by Corky Carroll
As the first “Freshwater Pro” surfing event was just completed at the infamous Surf Ranch in Central California, the event that the World Surfing League canceled the “Trestles” event in San Clemente for, the subject of competition, and just surfing in general, on artificial waves came up at our dinner table last night. We have a few surfers visiting this week and it was interesting to get contrasting opinions. One guy said he would really love to surf there, to try out that perfect wave. Another said, “That’s not surfing, I would never go there and I doubt many others would either.” This kind of surprised me, so I asked why.
“Surfing is being with nature; I want to be as far out into nature as possible and being in a wave tank is just NOT that. It has no soul.” And no matter what anybody else said he stuck with that opinion. But hey, I get it. Yes, I would choose to be sitting off a beautiful tropical beach, miles from nowhere and away from everybody else while getting all the perfect waves I wanted with just a pal or two out there with me. We all want that. But, for me, I would still like to ride that perfect wave to at least see what it is like. Plus, if I lived in a land locked area and a wave pool was the only place that I could surf then of course that would be where I would surf. The question being do I surf or not surf? I surf.
This kinda got me thinking. Wave pools are not really the only “man-made” waves on the planet. Yes, they are probably the only artificially made waves, if that is what they are really. But there is more than one way to make a “surfable” wave. This being a wave that already exists that you turn into a wave that you might want to ride. Places such as Ala Moana in Hawaii were created when they blew a channel in a reef to make an entrance to a boat harbor. This created perfectly peeling waves coming off the shallow reef as they rolled into the deeper water of the channel. Sometimes Jetties do the same thing as sandbars tend to form on one side or the other and actually create a well shaped wave where there was only closed out beach break beforehand.
There have been many attempts at actually building a surf spot. Remind me to relive the story of the ill-fated “Drumonds Reef” off Capistrano Beach to you one day. Most attempts at creating an artificial reef to form a surf spot have not met with much success, at least so far. I have often set on my deck looking at these big closed out shorebreak walls that are between my house and the point, a few hundred yards down the beach from where I live, and thinking that if I could just dump a few hundred old tires in the right spot, tied together so they wouldn’t move, that they would anchor themselves in the sand and create a shallow spot that would cause a nice peak to form. But, this is just me fantasizing.
But, lo and behold, turns out that there is a guy in Western Australia that has just come up with, what seems like anyway, a workable and environmentally friendly inflatable reef. I read about it on magicseaweed.com. He is set to test it out this coming November. IF this works it could be a real game changer. Much better concept than old tires tied together, and probably less smelly. Plus, you could move it.
So, as you can see, wave pools are not the only way to create surf spots. They are a really good way, and could bring surfing to anyplace on Earth, but not the only way. Heck, as I think more about this, you could also create a great surfable wave in a river by building the perfect underwater formation. Find a good fast-moving river, stick something underwater to make a shallow spot and you get a standing wave. Lotsa ways to make waves. Are any of these a substitute for the real thing? Probably not. But if you are not near a real one, and you wanna surf, why not?
by Corky Carroll
Yes kids, today is going to be one of my ventures back thru time and space to the beginning of what has been called “the shortboard revolution.” This joyful period began roughly late 1966 and the bulk of the “evolving” took place thru the early 1970’s before it tapered off and became more of a general consistent slow progress of “tweaking,” leading up to todays high flying speed surf machines. One of the great stories from that period was the short lived, but highly publicized Australian “V-bottom” design.
Let me lay some groundwork as to how this all came about. In my opinion the short board revolution began when Nat Young showed up and won the 1966 World Championship in San Diego riding a slightly shorter board than everybody else. It was still a long board, but smaller enough to make a big difference in the way he surfed it. In short, no pun intended, it was obviously better. This inspired a few of us to immediately throw out everything we were working on and change direction. Shorter boards were the future of surfing as I saw it. By the end of that year I released my “Mini-Model” from Hobie Surfboards. A few others were working on shorter board designs too, but for the most part the real impact was still a year or so away. I was the only one riding shorter boards through the next competition year here in California, maybe a reason I had one of my best years ever. That winter I took a quiver of minis to the North Shore. I will never forget local shaper Dick Brewer looking at them and proclaiming boldly, “They will NEVER ride short boards in Hawaii, PERIOD.”
