The lady and the champ.

Jon Pyzel: “People are volume obsessed!”

The champ's shaper on biases that keep us from nailing the perfect board… 

I’ve learned by now that unless a surfboard conforms to a set of very narrow, and specific, strictures, I’m screwed.

It’s gotta be short (five-six for little waves; a five-nine if I’m gonna chance my arm in waves up to six foot), wider than the norm but thinner than recommended, almost no entry rocker, a dirty big straight section through the guts and a pretty wild kick in the tail. Outline-wise, I like curves. I get my speed from the rocker.

If I get a board from a new shaper and he deviates from the formula, I’ll surf it on one wave, maybe two, then throw a For Sale sign on it.

It’s not that I won’t try, I just don’t…know…what to do.

Sweet spots are sweet if you can find ‘em. If you can’t, surfing becomes tedious, difficult, impossible.

Which is why I lit up Jon Pyzel, John John Florence’s shaper since the champ was five. I wanted a shaper’s angle on how we should approach different boards purely on technique. It’s true that kids should come with an instructional manual. Surfboards ain’t any different.

Here’s how it would work in my perfect world.

You’d buy your model, Stubby Bastard, Bottom Feeder, Sub-Driver, Toledo 77, whatever it is, and you get a square of paper, folded six times, that clearly states in diagrams and words where the sweet spot is, how you should apply your stance (is it a fixed-stance sorta board, do you need to roam up and down?) and where the board can and can’t go.

For example, is it a straight-up-into-the-lip sorta shape or a nurse-your-bottom-turn-but-tons-of-down-the-line speed sled? You’d read, you’d ride and adjust your game accordingly to the manual.

I got more questions, theories for Jon, too.

Let’s clear up a few mysteries.

BeachGrit: I’m going to posit something. We all lose our minds over volume but I believe a forgiving rocker can solve a multitude of evils in a board. Tell me your opinion. 

Pyzel: Volume is so hot right now! People are getting volume obsessed and overlooking the other aspects of design that make a board less or more user friendly. Yeah, sure, added volume (read floatation) can make a high-performance design more user friendly but as you theorise bottom rocker plays an essential role as well. A flatter rocker equals a faster board while surfing and paddling and is your best friend in average-to-below-average surf (most peoples’ day to day).

BeachGrit: And coming from the other angle, a beautiful board (perfect outline, foil, bottom curve, foil etc) can be unrideable to a certain surfer if the rocker is too high-performance. 

Pyzel: Unrideable is a strong term but I agree that the lower-level surfer could be losing out on too refined a board. Average drivers don’t drive F-1 race cars to the market, so why would an average surfer choose the F-1 version of a surfboard? Here volume can help. If the surfer is a little better than average, surfing in good waves and trying hard to improve, a bit less rocker (especially up front) and a fuller outline and foil will give you a huge advantage and turn struggle into joy. I can’t tell you how often I paddle by some guy on a “Pro” type board who is not having any fun. I wish I could just hand them the board they need  and change their whole way of looking at surfing.

BeachGrit: Now, I want our readers to up their ability. I want ‘em better after this interview. Tell me. How do you ride a high-performance board, a JJ special? And don’t just say y’gotta do turns. Give me specifics, Jon, I know you got the key… 

Pyzel: You can have the same characteristics of a pro-level board, sensitivity, carveabilty, quick response  and liveliness, but this brings us back to volume. Everyone can ride the same designs that I am making for John John, but they need to super-size up a bit. Add some width and thickness (how you adjust volume) and you are gonna have a board that paddles better and carries speed easier.

BeachGrit: It ain’t as easy as that. God I wish it was. 

Pyzel: Of course. And then you have to put in the effort, work on wave selection, wave positioning, keeping the board in the power zone, keeping your weight in the right place, centred, not pushing too much on your front foot and bogging. Yeah, it’s harder but the rewards can be huge too.

BeachGrit: Now let’s talk stance. Where the hell do your feet (going fast, doing turns) have to be on…

 a.) A board with a continuous rocker, fair bit of a nose and tail kick. 

Pyzel: Centred to back-foot weighted is the best call. Keeping your speed up and pivoting off the tail through turns.

b.) A board with a three-stage rocker, not much nose or tail kick

Pyzel: This type of board allows for a lot of movement and has a large sweet spot so you don’t have to overthink it. Weight forward for speed, step back onto the tail to turn. Just the basics.

c.) A goddamn super-curved high-performance board… 

Pyzel:  If I have to tell you where to put your feet, you shouldn’t be riding this board.

