Log Rhythm

| posted on May 07, 2012

No matter how much you fight it, some things were just made for each other. Somewhere in Mexico. Photo: Gilley

Rob Gilley

Previously in denial about his photographic past, Rob Gilley now rummages through his trove of mediocrity.

A few weeks ago, an old surf buddy of mine came to town. A guy I surfed with extensively in college. Both of us got into surfing kind of late, so our new-to-the-sport stoke while we were attending our beach-adjacent university was off the charts. We would ditch classes together if the surf warranted, and took surf trips up the coast whenever possible. One year we even bailed on final exams to go to Hawaii.

This friend eventually moved away, got a real job, started a family, and stopped surfing regularly. He paddles out a few times of year, but for the most part, he doesn’t really surf that much anymore.

Recently he came down to San Diego for a visit and the swell forecast was phenomenal, so in a tribute to the old days, we hit the road.

Santa Barbara or bust.

We had a great time, but I could see that in the process of trying to regain his previous skills, my friend wasn’t surfing as well as he wanted. He was having a little trouble catching all the waves he wanted, and getting to his feet fast enough. From a distance I could see frustration creeping in. He never really dwelled on it because that’s not the kind of guy he is, and so we didn’t really talk about it.

Privately I knew the answer to his problem, though. An answer that I knew he would never accept.

The solution was for him to ride a longer board. A much longer board. A log.

It’s pretty hard to deny that a longboard is a prudent way to re-introduce yourself to surfing: a quick route to catching waves, and enough buoyancy to get to your feet in time. Then, once you regain your paddling, wave-catching, and basic trimming skills, you can, like Rick Kane in North Shore, progressively downsize to a shorter board.

The point is that I knew that my friend would never take this course of action because his surf sensibilities were formed—and are still stuck—in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, a time when shortboarders would rather die than ride a longboard.

It might be a little surprising to all the young hipsters, but there was a significant chunk of history where shortboarders and longboarders were like the Hatfields and the McCoys. Just full-on enemies.

You were either one or the other, and never both.

In fact, you can still see vestiges of this attitude all around the world. Some shortboarders are still so stubborn about not logging in small waves that despite perfect longboard conditions, they refuse to go down that path—I’m pretty sure that’s why they resurrected the Fish.

Letting go of this shortboard-only mentality took me a long time to get over myself. Like the Berlin Wall, it took years of diplomacy, introspection, and a powerful wrecking ball to bring down.

The first inroads for my emancipation were created just by virtue of living in San Diego. Even in the ‘80s you’d see a rare, random guy who could ride a longboard properly (read: no hopping, no shuffling), and you’d take a mental note. Any fan of clean surfing could also see that on occasion, a proper longboarder could undeniably surf certain conditions more efficiently (i.e. get in earlier, fade deeper, glide through flat spots) than a shortboarder.

There was even a couple of really good surfers at Black’s who would ride longboards on big days in the ‘80s, and it was pretty clear that covering the immense playing field between The Road and North Peak was helping them chase down a lot more surf.

Then there was the Skip Frye factor. If even you lived in North County, you’d hear stories about the purest, most dedicated, cleanest surfer on God’s earth, and at the time, it was curious to hear that he rode both longboards and shortboards.

A surprise: Skip Frye swung both ways.

But the real wrecking ball, the real thing that helped me let go of my anti-longboard mentality, was Mexico.

Nothing will change your attitude faster about logging than sitting in a camp chair staring at perfect, super-long, waist-to-shoulder high peelers with nobody out.

In your mind you realize that you have two choices: you can either grovel on your shortboard, or match the dictated cadence and rhythm of the ocean with a log.

Once I finally let go of my stubbornness, longboards added a revelatory dimension to my surf experience. Small days weren’t frustrating anymore. Fat, high tide point and reef waves turned from disappointing to super fun.

And without a doubt, getting into waves earlier, fading, and engaging that much rail in the water helped me tremendously with the type of shortboarding I was always interested in: clean, stylish, and on a rail. What I found was that riding a longboard once in a while was like preventative Tai chi—a way of making sure those too-hunched-over, too-wiggly, too-hoppy tendencies stay out of your surfing.

But don’t get me wrong: if the conditions are even remotely shortboard-able, I’m out there on my thruster. There’s no question in my mind that shortboarding in good surf is as fun as fun gets.

But if it’s one of those spectacular, glassy, shoulder-high, long-wave days, I’m logging up a storm, and I highly recommend you break down your own wall and give it a try too.

Trestles. Photo: Gilley

Skip Frye. Photo: Gilley

Joel Tudor. Photo: Gilley

Mexico. Photo: Gilley

Trestles. Photo: Gilley

Rincon. Photo: Gilley

  • James Llewelyn

    I just want to clarify that logging is a subsection of longboarding, they are not mutually the same thing in most riders eyes. Logging in generally practiced by the younger surfers on heavy single fins in smooth neoprene and without the leash. It is the ultra orthodox section of the 9ft plus style of surfing. Longboarding is generally done by the older section of the surf community with leashes, 2+1 fin set ups, wearing short arm spring suits and enjoying carving turns on user friendly equipment. Like shortboarding and longboarding, often being mutually exclusive the same goes for logging and longboarding, different types approaching things there way.

