Another piece that seems to have been marooned on my hard drive for over a year now. I was quite pleased with it at the time, even if it is somewhat self congratualtory chin-stroking.
What is traditional longboarding?
When i was asked to write a "What is traditional longboarding" piece. It sounded pretty simple, it's just noseriding, one fin and drop knee cutbacks isn't it? Yet the more i sat and thought about it, the more difficult to pin down it became.
In it's original sense it's a term that defined a part of longboarding for a few years in the mid nineties. Back in the first "age of the longboard" there was just surfing and everyone rode longboards until Nat Young and chums changed things in 1966. When longboards started to become popular again in the nineties, it was driven by shapers like Bill Stewart applying the lessons learnt with the evolution of the shortboard to longer equipment. The focus was very much on emulating the "radicalness" of cutting edge shortboard surfing with a handful of throwback manouvers thrown in. The boards were light, often narrow nosed with shortboard style concave bottoms and multiple fins.
It wasn't until Joel Tudor and his contemporaries like Wingnut, Jimmy Gamboa, Kevin Connelly and others started to look backwards, sometimes riding vintage thrift store finds that things began to change. Longboarding begin to develop along two fairly seperate paths. While the hawaiians and aussies continued to develop the high performance school, Tudor led the charge back to black wetsuits, single fins, Volan and a focus on a style with it's feet firmly in the body english of the early 60's. Looking in magazines of the time, "traditional longboarding" really means trying to emulate David Nuuhiwa at his 1966 noseriding prime, hanging ten was once again paramount along with smooth footwork and drop knee cutbacks.Board Templates closely followed those of period noseriders with wide noses and tails, flat rocker, concave nose and paralell soft rails. Once again, first point Malibu became the focus of world wide attention.
The years tick by, things change and evolve, "pro" longboarding faltered from lack of corporate support and to a large extent stayed as a fringe activity in the surf media despite the ever increasing numbers boards over nine feet leaving the racks of surf shops world wide. Tudor retreated from the limelight a little and turned his attention to shorter equipment. Thomas Campbell made a couple of very influential surf films and huge numbers of surfers rediscovered the joy in the glide of a heavy board in high line trim. From where we (i) sit today, traditional longboarding is much more than emulating '66 vintage Nuuhiwa.
Almost all of today's top "loggers" are incredibly well rounded surfers, riding heavy single fins in small waves but shorter equipment when the waves get bigger or hollower, be that fish, egg, hull, simmons, even thrusters. Shapers like Tyler Hatzikian and Robbie Kegel have started to take single fin longboard design into different territory. Both these shapers say they use the zenith of 60's design as a jumping off point but aim to design shapes that continue the evolution of the longboard as though the shortboard revolution never happened. They are not alone. The last few years have seen a subtle shift in "log" shapes away from parallel templates and wide noses to more pig influenced shapes with wide points pulled back narrower noses and more defined hips to the board. The lines these boards draw on the wave is subtly different and surfers like knost and kegel have started to turn harder as a result while still retaining the essence of a traditional style. Noserides have become much more focused on being in the pocket not out on the shoulder and the standard of noseriding and the technicalty of the poses struck with toes over has gone through the roof.
Far from being old and stale, a dry study of glories past, traditional longboarding is more varied and alive than ever and that's where the difficulty in pinning it down lies. In fact it's one of the most vibrant parts of the whole of surfing in current times, with an almost punk ethos of experimentation and expression fuelled by a worldwide internet savvy community and not bound by corporate ideas and marketing plans.
So if we must try to pin down a definition what can we say? What is "traditional" today?
I think it's best to think of it as an approach, a "state of mind" if you forgive the cheesiness of that assertion, defined by some basic tenets. Fundamentally Style is important, . Surfing with style is paramount whether it's the Steve Bigler-esque exaggerated body English of Alex Knost or the Phil Edwards style smoothness of Tyler Warren. It's an adherence to the principles of good trim, harnessing the waves energy with good positioning and without needless flapping. It's working with the wave, harmonizing with it's form in more lateral lines rather than attempting to bend it to your will or slice it to pieces. It's about using the extra three feet of your longboard for it's intended purpose and noseriding the hell out of any suitable section. It's about believing a good bottom turn is far more important than whatever maneuver you can do at the top of the wave. It's about weight, glide, momentum and grace under pressure.
It's not about being retro or being overly consumed with looking backwards, it's about taking the essence of Surfing's history and treating those reference points with due reverence but taking them somewhere new.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, people are beginning to take notice and the big surf Companies are perhaps beginning to sniff opportunity. Vans have poured a fair amount of money into Joel Tudors unashamedly traditional duct tape contests and Billabong, one of the "big 3", just sponsored Tyler Warren one of the best "all boards" surfers in the world and something that would have been unthinkable even 5 years ago. Whether this is ultimately a good thing remains to be seen but one thing is for sure. Style is alive and kicking.