BeachGrit The fabulous Terry Fitz famously said, build your style around your boards, not the other way around, unless you rip. What do you think? 

Pyzel: That is rad! He’s right. If you’re riding a board that is good for you, it’s gonna lead you in the right direction and help you improve. Maybe the best thing you can do is to really take a look at how your board is working for you,  paddling and surfing-wise, and see if you can’t imagine something better. Maybe a board that would help improve the chinks in your armour. Are you struggling to catch waves? Do you have trouble keeping speed and making sections? Can you wrap through a smooth cutback without digging rail? Do you want to smash the lip harder and more vert? These are things that a surfboard design can help you with. Don’t keep riding that piece of shit your friend left in your garage two years ago! Goddamn! 

BeachGrit: Are the old beginner, intermediate, advanced surfer categories outdated? I know intermediate surfers who can rotate, advanced surfers who throw their boards away? Do you think there are better, and more specific, categories? Front-foot, former skater, back-foot-learned-to-surf-in-the-nineties kinda guy? 

Pyzel: Surfing is a rainbow of styles, abilities, skill sets and desires. I’m the same as you. I see kooks land airs and rippers doing old-school cutbacks to the beach. There is merit to the beginner, intermediate, advanced categories, but who really even cares? Go surf. Do what feels good. Try to have some style when you do it. Style is always in style.

BeachGrit: Average guy, wants to be front foot, but mostly isn’t. Surfs terrible beachbreaks eleven months of the year, three days when it’s six foot and goes to Indo once a year. He’s five-ten, 78 kilos? Describe his quiver. 

Pyzel: The Ghost 6’1” x 19.63” x 2.63” x 31.70L round pin, for his Indo trips and when his beachie has a decent bank. He’s gonna get in easy and can push it into the two-times overhead range in clean conditions.  It’ll fly, turn on a dime and hold as hard as he can push.

Voyager 1  6’0” x 19.00” x 2.44” x 28.80L squash,  for the good days at home and the fun-sized days in Indo. High-performance with a touch less entry rocker to keep it flowing. This is JJF’s new shorty he debuted at Snapper.

Stubby Bastard 5’11” x 19.50” x 2.44” x 29.30L squash for your every day board. The volume and width pushed up front, relaxed entry rocker for speed and paddle power, plenty of tail rocker to keep it loose and snappy. High performance with hidden help.

Sure Thing 5’9” x 19.63” x 2.44” x 30.10L double-bump squash with baby channels. The Electralite EPS construction for a great strength-weight ratio and lively feel. For weaker, slower waves or just to liven up a normal session.  Take it to Indo and get loose or make the most out of blown slop at home.

BeachGrit: What about a teenager, average ability, sixty-five kilos? What’s his dream craft? 

Pyzel: Get ‘em on 25 to 27 litres. This may sound like a lot of foam, but it’ll be helpful at that stage of their surfing. Get into waves early, flow through turns. It’ll allow them to progress faster then if they struggled through on an overly refined piece of equipment.

BeachGrit: Tell me, how do you feel about fins? Are they the classic Pandora box? Dare we open?

Pyzel: How do you feel about wings on an airplane? Fins are important and complex because they can  play a giant role in the performance and feel of your surfboard.  I’ve had people tell me that they weren’t happy with their new board until they switched out the fins and it became their Best Board Ever. That said, fins can be both overwhelming and confusing, so I always like to try my boards with the same fins (setting a baseline) before I change ‘em.  That way I am always feeling how the board works first and then I can fine-tune to maximise performance or adapt to different surf conditions.

BeachGrit: Should boards come with a fin-type recommended by the shaper?

Pyzel: Man, you’re better off finding a set of fins that you like and use those as your baseline. Everyone has different approaches to how they surf and having one set of fins for everything can work, but it’s nice to be able to play around and change the way a board performs and feels. Also, and this is a generality so don’t shoot me, but you are going to want bigger fins in smaller surf and smaller fins in bigger surf. Counterintuitive, no? But listen. If you imagine fins as wings on an airplane you get a good idea of their effectiveness. A  fighter plane (think gun, big waves) going super fast only needs small wings because the speed is creating a lot of lift. A larger, slower plane (grovel board, slow waves) needs big wings to help keep it up in the air.

BeachGrit: Customs still worth persisting with, you think? Or are we all better off chasing a pre-existing model? 

