The reinvention of Jordy Smith has been one of the highlights of this year’s World Tour don’t you think? Not only his surfing but his shiny more comfortable personality. I look forward to his every interview with Rosie Hodge, their South African patois doing a beautiful gumboot in front of the step-and-repeat.
Seeing him choose a surfboard for Stab in the Dark was equally fine, the joy he took in both praising but also making fun. Did you catch all his underhanded pokes? Very funny. Very fun.
Stab went out of its way, just like the WSL, to mention Jordy’s weight over and over and over again (193 lbs) along with his height (6’3). I have never hugged Jordy and tried to lift him off the ground so cannot speak to his weight but I did walk right past him on the trail leading to Trestles (hereafter known as Ho Chi Minh in honor of the people) and have questions about his height.
He was coming down with two board caddies in tow. I was going up with my Louis Vuitton drivers covered in dirt but spirit buoyed by the scent of the people.
We passed and I looked down upon his Red Bull hat and thought, “If Jordy Smith only had wings then he would be as tall as me.”
I am 6’2.
Now, there are many many variables here of course. The Ho Chi Minh is not even and smooth, we were both walking and in different directions, he may have stepped into a divot right as we passed, the moment only lasted less than a second, my Tom Ford sunglasses were smudged.
But I think there is no way in hell that Jordy Smith is actually 6’3. I think he is falling into the very common trap of adding 2 inches to his height making him 6’1.
Is this a scandal? Only if you place any value on truth. Only if you care about honesty and hard work.
Tony Roberts is a 52-year-old surfer from Santa Cruz whose stated public goal is to be the best over-fifty surfer above the lip. Brad Gerlach, who is 50, is a former world number two (or one depending if you subscribe to Gerr’s belief that if you were, at some point on the tour ratings, number one you should own it).
He’s also got a point to prove. He lives for the betterment of his technique.
Two men. Same age. Same belief.
To wit, just because you’ve hit the autumn years don’t mean you have to stop improving. And it certainly doesn’t mean your wings are clipped.
Recently, Gerr flew to Costa Rica. He’d help Tony with turns; Tony’d help Gerr with his airs.
Tony told Gerr, “Don’t boost too early.”
Gerr told Tony. Get that ass real low. “Your butt needs to go down toward the Achilles tendon,” said Gerr. “Jordy surfs so good ‘cause his ass is on the ground!”
Tony grew up as a skater/surfer and was mentored between 12 and 16 by the early air pioneer Kevin Reed, who was in the news recently when he was arrested on suspicion on murdering another homeless man although he was quickly released.
Tony says he nailed his first real air in 1978.
“Surfers said I surfed like a skater. Skaters say I skated like a surfer,” says Tony, who moved to Central America 20 years ago. He divides his time between Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica.
See, Tony had a little epiphany when he hit thirty. He didn’t want a part of the American Dream. Didn’t want to throw the physical world away in pursuit of the material He wanted to surf and he wanted to hit new heights of performance even as he aged.
So he went vegetarian. Got into yoga.
And surfing in warm water?
“It was like taking off the ankle weights,” he says.
I ask, what do older guys struggle with most, air wise?
“The best guys at doing airs have surfed like that their entire lives. Not many guys my age were focussing on surfing above the lip when we were kids. It just wasn’t cool. We were called flying squirrels. If a surfer can stay in shape and surf every day into their fifties, they’re usually honing the same type of surfing they always did.”
Gerr knows the sound of that. He was totally into airs when he was fifteen but felt an insane pressure to work on his power. Sure Pottz was doin’ airs back then, but he won a world title with cutbacks and surfing at a self-confessed three-quarter pace. Gerr got back into airs in his late forties. He says the weirdest thing for older guys is moving your front foot in the air and sticking the landing.
“It’s a weird thing to land on the nose of your board,” he says. Tell an old guy to wax up the front third of his board and you’ll know how weird.
Which makes it sounds like if you didn’t grow up doin’ airs, don’t start. Tony says it’s never too late. You’ve just gotta want it, even if you have to temper that excitement a little, he says.
“If you have air fever and just try airs on every wave your stomp percentage will be real low. So, first tip. It’s wave judgement. You gotta learn what a good ramp looks like. You have to know when to go, when to blow. Slater is a great example. He only goes for airs on waves that have good sections for it. Most older guys tend to boost too early and fly out the back of the wave.”
Tony says you have to slow the game down, even if it means eating into your style. Stomp on the tail, stay in the pocket, wait for the wave to set up.
“Watch any footage of Ratboy Collins. He has a very exaggerated setup,” says Tony. “He’ll even just stand on the tail and sideslip to let the wave form in front of him, then pumps and gets speed and then really pauses at the last moment until he sees the coping, then boosts.”
Gerr says: “Filipe Toledo’s whole momentum is going through his front foot. He doesn’t get that stuck-at-the-top feeling and the reason he’s landing so many aerials is he has a very clear picture in his mind where he’s going to land. He’s not up there in the air going, “I’ll see where I am when I’m up in the air”. The better surfer you are, the slower the wave appears to you.”
What else are the old men doing wrong?
“They crank too hard once in the air and over-rotate,” says Tony. “A nice straight air is equal parts power and finesse, like a straight ollie street skating.”
