Debate: Should “High-Performance Longboarding” Be A Thing?

by Stab March 25, 2019 5 min read

This week’s installment of Two Men Argue will be devoted to the most hated bastard craft in surfing – the high-performance longboard.

While the ‘ride anything’ movement continues to maintain its grip- with pros and kooks alike playing on glorified bodyboards, knife-finned flying planks, assym whatevers, twin fin throwbacks, and round tail EPS buoys- the hi-perf log continues to be the 1980’s gay man of surfing. Everyone feels like they’re dirty and wrong, due to a mixture of ignorance and fear, and even the barniest of hodads splay-legged paddling towards the shoulder before ditching his board mid-face feels justified in looking down his nose at devotees.

Not really a longboard, definitely not a shortboard, paddling out on a crowded day with a nine foot long, low volume, tapered-rail, rockered-out sled is a sure fire way to earn dirty looks in lineups around the world.

Why this is, and whether it should be so, has long been a bone of contention between the two individuals who comprise these debates. One’s a full grown man staring middle-age in the face, the other built like a swarthy Chinese acrobat and convinced that he’ll never grow old.

Only one can be right. Will it be the fat guy who has come to terms with his ability or the C-grade ‘QS warrior who uses a 5’2 as a step-up?

 

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Guess which one of us this is.

 

Rory:

It’s a fact- if you’re reading this there’s a 99% chance that you suck at surfing. You’ll never stand tall in a deep and square barrel, never stomp a lofty full rotation. Your surfing is slow, your hacks are weak, your rail bogs during the majority of cutbacks. You may have flashes of brilliance when your timing and balance come together, may snatch the occasional head clip glimpse of the tube, may get lucky during a flyaway thrown in front of friends and follow it up with a limp-arm no-claim claim.

But definitions ofgood are pinned to the top tier- that vanishingly small percentage of wave riders so talented that their names are common currency for excellence. No surfboard will ever make you look as good as them, no matter how hard you try. But a great surfboard will make you feel as though you do.

It’s the key to commercial dominance that the most successful shapers have dialed in (even if they don’t admit it publicly.) Build boards that are fun for average dorks to ride. Make ’em feel like they’re surfing better than they are. Create something fast and forgiving and help riders create an internal narrative wherein they’re reaching John John altitudes, Mick Fanning velocity, and Wade Carmichael power.

Hiperf logs, in the hands of an experienced surfer, deliver the above in spades. They’re versatile, useful in almost all conditions, and never fail to deliver the illusion that you’re surfing better than you are. The belief you can surf as well as professionals is delusional. But feeling like you are is attainable.

And nothing delivers that sensation as consistently as a high-performance longboard.

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Rory loves the “sensation.”

 

Mike:

You do understand that the world is not black and white, right?

Once you get too old, fat, or unskilled for your 6’0, blade, it doesn’t mean you have to jump alllll the way to the dark side. There are 5,000 shades of gray in surfing, for instance a wider, fatter performance with a few extra liters (see: Alan Sarlo); a fish of some sort (see: Machado); or even a mid-length if you’re really struggling (see: trendsters).

And don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against longboards in their natural form – if you want to log, by all means, log – but when your intentions lie in “reaching John John altitudes, Mick Fanning velocity, and Wade Carmichael power,” there’s simply no need for a nine-foot craft.

In fact, the hi-perf longboard is an entirely impractical tool for any surfer. If you’re good enough to put your fins above the coping, then get on a reasonably sized craft and try to spin it all the way around like the rest of us. With all that length, you’re making your life ultimately more difficult, and for what? So you get into the waves earlier?

At that point, you might as well just follow the logical progression and get a performance SUP. That would be both cooler and more effective than what you’re currently riding.

Rory:

Pounding a ton of extra volume into a shortboard has never made sense.  A pointy nose 7’0 with ten thousand liters of float is just a longboard by another name.  It’s turning down dessert at a dinner party, then shame-eating cheeseburgers in the parking lot of the McDonald’s you pass on the way home. Sweat on your brow, tears mingling with Mac Sauce, pretending your dirty little secret is safely hidden from those around you.

Pegging your performance to aging ex-pros is a fool’s game. Purchasing a sized-up equivalent of whichever fish Machado currently uses to fly across Cardiff mush will never put my ability alongside a man who was once considered one of the best two surfers in the world.

Mid-lengths are fine and dandy. But your 7’6 is my 9’0, you diminutive fucking hobbit.

To be frank, I’m happy that the vast majority of surfers fall in line with your beliefs. If everyone rode equipment suited to their size and ability I’d have a harder time getting waves. I’d have to contend with a pack on the peak, rather than remind myself to let the occasional set roll through so all the guys wallowing in water up to their nipples and fighting for scraps on the inside don’t get too angry and start stuffing me.

But I’ll make no apologies for my craft. I know what’s fun and I’m never looking back.  Common wisdom among surfers is too consistently ludicrous. I’m overtaking board advice from an industry that once pointed to a 6’4 x 17 x 1 ¾, with more rocker than an elf’s shoe, as the pinnacle of performance.

 

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Slater’s greatest trick of them all: getting his late-90s peers to ride equipment that only he, himself, could wield.

 

Mike:

Your conviction would almost be admirable if it weren’t so contradictory.

Framing yourself as someone brave enough to stand up for “the truth”, yet you’re too cowardly, or perhaps lazy, to Stand Up with a Paddle.

Let’s get down to brass tacks, Rory. I saw you do your little “hi-perf logging” thing at V-Land this year. The waves were wild and chunky and you were wearing a neoprene tank-top. No judgment there, just an observation.

You struggled to position yourself in the lineup due to an overwhelming amount of second reef roll-throughs, which forced you to choose between constantly duckdiving (if that’s what you want to call it) and getting pushed further into the impact zone, or sitting too far out to catch the good ones.

When you did manage to wrangle a wave, I’ll admit there were signs of a man who once surfed with a semblance of grace – a clean pop-up, inoffensive style, and balanced weight distribution across the oversized plank – but that’s where the compliments end.

Being a tight, pockety wave by nature, V-Land has no room for all nine feet of your compensatory vessel. Therefore you were forced to do fake up-and-downs from takeoff to exit, rather than digging your toes in and bashing the lip like, say, Morgan.  

If you want to surf long, slopey waves were cutbacks are king, by all means, do it on a longboard (I won’t be there to see it anyways). But even with a gun to my head, you couldn’t convince me that performance surfing should ever take place on a board longer than Owen Wright’s gait. 

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