The Coast News Group
A longboarder at Waikiki, as depicted in “Hui Nalu Surfrider,” oil on canvas by Michael Cassidy. Courtesy photo
Columns Waterspot

Waterspot: The return of the longboard

Who of you remember the Australian Invasion of 1967, or the subsequent longboard revival that began humbly in the mid-1970s?

Many of you were yet to be born in the mid-’70s when Nat Young and Bob McTavish followed American-born ex-pat kneerider George Greenough in tearing the guts from traditional surfing by cutting a few feet from their 10-foot noseriders. The resulting “Shortboard Revolution” shocked us all, and we willingly followed along, often sacrificing classic Phil Edwards and Mike Hynson model masterpieces to hack out crude pocket rockets in our parent’s garages. Oh, the blasphemy!

But there was satisfaction in this as the shorter boards did something longer boards did not in turning sharper and riding tighter in the curl. Without this move to shorter surfboards we never would have had the wonders of modern aerial surfing.

The downside of it all was that we lost something in translation as longboards worked better in North County’s summertime, smaller, gentler waves.

It all seems so obvious now as 9-foot plus boards (I refuse to call them “logs”) glide where tiny boards sink. And so it is that longboards currently dot the lineup from Imperial Beach to San Onofre, their riders often surpassing ’60s masters in their abilities to ride the tip. Awesome job, all.

I saw the light in 1974 when I returned from a two-year stint in the South Seas. Upon my arrival, I noted that my adopted hometown, Encinitas, was crowded beyond belief and that the waves were usually below 4 feet in height. It was then I witnessed La Jolla genius Kurt Letterman and his sidekick Sandy Neilson hanging 10 forever on perfect knee-high waves that were wrapping into La Jolla Shores. Not long after that revelation, I witnessed Donald Takayama perched on the tip in 1- to 2-foot waves at Seaside Reef.

That summer was not unlike this summer where days of flatness were followed by weeks of the same. It may be hard to believe now, but when Swami’s was below shoulder high it was nearly empty during those years. After paying 10 bucks for a 9-foot, 10-inch Jacobs Donald Takayama Model, I paddled out at Swami’s with David Anderson, a stylish surfer known simply by his initials, DA.

Longboards had so long been out of favor at the time that Clark Foam had quit carrying blanks to shape them. This would soon be rectified, but in the meantime Takayama and very few others had some blanks from the past stashed, along with the templates once used to create some of the most beautiful boards of their time.

As it happened, surfers on both of our coasts, in Hawaii and Australia had caught on and the Longboard Renaissance was upon us.

It would be over 15 years before it went into full swing and the torch was passed to Joel Tudor, whose hand it continues to blaze in.

Even so, longboarding was frowned upon by many of the young guns who dominate North County waves. The switch may have come when local ripper Ryan Burch bridged the gap and began riding his longboard in small waves. Other converts, including luminaries like Zach Flores and Cody Gilchrest, would soon follow in Burch’s cross steps.

Get the right tool for the job, they say. And when the surf is tiny, a longboard might just do the trick.