Specifically, “the frontside edge of your front foot is what should be guiding the board upon takeoff. Wherever your eyes go the nose of your board follows so it’s important to eyeball your landing on the lip or real high on the wave face.”
Gerr says you’ve got to remember to straight your legs coming into the lip, bring your board to your chest when you exit, straighten a little in the air, and compress to land. And, for god’s sake, stay over your board.
Tony’s got a few drills, too.
“Skateboarding gives a man a chance to practise ollies over and over so you develop that muscle memory. Learn proper ollies, and there’s a ton of YouTube clips showing you how to nail ‘em, on a head-high quarter pipe with a decent sized coping you really get that ‘bonk’ wired.”
Bonk? The moment you hit the lip and it pushes back.
How about the old man’s choice of weapon?
“Real important,” says Tony. “Thickness and width in the tail makes lift-off a lot easier. The wide round nose template catches a lot and fishy type boards, twin fins and four fins, tend to make you surf front-footed which is okay for lateral type airs, but isn’t conducive for vertical style squaring off the bottom to lip launch punts. The best airs come when you are feeling that rail-to-rail carving speed through the contour of the wave and then you boost.”
Gerr rides a thruster setup with a small rear fin. He agrees with Tony on board choice. “Quads do great cutbacks, carves, floaters but only straight airs.”
More than anything, you’ve gotta live airs. Watch footage over and over, although don’t get all hung up watching someone like Reynolds or John John. It’ll overcomplicate things.
Know who you should watch?
Kelly Slater, who turns forty six at his next birthday. His technique isn’t close to Dane or John, or even Craig Anderson or Creed, but he’s coming from the same back foot era as you. His desire to succeed, and not technical perfection, is what gets him through his airs.
And you’ve seen those tens at New York, at Bells, yeah? You like?
As you learn, as you progress, maybe you’ll see a little of yourself in the greatest surfer of all time.
Another tip, says Tony, is to “ride logs and stiff single fins a lot because when I get back on my little board it feels like a skateboard in comparison. It gives you that fresh lively feeling. When the board feels like that it feels like I can do anything.”
Tony says his best air was a Hail Mary frontside 360 three years ago.
“I was going really fast and just threw everything at a meaty section on an overhead wave and ended up really high and rotating super slow. I wasn’t planning on trying to land it but when I came around I looked down and saw the most pillowy landing and I knew I was going to make it.”
Or maybe the whole thing just frustrates you?
“Listen,” says Gerr, “they’re just fucking hard. Not hard technically, just hard because you need to do a lot of ‘em. You have a have a certain type of wave, a consistent wedge, that you can go and do fifty of ‘em a day. To think you’re going to pull one off just once in a while? No way. Those kids, they’re spending eight hours a day practising them, and then several hours watching movies of guys doing airs.”
Thing is, says Gerr, “Surfing is something you just can’t force. If today isn’t your today, maybe tomorrow is. Getting mad isn’t going to change a thing. Don’t set yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations. Yeah, you’ll learn airs if you try hard enough. Just don’t panic when it doesn’t work straight away. Surfing shouldn’t be painful.”
(Note: This story first appeared in issue number 336 of Surfing Life magazine, which you can buy here.)
But come and revel in a new competition. One built for you and for me!
Before becoming The Man of the People™ I loved Stab magazine’s Stab in the Dark featurette. It was such a simple concept so elegantly packaged. Ten shapers shaping anonymously for one professional surfer. He riding all then choosing his favorite. The winning shaper lauded. The losing shapers shamed.
Then in year two Stab blew its wad and had Dane Reynolds do it.
This year it was Jordy Smith and while Jordy’s personality sparkles who really cares what he thinks about surfboards? Do you? I don’t. His opinion on functionality, hold, rail, curve etc. doesn’t interest me. A 1% surfer’s critique clanging like a gong in the ears of the 99%.
Jon Pyzel won for the second time in a row and how much do you think this irks other shapers? Does he lord his superiority over them over drinks? He should. The only remaining question I have, though, is can Mr. Pyzel shape a board for me and for you?
Does he understand the people?
And it is with the humble honor that you have bestowed upon me as your voice that I announce our upcoming Grit is for Mark™ competition. BeachGrit will find the most average surfer in the entire world. Average weight, average height, average build, average ability with an average name (Mark) and we will have him ride average off the rack boards in slightly below average beachbreak.
He will choose the one that allows him to maaaaybe complete his cutback. The one that allows him to get the tail of his board above the lip for his flyaway airs. The one that allows him to slip inside a closeout tube. The one that doesn’t so easily ding when being wedged into the backseat of a ’17 Porsche Panamera. The one that gives him a little extra squirt as he is taking off. Enough to make it up to, but not around, the SUPer dropping in down the line.
These are the things the salt of the earth need to know before plunking down their blue-collar dollar for a new surfboard.
Stab can keep its Jordys and advertisers and private boat trips. BeachGrit doesn’t need luxuriant Macaronis. We live on the simple bread of the people.
Grit is for Mark™ will premier at next year’s U.S. Open of Surfing.
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
(Note: This story first appeared in issue number 336 of Surfing Life magazine, which you can buy here.)
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.”