Opinion: Soft Politics.

[vc_row][vc_column][norebro_text]“East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet” Rudyard Kipling.

By Dan Dobbin.

Where do the surfing and bodyboarding world’s end?

Last year. Late afternoon. Semi-overcast. Moderate south wind, with just enough bite in it to give the idea of hitting the 2ft wobbly cross shore peaks a reconsider.

My kids are running on grom froth, already suited up and at the water’s edge. I’ve done my tour of duty in these conditions, motivation wrestling with obligation as I slowly suit up.

A blonde mop, ripped straight from the George Greenough school of bowl cuts circa 1966 to present day, approaches on an old bet up Z-flex skatey. The lone brumby, the only surfer still in High School, hell the only local surfer under the age of 40 in my quiet little hamlet sidles up for a chat. A valid excuse to drag my feet a little longer.

He’d made the final of his school surfing comp held that day. Suitably stoked. Talk rolls around to the bodyboard division. Dakota Walter, current Australian pro junior champion, riding a fiberglass bodyboard standing up, was judge the winner of the division.

My gut reaction was negative. A fiberglass board with fins, ridden upright, cannot justifiably be included and scored in a bodyboard division, let alone crowned the winner.

The more I tried to poke holes in the decision though, the more I was forced to concede on point after point.

The board, if judged by its shape and template, was a bodyboard.

The fins? Early Morey Boogies could be retrofitted with “Skeg kits” for greater control. The Morey Boogie 11X even came with a retractable fin system. Kyle Maligro used to use “The System” on his dropknee boards, little knubster fins underneath where he placed his knee.

If it’s the materials used, isn’t a Polyurethane foam core is just as valid as a Polypropylene, Polyethylene, Arcel or any of the other composites used in bodyboards. The method of sealing the core is different granted, but even there we are seeing cross over.

Mitch Rawlins is experimenting with fiberglass wrapped cores with PP deck skins. Still a bodyboard, non’?

What about riding style?

Bodyboarders regularly ride in different stances. The sports first star, Jack Lindholm, became famous for slaying pipeline perched on one knee and one foot and inspired a legion of devotes who copied his “Dropknee” stance. Danny Kim, Chris Taloa-Won, Cavin Yap, all rip waves almost exclusively stand up.

Indeed, Danny Kim did it so well that he won multiple contest on the old American PSSA tour (the equivalent of the world tour of the time), a fact that allegedly brought about an intervention by other riders with the judging staff to have stand up riding permanently underscored from that point on.

The true wonderment of a bodyboard is that it can be utalised to ride a wave in the style best suited to exploit its potential.

So, if riding a stiff, bodyboard shaped board standing up was the best way to access the waves on offer, shouldn’t the victory stand as valid?

The inspiration for Walters board was probably drawn from the ” Modern Planning Hulls” and “Mini-Simmons” design principles that have been in vogue in areas of the surf community for a few years now.

These designs focus around fitting the most available volume into the smallest possible outline, while still maintaining performance. This leads to parallel railed, compact designs with wider than average nose and tails.

Applying these criteria, from a design standpoint, a bodyboard is obviously a planning hull.

Bodyboard shapers are incorporated many of the bottom contour designs pioneered by Daniel Thompson for his M.P.H. designs into their current line of boards.

Quad and Tri-channels, concaves, or variations of each are the current design flavor of the month. NMD and VS have also included variations of the Stealth bomber inspired double pin tail design, pioneered on the Tomo Vader surfboard model, on their top end “Wi-Fly” boards.

This strange crossover land is where the most experiment and novelty in surfing culture is currently happening.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it would be hard to have not noticed the rise in popularity of soft top surfboards. For multiple years now Wavestorm soft tops have been the number one selling surfboard in the world. Catchsurf (another design that the bodyboards inventor Tom Morey had a hand in creating) Odyssey, Mullet, Softlite, Mick Fanning boards and on and on…. Constructed like bodyboards, ridden prone, kneeling, stand up, finned, finless.

Where do they fit into the surfing cultural menagerie’?

The pilots behind these craft are also engaged in a cross-pollination.

The best example of this is the “Drag” board company. Created by bodyboarders Dave Fox, Chris James and Ryan Mattick boasts a team of many of Australia’s best surfers in Chippa Wilson, Creed McTaggart, Wade Goodall, Dion Aguis and Craig Anderson.

The crew have plugged into the wave knowledge and attitude of the South Coast bodyboarding stalwarts to give the world a fresh take on how, and on what, waves should be ridden.

The world’s biggest surf Vlogger, and Pipeline aficionado Jamie O’Brien regularly showcases himself bodyboarding, with professional bodyboarder Jeff Hubbard, making semi-regular appearances.

Former momentum generation star Kalani Robb and skimboarding star Blair Conklin are two others who now regularly showcase their ability on bodyboards.

The common folk of Hawaii surfed Alaia’s, 5ft or so of thin, finless wooden boards. Early written accounts of their wave riding exploits suggest that the best surfers would switch positions as they rode waves between prone, kneeling, sitting and standing.

Are we seeing the emergence of a modern take on an ancient theme, the ultimate counter point to the corporate and over produced version of surfing that is often presented to the world?

Perhaps this is the ultimate retro movement, harking back not to the ” golden age” of surfing that the Hipster crew aspire to, but the pre-colonial age of Hawaiian he’e nalu (wave sliding).

Or just people enjoying the ocean, free from the old “them and us” mindset that has come to permeate surfing culture in modern times.

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