My first surfboard was a 9 foot 6 inch Wardy that I bought used for $45 in 1961. Seven years later I would strip the glass from that and all the other long boards stacked in my parent’s garage to make for short boards. They called it the “Short board Revolution,” and like most revolutions, something was lost and something was gained amid the rattle and hum of the war. Long boarding died in the mid-‘60s when boards lost an average of a foot per year, going from 9 feet 6 inches to 6 feet 6 inches between 1967 and the early 1970s.
In the years before speed-of-light electronic communications, long boards caught on slowly and even by 1990 were still outnumbered in most lineups. There were no exclusively long boarding magazines yet, and I would have the privilege of editing the first one — “Longboarder” — with publisher Bob Bohanan, in the early ‘90s.
I think it was that same year I flew to Cabo with then up-and-coming long boarders Joel Tudor and Wingnut along with photographer Greg Weaver and video producer Steve Cleveland. The year was 1990 and I was there with them to direct one of the first, if not the very first, modern long board movies, “On Safari To Stay.”
Joel was the 13-year-old wonder-child who had never before been away from home and Wingnut, in his late 20s, was anxious to make a name for himself. We caught head-high surf in Cabo. The film was a modest success and we all went our separate ways.
I’m not saying that film lit the match that started the revival, but something happened at that time and by the summer of ’91 long boards were common in waves chest high and smaller. For those riding them, long boards were fun, while to others they were a menace. This, of course, was not because of the board, but because of the riders, many of them deciding they would take every wave, just because they could. As long boards got longer, short boards got shorter and the tension increased in the water, occasionally erupting into shouting and even violence.
The long board/short board wars continued until a few years ago when stand-up-paddlers entered the mix and kayaks began showing up in greater numbers. Again, it is not the vehicle, but the operator, and while most surfers who prefer paddles share waves with those of us who don’t, others can’t resist dropping in on anything, in front of anyone.
Just when things seemed they were about to overheat, along comes a new vehicle. Surfboard maker Steve Walden has perfected a motorized surfboard that moves at about twice the speed of a conventional board its size. You don’t get tired riding it, because you never have to use your arms to catch a wave. Honestly, the board looks like fun, but not for anyone relegated to paddling out the old fashioned way.
While I’m not sure it’s legal to ride a motorized vehicle in the surf, apparently the dull hum of the motor has been heard on breaks everywhere from Walden’s home in Ventura, Calif. to Cardiff, where it is rumored he recently brought a stack of them to the beach for anyone that wanted to try one.
Swami’s Surf Club President Bruce King is a traditional surfer with hopes of putting an end to paddle wars by having paddles and motorized vehicles banned from the lineup, at least at Swami’s. I understand how he feels and don’t disagree with the idea. Nonetheless, I wish it had never come to that. I wish that someone on a 10-foot board could see the logic in giving way to someone on a 6-foot board. I wish those surfers with paddles would share waves with those who don’t use them. In a way, it’s kind of like gun control — almost everyone can have a firearm, but not everyone should have a firearm. Until the laws change, I hope that everyone learns to surf together in harmony. Give a wave — get one. Try it. It will make everyone feel better.
Filed Under: Sea Notes