During your first year or three of surfing you’ve worked so hard just to master getting down the line that you often want to stay a safe distance out in front of the whitewater to guarantee a successful ride. Often what separates beginners from more advanced surfers is speed but it wasn’t always obvious to me that surfing fast didn’t mean getting down the line from point A to point B as fast as possible.
I thought that you did cutbacks because they looked cool not because they had any sort of function in letting the wave catch back up to you. I was baffled when I heard Rob Machado say his favorite thing to do was to go as fast as possible and not even worry about doing turns.
As different as Mick Fanning’s approach to a wave is from Machado’s it is interesting to note that they both recommend going as high as possible on the wave in regard to finding speed. In Surfline’s “Generating Speed” Trick Tips he goes on to emphasize going up and down, using the whole face of the wave, and not “wiggling” in the middle. Truly fast surfing is high amplitude surfing.
For me the contradiction in how to surf fast is most obvious when it comes to executing a proper bottom turn. Waiting for an extra second during your bottom turn allows the wave to stand up more so that you can enter into a steeper more powerful part of the wave (as emphasized by Tom Whitaker at the 2:10 mark in the video below). “Waiting” in order to surf “fast” is something I never fully grasped the importance of until recently.
After watching the above videos you might be tempted to think that these surfing fundamentals are more applicable to traditional rail surfing. However Matt Meola exhibits a full mastery of waiting to surf fast in his Spindle Flip video when he wipes off speed at the beginning of the wave near the 1:50 mark or during his drawn out bottom turn at the 5:50 mark that sets up the video’s big pay off manuever.
Once you are getting to your feet and surfing down the line you’re not quite ready to work on tricks until you’ve gotten comfortable doing high amplitude surfing in the pocket/power source of the wave.
Round 2 of the Snapper Rocks WSL event in Queensland, Australia ran in dismal surf by “Dream Tour” standards but I’d venture to say it was halfway decent surf by Florida standards. Especially during those times of the year when we’re craving anything remotely rideable. If you’ve followed Snapper throughout the years they often have to resort to running on days with buoy readings comparable to some of our own here in Florida, like 3 ft. at 8 seconds. However, this year takes the cake for the most relatable conditions I’ve ever seen the top 34 have to contend with.
The competitors had to really want to win and channel every bit of imagination they had to see scores in some of the waves they were paddling for. You could tell that Ace Buchan wasn’t really feeling it. The surfers that felt the most at home in the conditions were the Brazilians. Owen Wright showed up for the bigger surfers on tour as well as Mick and Taj for the usual suspects. Filipe Toledo levitated over sections, showing us why everyone on tour is afraid to draw him when it’s small. The slugfest that was Round 2 Heat 7 between Kolohe Andino and Jeremy Flores was a clinic in applying power and rail work to mediocre waves.
I was captivated. Take a 2 turn combination (since we still don’t realistically see that length of ride here in Florida) from any 5 point ride or better from Round 2 of the 2015 Snapper Rocks contest and study it. It’s a perfect example of where to wait on the wave, when to compress, how to lead with your shoulders, etc.. for applying the next time our surf is waist to stomach high. Hopefully this Saturday (2/14) or Sunday (2/15).
A female longboarder from Florida, who can get stoked on knee high surf and delights over stomach high mushy waves, might surprise you when she admits to being a passionate fan of professional surfing (where the Men’s shortboard tour gets most of the attention), but here I am. I watch the entire WCT tour from Snapper to Pipeline, cheering for my favorites and cursing judges who don’t agree with me. Even a dedicated fan will admit that some waves are certainly more breathtaking than others and only breaks like Cloudbreak or Teahupoo could rival Pipeline in magnificence, which makes the Volcom Pipe Pro, though not a WCT contest, one of my favorite contest to watch online.
The waiting period for the Pipe Pro starts today and runs through February 8th. The contest begins with 112 “Warriors”, fighting it out for the $100k purse, 3,000 QS points to start the year and a spot in the Pipe Invitational(trials for the Pipe Masters). Hawaiians not on tour and wanting to compete at Pipeline during the Triple Crown, must finish in the Top 16 of this event.
The contest roster boasts almost five dozen Hawaiian surfers, including WCT stand out John John Florence and 2015 tour rookie Keanu Asing. Other well known names include former World Champ Sunny Garcia, 2003 Pipeline Pro champ Jamie O’Brien and 2015 Da Hui Backdoor Shootout winner Mason Ho.
Florida has it’s own notable representation for the contest with 2014 Pipe Pro Champ (and 11 x World Champ, 8 x Pipe Master Champ, King of Surfing, etc.) Kelly Slater returning alongside C.J. and Damien Hobgood and Evan Geiselman.
Hawaiian time is five hours behind us on the East Coast, with the event kicking off live at 7:30 a.m. HST, 12:30 EST.
The first time I bought a plane ticket to Puerto Rico, I had only been surfing for a little over a year and my then boyfriend and local North Jetty ripper, Mike, told me I was crazy. He actually told me that over the phone, while he himself was in Puerto Rico with friends and I was home in Florida, wrapped up in sweaters and scarves and still experiencing a slight buzz of excitement over the progress I thought I had made with my surfing over the previous summer and fall.
