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Beach Grit

Technique Critique: Jordy Smith

Michael Ciaramella

by Michael Ciaramella

Ever wanted to know the secrets behind Jordy's fluid motion?

Isn’t this big oaf something to behold? At six-foot-three and limber as a lynx, Jordy Smith defies preconceptions of big men in sport. In this piece I will break down the noteworthy components of his technique, both good and bad.

He do these things V good!


The first thing people recognize about Jordy is his power. And yes, obviously size plays an integral role in Jordy’s water displacement, but unlike other big men in our sport (Sunny Garcia, Tai Van Dyke), he mostly uses timing and skill to make it rain, not raw aggression.

Jordy’s height gives him the ability to extend bottom turns to whichever length he pleases, be it 20 yards or half a foot. Remember his almost buzzer-beater against Jules in Victoria? The transition from one turn to the next was so tight, so exact, that he was able to able to perform the second maneuver on a section created by his own wake. The only other person I’ve seen do that with major turns is Andy.


Jordy has a fairly small stance, which is mainly beneficial. A wide stance forces drawn-out, rounder turns (see: Adriano), whereas compact positioning allows the rider to achieve sharper angles (see: Kolohe). Jordy makes best use of this technique with his carve-to-snap in the pocket, a turn to which he owes his 2016 Lowers trophy.

Knee mobility

A variation of the above concept is hip and knee directional mobility. One thing I’ve learned from surfing and watching the surfing of others, is that knees and hips are not all created equal. Specifically, some people’s bend inwards (Mick, Jordy) and others’ bend outwards (Adriano, me).

Outward bending knees are bad for surfing in ways both stylistic and technical. When your knees bow and extend beyond your feet, it not only looks like you’re taking a shit, but it makes you more likely to fall and less likely to recover.

Imagine you’re doing a big carve, and halfway through you shift your weight to the front leg. At this point the weight should fall onto the knee, which then passes it to the foot, which is supported by the board. If your front knee extends beyond the point of your planted foot, the weight is then unable to transition to the foot and has nowhere to go but down… all the way to the water.

If you manage to keep your feet on the board and find yourself in a layback position, you’re still screwed. From a stance where your knees are splayed, there’s no point of resistance to help get you back to your feet. Unless you’ve got abs of Tungsten, you might as well release your board stop and floundering in the white wash. It ain’t gonna happen.

But Jordy! That lucky sum’bitch has inward bending knees which are not only fashionable but also annoyingly functional. When Jordy lays it on rail, his triangular stance is much more stable, as it delivers weight efficiently from body to knee to foot to board, thus keeping him centered at all times. This concept goes back to the scientific principle of triangles being more stable than squares or parallelograms. In a triangle, the weight is evenly distributed to all sides, so there’s less risk of a collapse.


I find it interesting that the concept of mobility on the surfboard has come back in style since it was seemingly destroyed by the Slater era. Once Kelly and co. started riding the potato chip boards, the need to change one’s stance throughout a ride became outdated. Boards were constructed in a way that allowed riders to perform all aspects of surfing from the tail, so front feet never crossed the center-point of the board. That was until airs became a major aspect of the sport.

Nowadays most air reverses and nose-picks are landed in cheater-five. There are multiple reasons for this:
– It softens the landing. The more weight you have on your front foot and the further forward you land on the nose, the more the water receives your weight like a sponge. Ankle busters occur when you land flat and the board bounces back at unsuspecting ligaments.
– The front foot acts as a pivot point. By landing with your weight on the nose, you’re able to continue the spin without fear of the fins catching too early and throwing yourself off.
– Wider stance = triangular base = more balance. If your one foot is on the tail and your other on the nose, even the tallest man’s knees could not extend past his feet. This ensures the coveted triangular landing position.

But the footwork concept is not only limited to airs. While Jordy’s approach to turns is based around a tight stance, he’s one of the best at repositioning his feet to meet the needs of any maneuver. Whether it’s a giant punt or one of those Dane-turn laybacks, the front foot needs to be repositioned (For the air: forward. For the turn: forward and towards the heelside rail.) in order to transition his weight properly and complete the move. Jordy performs this seamlessly.

No surfer is without fault! Jordy, for me, falls short in two categories.


I’m not saying Jordy has a bad backside, but it’s nowhere near his frontside, so in my mind that’s grounds for criticism. It’s clear that Jordy has spent 80% of his life going right. Durban, J-Bay, Cape Town, all rights. Even in the video below where he’s surfing Lowers, a perfect split-peak, he opts to go right nine times out of ten. Jody doesn’t seem to have the same agility, wave-reading abilities or repertoire on his backhand. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but he could certainly make it better with a little effort.

Massive Pits

Jordy’s fatal flaw and the only non-psychological reason he’ll never win a world title are giant tubes. Don’t feel bad Jords, I truly believe this one is out of your hands. You’re either born with the masochistic, survival-instinct-overriding, twelve-pound-balls gene or you’re not.

Because riding big tubes isn’t that hard, physically. You paddle under the ledge, make a drop, set a line, and you’re done. Dion Atkinson did it at huge Chopes a few years ago, and he’d never surfed a wave half that size. At Jordy’s level of surfing, it’s all a state of mind.