By Corky Carroll
Most of the time when I sit down to knock out one of these amazing wanderings into the wild and wacky world of wordage I have a subject all picked out or event to talk about that is time sensitive. Today was not one of those days. So, I did what I do when this situation comes up, I went to the list of emails that come in where people suggest storylines for me to tackle. And right at the top came the idea to write about the almost lost art of “side-slipping.” Hey, great call.
For those of you who don’t know, side-slipping is a surfing maneuver where the surfer breaks the fin, or fins, free while riding a wave. This causes the board to go into a side slip and lose forward traction, instead sliding sideways down the face of the wave. Then when the fin catches again forward progress is resumed. The reasoning here is that this is a sort of stalling thing done to reposition the rider in a better spot on the wave and/or to keep from outrunning the curl. It’s also pretty cool looking and if done correctly with a reasonable degree of control and style it will surely impress most onlookers.
The first time I saw anybody do this was in an old surf movie in the early 1960’s. It was Mickey Dora at Malibu and I don’t remember which movie it was. He was doing these very subtle and slight little slips in and around the curl, just sort of rocking his board slightly while about a foot back from the nose and, even though the slip was quick and slight, it looked to be a pretty functional way to stay near the pocket and not outrun the wave and have to do a cutback. It was sort of an alternative to the cutback.
Gerry Lopez came to the U.S. Championships at Huntington Beach in 1969 and amazed the crowds by doing a series of tail-based sideslips right next to the pier. These were more “stall” maneuvers than those that I had seen Dora do at Malibu. He would turn quickly at the top of the wave and rock his board just at the right time at the end of his turn. This would break the fin free and he would slide down the face just enough to stick himself right in the curl of the wave, usually getting a nice cover up just before going into the pier. Crowds went wild.
Probably the all-time king of the side-slippers would have to be Herbie Fletcher. Herbie got so good at it that he could pretty much slide the fin out at any time on any wave and stay in control even in very extreme situations and big and gnarly waves on the North Shore of Oahu and at Honolua Bay on Maui. It just became part of his routine, just as turns and cutback for the average Joe.
When long boards came back onto the scene during the 80’s and 90’s there were those who like to ride very thin and narrow boards with a ton of rocker. They were billed as “high performance” long boards. I hated those things and thought of them as anything but high performance. But, that said, one of the things these boards did was spin out (out of control side slip) very easy when you walked the nose. This was due to the extreme amount of rocker. Once gaining control of the slide a surfer could easily just let the thing keep going and do a full 360 rotation of the board, also called a “helicopter.” This became a favorite for competitive long boarders. Some people have taken to surfing with small fins in order to achieve the same result, but sacrificing a lot of power turning in the process.
I was watching a long board event not long ago and noticed that there were a lot of helicopter moves but very little creative side slipping. Maybe they just figure that doing the whole rotation gets more points. None the less the cool looking and functional factor of the basic side slip is still a valid surfing maneuver, at least for long and midsize board riders. Short boarders just fly ‘em outta the water and get air.
And, yes, you can side slip on and Stand Up Paddle board. The extra added advantage of having the paddle to stick in the wave and lean on gives you a bit more freedom and leverage to pull off a good variety of slips and slides.
On top of the cool look and functionality of doing the side slip is the fact that they are just plain fun. Fun is good.