Pyzel: First. It is really cool to connect with a shaper and talk  about what you’re looking for in your board. He can guide you in the right direction and for some the anticipation of waiting for that board to get shaped and glassed is a gratifying part of the process.For others, the joy comes when you walk in the shop and choose the board that feels good. Right here, right now! You can walk out of the shop and go straight into a surf. If you’ve done your homework and are dealing with someone with a bit of knowledge you should be able to get exactly what you would have ordered anyway. And, with the beautiful benefit we all love, instant gratification.

BeachGrit: Okay, how about this. Local shaper who actually touches your foam or a board that’s been sliced by a famous brand’s ghost shaper? 

Pyzel: How about I explain something. As the local shaper grows his business he inevitably finds that he needs some help keeping up with orders. He finds another local shaper who doesn’t have that sort of problem (volume!) and takes him under his wing and shows him where he likes his rails tucked, his edges crisp, his round-tails just right. You have to know that both the local shaper and the ghost are doing their very best to make a great board. The big difference is the ghost is making a board designed by someone with (usually) more depth of experience and a higher level of development that has been, hopefully, tested and refined with the input of talented surfers. I am certainly not saying you will not get a great board from the guy down the street, because there are a lot of highly talented shapers around the world that just keep it local and do their thing! Every well known shaper in the world was that guy too.

BeachGrit: Tall, skinny guys. Any particular angle you take with ‘em? 

Pyzel: A touch wider, but thinner is route that works. Being tall gives you a higher centre of gravity so you can easily go rail to rail on a little wider board, but being light you benefit from as thin a board as possible for sensitivity’s sake. The added width allows for the thinness while still retaining enough foam to float you around.

BeachGrit: Tell me a secret about surfing technique you’ve learned from your phenomenal team rider. 

Pyzel: Never claim

John John Florence alley-oop
John John not claiming, post-oop in Bali.

(Note: This story first appeared in issue number 336 of Surfing Life magazine, which you can buy here.)


Verified: Surf is Anti-Depressive!

War vets find quietude in surf.

Surfing is a trivial pursuit. A sexy sabbatical from the monotony and minutiae of life.

Of course, there are tedious stories of How Surf Saved My Life and so on, mostly click-bait trash.

Then there is the rare occasion when surfing does pull a person, people, away from the darkness.

This Netflix film, which is called Resurface, is the story of how war veterans with post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD  (two out of every three vet gets hit with it, turn to surfing to steal a little joy out of lives ruined by the spectre of war-time atrocities.

“Surfing was on my bucket list. I was going to surf, and then go home and commit suicide,” says one.

He ain’t alone. Twenty two vets kill ’emselves every damn day.

Here, watch as men crippled, smashed, ruined by war find quietude in the water.

“When I caught that wave it wasn’t death and destruction and hell. The ocean is the one place I can go for peace.”


Confession: I don’t like short people!

I don't like their tubes and I don't like their turns.

(This piece first appeared on Breitbart News)

Call me racist but I don’t like watching short people surf and this goes from Adriana de Souza all the way to Silvana Lima. I don’t like their turns I don’t like their tubes I don’t like their little arms holding trophies at the end of contests. I don’t like any of it and this goes from Keanu Asing all the way to Tyler Wright.

Go ahead. Tell me I’m a giant sexist pig but I ain’t backing down.

Now, I don’t necessarily like watching tall people surf either and this goes all the way from Owen Wright to Chas Smith. We look like flimsy willows about to blow right over all elbows and assholes but short people are worse. They look like they are garden gnomes who have been glued to their boards.

Be my guest. Paint me a homophobe. It won’t stop the way I feel.

Because I feel that there should be professional surfing height limits like there are at Legoland. You must be over 70 inches and under 75 inches in order to take the ride (for men) and over 65 inches and under 70 inches (for women).

This would be more pleasing for everyone. We could all truly and genuinely enjoy the show. Sure it is not the “politically correct” opinion but it is the right one. And one worth being branded a xenophobe to hold.

Newport surfer Bobby Gumm.
Newport surfer Bobby Gumm.

Guaranteed*: Win a surf contest!

And fulfill your childhood dreams!