He thought I was SO crazy and in over my head that he bought his own ticket and ended up being the guide, chauffeur, fish cleaner and board caddy. He was also severely outnumbered as me and three of my girlfriends embarked on a mission to prove ourselves (myself) in the crystal clear waves of Rincon.
Maria’s and Sandy Beach, to the dismay of surfers who have been surfing it for decades, is often crowded with beginners and surf schools and with not much more than a year of surfing behind me, I would have fit right in.
The first place Mike took us to paddle out was Middles. Anyone who’s been to PR or seen any media coverage of the place knows, no matter how confident she appears, Middles is NOT where you take your longboarding girfriend, who enjoyed the luxury of learning to surf on one of the mellowest waves in Florida. Middles is where Rip Curl held the 2010 Rip Curl Pro Search (where Kelly won his 10th World Title), it’s home to some of PR’s best high performance shortboarding and even when it’s small, it breaks fast, in shallow water, over sharp reef. See video evidence:
I didn’t know any better and was determined to prove I was worthy of the trip and to not get accosted by the reef I’d been overly warned about (fire coral?!) and so, jumped right on my board and paddled as fast and as hard as I knew how. There were no giant cold fronts moving off of Canada that week and in turn, no giant swell while we were down there. Instead my girlfriends and I traded waves in everything from knee to chest high conditions, really quite nice for my level at the time and our first introduction to reef breaks.
I found Puerto Rico to be the perfect break from North Florida winters, became enamored with reef breaks and ended up going back three years in a row afterward. Aside from escaping the cold, relishing time off of work and taking in the beauty of a tropical island, I found these trips to be tremendously helpful to my surfing. Not having the luxury of being able to go down on a moments notice and instead having to plan my trip out at least a month in advance, I never knew what type of waves I might be greeted with upon arrival and simply crossed my fingers and said a couple of prayers for something rideable.
I’ve been lucky so far and surfed everything from knee high ripples at Maria’s to overhead bombs at Wilderness and everything in between. There is more to surfing well than your performance on a wave and surfing unfamiliar spots with unfamiliar crowds improved my ability to read a line-up, forced me to learn to position myself better and insisted that I take off on some waves I just as well would have backed out of. I also learned to respect the surfers who call those waves home and how much could be learned through sitting back and watching, where they entered the line-up, their take off spot and the lines they drew. More than anything else, those previous trips to PR boosted my confidence. I was able to bring that back with me and apply it to my surfing at home, taking off deeper, attempting bigger turns and daring to begin my journey into noseriding.
It’s been four years since my last trip to PR, opting recently for California and Costa instead, but I’ll be heading back down next week and while I still have plenty of room for improvement, I think it’s safe to say that I’m a better surfer now than I was then. I’m looking forward to saying goodbye to winter and hello to the warm waters and tropical vibes of Isla del Encanto and I’m excited to see where this trip could take my surfing. I’ll be taking plenty of pictures and posting some recaps and highlights of my time there in the upcoming weeks. I know a lot of other Florida surfers head that way this time of year, so if you’re one of them, let me know. If you’ve got a favorite Puerto Rico story or memory, I’d love to hear that too! You can leave it in the comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mick Fanning didn’t win the world title in question during this Tracks interview from last December. Since it was Gabriel Medina’s to lose I don’t think that reflects much on Mick’s talent or performance. What struck me in particular about this article is the open admission that there are things other surfers do better. You don’t often get to read such clear evidence that being the best requires one to honestly assess their weaknessess or limitations. Mick’s coach is quick to point out that Mick can sideslip into the barrel if that’s what is required but I looked up the definition of “au fait” and realized that he was pretty clearly indicating that John John and Kelly have an advantage when it comes to the “freefall late drop” at Pipe. This discussion seems to to stem directly from the performances of these athletes at the 2013 Pipe Masters which you can watch at the links below. Another thing I like about this interview is hearing that Mick uses immediate video feedback in his training to see what’s working and what isn’t, which is refreshing given the statements about Mick knowing how he wants to surf and what kind of surfing he wants to be known for.
One of Mick’s “classic roll-in lefts”:
John John’s recap of his 2013 Pipemasters run (plenty of freefall sideslipping):
The concept of the best surfers knowing their limitations was also on display for me in October of 2014 when I went to see Thundercloud at Sun-ray Cinema. The film gives a little historical background on Cloudbreak in Fiji and then goes into depth about 3 epic days in 3 consecutive years (2010, 2011, and 2012). The movie is long but a must see for dedicated surf fans. The same wave will often be shown 2 or 3 times while the surfers who were out on those epic days talk story. The waves showcased in the film are often at the limit of paddle surfing and don’t lose their visual impact on the third time around, especially when you’re hearing what it was like directly from the surfers riding them. Near the end of the film Dave Wassel and Kelly are considering giving it a go after commentating most of the day for a webcast that went live despite the official WCT event being called off. As Wassel tells it a set comes through like none other that day leaving Kelly content to have a beer and watch while Wassel paddles one of the biggest boards ridden that day into one of the scariest waves of the day. You can watch his wave below but the film puts it in context with the unridden set prior that allowed the theater audience to almost feel why some waves go unridden.
Dave Wassel’s 2012 set wave at Cloudbreak (XXL contender):