Could there be a war brewing? Indeed, high-performance/low-performance territory is looking pretty clear cut, the Cape Byron headland acting as the divisive landmark.
So what can we gain from all of this? Only the understanding that we are no longer one big happy surfing family, but a series of sub-species with often very different views about what surfing is. But variety is the spice of life as they say, so if you’re not having a good time in the water, maybe it’s time to change up your approach. For me, the experience of riding a variety of crafts has meant a lesson in adaptability and remembering the joy of learning something new. If, however, you think it’s all a load of bullshit, well, at least you can relish in the fact that a certain proportion of surfers are staying out of your way – choosing to surf the dribble around the corner on 7-foot long piece-of- shit, cut-up foamies, doing perpetual 360s the length of the point.