Late at night, long after the sun has gone down and you are laying in bed, do stray thoughts ever infect your mind? Like, do you ever think, “I wonder how it feels to be a professional surfing champion? To stand there, on the beach after vanquishing foes while the masses cheer. Hoisting a trophy. Being sprayed with champagne. Being forever known as a professional surfing champion…”

For sure you have, right? But then you sleep, wake, drink coffee, go surf and do a few hitchy cutbacks and think, “Well son of a bitch.” Champagne dreams evaporating into a cold, handicapped reality.

Well guess what. This Saturday and Sunday in Newport, Oregon there is an event you are guaranteed* to win. Let’s read about it!

In the competitive world of surfing, there’s a unique language. First, there’s the weather, which doesn’t necessarily mean rain or sunshine, but wind conditions, specifically the knots and direction. Then, swells, including height and direction, a big factor whether you’re a novice or advanced competitor. The swell dynamic is also important- choppy or smooth. Small waves are considered ankle busters. And, don’t forget the break- beach breaks put you on the sand. A barrel or a tube is considered the ultimate experience. Dumpers are not fun, they usually precipitate a wipeout.

Most important to any surfer is the ride and what he or she can do with it. The feeling of catching a ride or “taking the drop” down the face of a wave is exhilarating to any level of surfer. The combination of balance, stance, and agility can turn the experience from a drop to a masterful spin or aerial maneuver. This is why surfing draws all ages of men and women to gear up or enjoy the thrills of being a spectator.

The Oregon coast offers dynamic surfing opportunities. The rugged coastline, unparalleled views, and offshore winds create ideal conditions. With the right gear, surfers acclimate to the chilly 55 degree ocean temperatures.

On Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, the City of Newport Parks and Recreation will host the second annual Agate Beach Surf Classic for surfers of all levels. According to Mike Cavanaugh, Sports Coordinator for the City’s Parks and Recreation department,

“This is a one of a kind event. It is sponsored by the City in collaboration with private businesses. Most people have never seen this; surfing contests are usually put on by surf shops.”

Cavanaugh says the iconic headlands and vast coastline make Agate Beach a good location.

“Last year we had 92 contestants and we expect a good turnout again,” he stated. Agate Beach is also ideal for spectators.”

Cavanaugh encourages surfers to pre-register online at Fees are $40, or $50 onsite. “We want to be sure we can accommodate everyone,” he said. “Last year we had a huge boom of onsite registrations, so we had to change a few heats at the last minute.”

The competition is organized into the following divisions: Youth 12 & Under (with or without parent), Stand Up Paddleboard (non-age, non-gender), Junior Women 13-18 (long or shortboard), Men 19-49 (longboard), Pro/Am Men (shortboard), and Men 50+ in Honor of Bear Club Legends (long or shortboard).

Each division is broken down into heats. Saturday’s schedule will have sixteen 20-minute heats with four to six surfers per heat. There are two preliminary rounds for each heat. Organizers try to give surfers the most time available in the water to demonstrate their skills. Second rounds give people the benefit of competition, since conditions and sets vary. A competitor’s score is a lump sum of their first two rounds.

I surfed in Newport a few times as a wayward Oregonian youth. I saw some of the locals and while God blesses their hearts if you go, enter, surf you will guaranteed* win. And you will be a professional surfing champion for the rest of your life.

What is that worth to you?

*Margin of error is 50% in case you get eaten by a shark

Laird Hamilton young
Laird Hamilton, aged twenty four on the set of North Shore.

Laird: “I was a minority in a racially tense world!”

The world's greatest rhino chaster on his new biopic Take Every Wave…

Earlier today, a well-proportioned fifty-three-year-old Hawaiian-born man, a superhuman some might say, lighted up my telephone from his summer house in Malibu, California.

Laird Zerfas (later, Hamilton, when his mammy split from daddy and moved her and the boy to the North Shore where she married the big-waver Billy Hamilton) was born in an experimental salt-water sphere, was scouted as a model as a teenager and, later, turned the whole big-wave thing on the head with tow-surfing, foils and so on.

Malibu in summer is where Laird does his pre-season training: running, swimming, paddling, six, sometimes seven days a week.

Maui, in winter, is where Laird besieges his favourite big waves. Jaws etc.

Laird was calling to talk about the movie Take Every Wave: the life of Laird Hamilton, the biopic directed by Rory Kennedy, which is loosed into fifty American cinemas in two days.

In a few hours he’ll be fronting the US premiere (the movie’s world premiere was at Savage Cinema at the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain) perhaps even ditching the famous flip-flops-with-jeans look.

“I might go big and wear shoes!” he says.

Should you see Take Any Wave? Read the review here! 

