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.