Many surfers will happily paddle out in anything to get a saltwater fix – small and clean, small and messy, fat, mushy, burgery, slop. The surfing lexicon is full of terms to describe conditions that are far from ideal.  

However, while unflattering depictions of the lineup can be abided it does get a little tiresome to hear certain boards constantly referred to as ‘Grovellers’. No term does greater disservice to the art of surfboard shaping. A quick search of the dictionary reveals that ‘groveler’ is defined as the following – someone who behaves as if he had no self-respect. Apple polisher, bootlicker, fawner, ass-kisser, crawler, sycophant, lackey. A person who tries to please someone in order to gain a personal advantage.

Now, no matter how bad the surf may seem or how wide a particular board is, I’m pretty certain nobody really wants themselves or their craft to be referenced in the terms above. Yet many still insist on using the debasing term, ‘groveller’, to describe the complex fiberglass creations that are at the core of our existence. Even the sleek Channel Islands website refers to a category of their small wave designs as ‘Grovellers’. Surely this is a gross misrepresentation of some of the fine craft they produce.

Many surfers strive to downplay certain aspects of the wave-riding experience. For example, we often fear to suggest that the waves are good or a certain size because we don’t want to seem like we are trying too hard. It’s cool to undersell conditions or a particular board because it implies you are perhaps part of some higher-order, or aware of a more elusive or ultimate truth. It’s true that some surfers have a weakness for hyperbolic overstatement, but downplaying is ingrained into the surfing psyche.

The term ‘groveller’ for a board is likely born out of this tendency to downplay the experience. However, surfboard technology and design have advanced so much that, with the right quiver, it’s possible to have fun on almost any given day. Witness the quality of some of the small wave surfing that gets done – even at your local beach – and the word ‘grovelling’ is the last thing that comes into your mind.    

Tom Curren on a Fish from Mollusk Surf Shop on Vimeo.

The term ‘fun-board’ gets tossed around quite a bit and is certainly a more inspiring description for the craft that is designed to take us to a higher place rather than make us sound like ass-kissers. Granted there is a succinct quality to the G-word, but with a little imagination, it’s possible to come up with a bunch of other relevant terms to describe a small wave board.

It’s possible to call a board by the model name a shaper has ordained it with or the specific category the craft may fit into – 80s inspired thruster or keel-fin fish for example.    

Summer is coming in Aus, which typically means more time riding boards that are specifically designed for weaker or smaller waves. Next time someone asks about the shorter and wider, but highly functional board you are having a ball on, try and use a little creative thinking or design knowledge and say something other than, “Oh that’s just my groveller.” You will be doing yourself, the shaper and surfing culture a big favour.