Fast forward to the next winter. By now mostly everybody is riding shorter boards of one form or another. A group of surfers, including Mickey Munoz and Skip Frye, went to Australia making a movie called “The Fantastic Plastic Machine,” and came back raving about these amazing new “v-bottom” boards that guys like Nat Young and Bob MacTavish were riding down there. In the late fall film emerged of Nat and Bob ripping the heck out of Honolua Bay, on Maui, on them. The media was ablaze with reports of this new design that was going to take over the surfing world.
The real proving ground for how legitimate, or not, a surfboard design really was in those days was always the North Shore of Oahu. We were expecting the Aussies to show up with these new boards and were wondering how they would work in real power surf. Well, to make a short story even shorter, they did and they didn’t. The Aussies showed up with the boards and they DID NOT work. AT ALL. They just spun out all over the place. It was pretty horrible. Also of note is the fact that right about that time Dick Brewer made an 8’11” “mini-gun” for a kid named Gary Chapman, from Newport Beach, and to this day claims that was the first one and that he invented the whole thing. Now, no offense to Dick, who I totally respect as one of the great shapers of all time, but that claim has a lot of holes in it. I am not saying that I invented anything, but there were more than one of us who had them well before then.
So, what was the deal with the v-bottoms and why didn’t they work? The design was basically a huge deep “Vee” though the back half of the bottom of the boards. It created one turning radius, and when you hit that exact radius it gave you kind of a power steering feel. Pretty cool when it happened, but it had to be just the right turn on the right wave. The powerful and faster waves in Hawaii were not the right waves at all. After everybody saw what happened on the North Shore the design was greatly modified and actually was incorporated slightly into many bottom contours and still is used in different ways, but the glorious deep v was deemed a failure by the surfing world and totally disappeared very quickly.
by Corky Carroll
When I was a tiny kid, growing up here on the shores of our beautiful Orange County, my first wave riding vehicle was a heavy-duty canvas air matt. But then I also wasn’t against trying to ride anything that would float. We made “belly boards” and “skimboards” from old pieces of plywood laying around. But once I got big enough to get an actual surfboard there was no going back, that was the holy grail for riding waves.
There were a few people who rode better versions of “belly boards,” called “paipo boards.” But, for the most part, there were only a few people doing that and mostly at places like the Wedge and some at Brooks Street in Laguna Beach. Tom Morey changed all that when he came up with the nice soft “Boogie Board.” These foamy delights opened up riding waves for zillions of people all over the world. Go to just about any beach on any day and you will see boogie boards. They pretty much took over the world of water. And then there was a brief flurry of people riding knee boards. There are still a few around, but not many. Your standard surfboard has remained the main way to “surf” through the years and still is today. But, that said, there is new surfing equipment on the scene and more of more of it is making its way into already crowded lineups as we speak.
The roots of this kinda started when boards went short and stayed that way for a number of years. Then “longboards” made their way back onto the scene and many older surfers took back to the water on bigger boards. This created a sort of off balance in the lineup. Bigger boards catch waves easier than shorter ones. All of a sudden lots of old dudes where out there catching most of the good waves while the younger, and usually better, surfers where stuck further inside and not able to get as many. This led to a lot of “snaking,” and other forms of aggressive behavior in order for everybody who was out there to surf to actually be able to get in a wave or two edgewise. There is, of course, two sides to this. And which one is right or wrong is not my subject today, I am just pointing out that this long and short board thing is what started the imbalance in the quest of waves as far as who is riding what.
Then we add to the mix the getting more popular by the day Stand Up Paddleboard, also known as the SUP. These are larger and wider boards that are big enough for the surfer to be able to paddle standing up with the use of a paddle. Surfers call the people who ride these “sweepers,” as the paddling looks kinda like a sweeping motion. It’s not always used affectionately either. The SUPs have an even bigger advantage over the shortboards than the longboards do. A person on one of those can catch the wave earlier than both. So now the longboarders feel just like the shortboarders do and call “foul,” and “unfair.”
I won’t even mention how the occasional boogie boarder feels or fits or not fits into this situation. It’s kind of like “whales’ rule” out there. Cool if you are a whale, not cool if you aren’t.
And, low and behold, now we have a new and even more deadly predator on the wave riding vehicle scene. The “Foil.” These are boards that have a huge foil sticking out the bottom of the board. A surfer can catch a swell far offshore with one of these and ride it all the way to shore, by far a bigger wave catching advantage than even the biggest SUP. I should also point out that these things are pretty dangerous, if you get hit by the foil it can really do some serious damage to you.