  • Drew

    Good read. In FL blending the lines is essential. SUP to Log. Log to fish. Fish to shortboard. That’s how it works. Anything above waste high is hyped for a week. And a multi-board quiver starting at 11-0 and working down to shortboards is the only way to stay sane around here.

  • Space Man At Straws

    8’6″-9’11”-Herbie Fletchers, on the nose, sideways, straight up, power turns, climb the wall, floating over the lip, Do it all, on any board but have fun!
    Great blogging, Looking forward to more incitefull comentary on our favorite passtime! Thank You -Captain Straws…………….

  • Vidal

    “Riding a longboard once in a while was like preventative Tai chi—a way of making sure those too-hunched-over, too-wiggly, too-hoppy tendencies stay out of your surfing.” It just couldn’t be said better. Really appreciate this blog entry. I moved to San Diego little over four years ago, and I have come to have much respect for the diversity in surfing here. I visited Puerto Rico back in March and I told my cousin there that we better get out there and hunt for waves. The whole week I was there the surf sucked; mainly 1-2ft slop, windblown, chopped up, criss crossed, you name it. My cousin, who has been a sponger all his life but who is now getting into riding boards, had a 9ft longboard that by all accounts was an adequate tool for this kind of surf (it was actually a high performance longboard that wasn’t good for either of us, but whatever). We’d go hunting for waves all around the San Juan and Rincon coast. We ended up taking his longboard and I ended up renting a 10’5 SUP. We’d get in the water, and the few guys out there battling the mess out there were all in tiny, paper thin shortboards. I asked my cuz, why are these guys all on shorties? Because that’s what people ride here. My cousin himself, who wasnt able to paddle into an easy 2 footer on his longboard, kept harkening that he needed a smaller board. We went to a surf shop in San Juan owned by a pretty famous local pro who’s competed on WCT events in the past (and who shall remain anonymous) and even he recommended that cuz buy a 7’0 board. This after cuz tells him that he’s a beginner.

    All this baffled me. Here I was having a blast prone paddling on a 10’5 SUP, catching the little ripples, while a whole crew of “locals” flapped around on their 6’2×18 3/8 2 1/6 pretzels. What a waste.

  • Rob Wagner

    Rob…….appreciate the thought that goes into your takes………yes, Bill Hamilton once said to me at Pine Trees (1978) on a ho hum day when I looked at him kind of funny. ” Surfboards are like golf clubs and today I have my putter “

  • buji libarnes

    Very good read Rob.I totally agree with you.

    I had actually posted a video the other day somehow also about the message you wanted to share.

    I’m from the Philippines where the “shortboards are way cooler” and “longboards are for kooks” mentality still prevail.

    Below is the write up to the video I made to try the same point to my Filipino “ride only shortboard” friends.

    “Always proud to say that I love small waves.

    Most of us live hours away from the nearest surf spot. When you get to the beach with your brand new ultra thin short board thruster only to find out that the swell isn’t really filling in the way you expected it to, don’t lock yourself up in that hotel room just yet.

    There’s actually a handfull of little gems out there in the line up just waiting to be ridden if you only keep an open mind and learn to accept a simple fact… a bigger board floats and glides better than a short, thin, narrow one on really puny waves.

    To my full-time shortboarder friends who are always grumpy when the waves are vertically challenged, learn to ride a longboard and hopefully in the process fall in love with it too.

    See how much more fun you’ll be having when you actually have a choice. ”

    Incase you’d like to check out the simple vid i made, here’s the link

    or you can type “buji brownlegs loves small waves” on vimeo.

    Thanks again for putting this article out Rob.



  • mark

    The biggest jump I ever made in surfing ability since I graduated to stand up surfing at 8 years old, was after freshmen year of college (late 80’s). I bought a longboard for novelty’s sake. I ended up surfing 6-7 days a week, often twice a day, because… well… because I could with that board. It was fun.

  • Mike of 9’s

    I concur. There are rhythms of waves, and rhythms of boards. Short and long board rhythms are not the same, but both are wonderful. Use the instrument you favor for each rhythm.

  • Kevin

    Rob, do you know what year you took this photo of Rincon? I haven’t seen that much sand on it in a long time.

  • jojo

    i disagree a bit. length isn’t really the issue. width and thickness are more important. (uh, that’s what she said. zing!). and, of course, flatness. lest we not forget flatness. i can ride a little 5’8″ quad chunker with nary any rocker and have an, ahem, ball in waist high point waves. no flapping, squatting, or wiggling, even. just me and her (ma ocean), making smooth moves. it’s not the size of the ship, boys, it’s the motion in the ocean, as they say. the tool depends on the man who uses it.