Now let’s babble.

BeachGrit: In the trailer, ’cause, caveat, I ain’t seen the film, lost the link to the screener, you said the ocean was where you could get away from trouble on the land? What trouble?

Laird: I grew up a white guy in Hawaii and there was a certain level of …of…of…aggression… on the land. Or should I say, instead of aggression, a certain level of separation. I was a white guy in a dark guy’s world. I was an outsider, like I am in surfing, so it was a natural place for me. Some of my best friends are Hawaiians and some of the greatest and most beautiful people are Hawaiians. But when you’re a minority in a racially tense environment you get used to being an outcast. I think that shaped my life.

BeachGrit: Do you sympathise with the wretched treatment doled out to Afro-Americanos by the White Devil on the mainland? 

Laird: I sympathise. First of all, it makes me anti-racial. I always say I’m a human from earth. If you’re different we can talk about it. I am anti-racial. I have friends of all nationalities and I don’t discriminate.

BeachGrit: What’s the key to a remarkable life? 

Laird: You’ll never regret following your heart. You don’t always know if you’re going in the right direction but if you go with your heart and instincts it seems to pan out. At least for me.

BeachGrit: How honest is the film? 

Laird: It’s about as honest and open as I can be. I did twenty five hours of interviews with Rory Kennedy, the director, and she interviewed every person that she could and dug out archival footage and she made a story out of it. What she chooses to put in and what she chooses to take out, it’s all her and her skills. I did what I could to make a great film. Some people are quite surprised by it. But, is every single thing that happened to me in it? No. You couldn’t fit it all in a two-hour movie.

BeachGrit: What keeps you awake at night? 

Laird: The wellness of my children. Things that I desire keep me awake too. I’m kept awake by the inspirational as well as the fear based. But the things that are fear-based have to do with my family.

BeachGrit: Have you ever believed you were about to die? 

Laird: I have. Probably more than once. Most of ’em happened when I was really young.

BeachGrit: Can you recount a specific event? 

Laird: They blend together. I try not to give anything like that too much power.

BeachGrit: What’s failure to you? 

Laird: Not willing to try is a form of failure. The lack of an ability to say you’re sorry, there’s failure in that.

When I’m in danger, when I’m in a position of fear, I’m on high alert. It’s the most awake I can be in my life. My awareness, everything, peripheral vision, my senses are on maximum. Everything’s turned up.

BeachGrit: What’s fear to you? 

Laird: Fear is your imagination. Fear itself is an energy, an emotion that is very useful. Being scared is something else, however.

BeachGrit: How does fear manifest itself within you? 

Laird: When I’m in danger, when I’m in a position of fear, I’m on high alert. It’s the most awake I can be in my life. My awareness, everything, peripheral vision, my senses are on maximum. I’m assessing. Everything’s turned up. It’s a mode I go into. I’ve been there before and it’s got me through a lot of different situations.

BeachGrit: What would you change about your life? 

Laird: Nothing if it would stop me from being here, today, at this time. Listen, are there things I’m remorseful for? That I regret? Yeah, possibly. Everyone has that. But, if the changing of those things would change where I am, I wouldn’t change any of ‘em. Listen, at a certain point, having regrets is unhealthy anyway.

BeachGrit: This ain’t movie, but that damn hip you got sawn off and replaced a year ago. You’re awake in the operation and you go home without painkillers. Oowee, that’s tough.

Laird: It felt like a horse kick for three months. But it had gotten to the point where I could barely walk. I’d surf for two hours and then have to do two hours of mobility, soft-tissue work to get it neutral. I don’t mind hobbling around if I can perform in the ocean but it was starting to inhibit my ability in the water.

BeachGrit: Is watching your hip get sawn off and replaced with steel a fabulous experience? 

Laird: The doctor was covered in my blood, all over his mask. I could feel him yanking on me. I could feel pulsing as he was doing shit to my leg. It wasn’t pain because they did a spinal tap where they numb one leg. I called one of my buddies to talk during the operation for amusement,

BeachGrit: How y’feel now?

Laird: Phenomenal. I run the beach but I got other issues now. Other things that hurt, but not that.

BeachGrit: Take Every Wave is a life story. Describe your life. 

Laird: Listen, the film is full disclosure. Life is a rollercoaster and no matter what is perceived in the media, there’s a winter, a summer, a hurricane, a calm. Things happen. Experience happens. My life is no different.

And watch in weird 360!