OK, so let me sum it up. Here is the lineup from small to big. Boogie boards, knee boards, shortboards, midsize boards, longboards, SUPs and foils. And everybody wants a wave. So, the big question is how does this work? Or does it? Just the danger element alone would more than less tell you that it might not be the best arrangement to have all of these things in the same surfing lineup. But, in many places, they are. It’s getting kind of crazy. The ONLY way this can work is if EVERYBODY out there has respect for everybody else and are careful not to put anybody else in danger. Is this really possible? Honestly, probably not.
What’s the answer? Designated surf spots probably, even though I hate to say that. Or not, just live with it and hope not too many people get hurt. I do know that the foils are really the most dangerous and people really should not ride these in crowded surf spots. SUP riders have to respect others and not take EVERY good wave, same with longboarders. This is easier said than done. It’s crowded out there and tends to be dog eat dog a lot of the time. Takes the fun out of it. And, the whole reason we are out there is to have fun. Of course, for 25k a day you can rent the Surf Ranch and have all the waves you want to yourself and your friends. I guess it you can’t afford that, learn to like the taste of dog.
by Corky Carroll
I was just doing my morning scan of my Facebook page and saw that my pal, world renown big wave charger Jeff Clark, posted this, “WSL calls off Mavericks to focus on becoming a Media Company. Looks like surfing Mavericks because you really want it, and because you love it will hopefully become the norm again.” At first I just kinda went, “oh well, good for the hard-core locals at Mavericks, bad for the guys trying to make a living on the WSL Big Wave Tour.” Two sides to every story. But then I thought about it and some legit questions sort of found their way into my waterlogged and barely functioning little mind. Here are my thoughts on this as I sit here with my coffee looking out the window at some good waves that will require my attention as soon as I finish with this.
The World Surfing League (WSL) is the governing body of pro surfing events all over the world. This includes the Championship Pro Tour, the Big Wave Tour and various Longboard events. The reasoning, as I understand it from the media reports, for dropping the Mavericks event was the logistics involved. Mavericks is located at Half Moon Bay, just south of San Francisco, and breaks pretty far from shore. Not an easy place to watch a surf event and not in an area that is going to get a whole lot of media attention, other than hard core surf press. So, it looks like a business decision. Let’s look deeper.
Last year the WSL took the “Trestles” pro event off the World Championship Tour schedule in favor of holding one at Kelly Slaters “Surf Ranch.” This was not received all that well, especially here in Orange County where “Trestles” is located. It turns out that the WSL actually purchased the Surf Ranch and has plans of building a second one in Florida, possibly more after that. So, what we are seeing here is that the WSL is not only the governing body of professional surfing, but is also a functioning business. And, as so, is, as all businesses are, committed to the good old bottom line. So, looking at it from that perspective, holding an event in your own arena over holding one at one of the California’s best surf spots, one that is right here in San Clemente, would appear to make more business sense.
As my thoughts wander on, what do these things mean looking down the road for the future of pro surfing competition? Does it mean more events in artificial wave pools? With the WSL itself owning this technology, and having the control, it could certainly make you think that this could be a strong possibility. And, the real burning question here is, “is this a good or bad thing?” This is a huge question with two sides to it, pros and cons each way.
Those who are against the competition in wave pools say that it takes away the skill of reading the surf, judging when and where the waves are going to come and the talent it takes to deal with the unpredictability of each and every wave as it unravels. To many this is the very essence of surfing. Surfer, board and nature. It’s spontaneous and exciting.
The argument for competition in wave pools is that everybody has a totally equal chance. Every wave is the same and so it comes down to who rides the wave the best and not who gets the best wave. There is also the fact that there is arena viewing, concessions and all that stuff. They can charge people to get in to see it, sell them food, drinks and souvenir items in the gift shops. Also, you know that the surf is gonna be there on any given day. At real surf spots you never know, there has to be a waiting period, and even then it can be hit or miss.
Oh yeah, there is one more side. And this goes back to Jeff Clarks comment that led me on this rant. The part about this leaving Mavericks to those who really want it and love it. Believe me when I say that there are a lot of surfers who would love to NOT have surfing contests held at their favorite spots for a number of reasons. I have been on both sides of that conversation.
So anyway, that is my little wandering into what may or may not come about in the world of surfing competition. Remember when all the stuff on Star Trek was total fiction?