by Eugenio Volpe
I came of age as a surfer in the late 1980s, which meant I once owned a neon pair of webbed paddling gloves, spoke Hawaiian pidgin like the character Turtle in the film North Shore, and above all, I hated longboarding. I despised it for no other reason that there couldn’t have been a less “punk” activity. The ‘80s were indeed brightly neon and unapologetically commercial, but most things cultural had a somewhat punk rock edge to them. Even mainstream icons like the silly Cyndi Lauper and the wholly unholy Madonna borrowed their original looks/style from punk fashion. Mainstream media used watered down versions of the punk aesthetic to sell food, clothing, and shitty electro music.
Surfing in the ‘80s consisted of shortboarding and shortboarding only. No fishes. No blunts. No dumpster divers nor biscuits. No mods, toads, nor mullets either, and certainly, under no circumstance or wave condition were you ever allowed to ride a longboard, especially while wearing webbed paddling gloves (former shop owner on South Shore was known to do that). There were eggs back in those days, or fun boards, but the only people who rode those without necessarily getting ridiculed were fatsos, old dads, and chicks. Otherwise, it was best to stay off any board of length unless you wanted to get ridiculed right out of the lineup and/or constantly dropped in on. Longboarding was too slow and square for the ‘80s. Martin Potter, Matt Kechele, and Davey Smith were taking to the air. Who wanted to watch someone walk up to the nose and just glide there? Nobody I knew and therefore not me. I wanted to get rad. I wanted to surf waves like a punk rock jock.
Shortboarding was certainly rad in a punk rock kind of way. It was all about quick, progressive maneuvering, snappy and explosive, sort of like slam dancing on a wave. Coincidentally, my very first board was a 6’8 Local Motion egg. Everybody made fun of me because I had a board with a rounded nose. It took me another year to save enough money to buy a shorter, pointier board. It was on that pink-railed Local Motion that I completed my first floater and launched my first wheelie air (ugliest move known to surfing). Me and my friends butchered small waves with our shortboard hopping and stomping. Matt Archbold and Christian Fletcher reinforced the idea that surfing was supposed to be speedy and bad ass. The only problem was that they were performing at Trestles while we were riding pitifully weak dribble. In short, we were kooking out.
Twenty years later, one of my best friends bought a surf shop and as a result he started experimenting with boards. Bob Pollard was one of the first people I knew to start riding fishes and longboards on the South Shore. We, his friends, made fun of him for this. The waves would be knee to waist high and Bob would paddle out on a longboard while we “radically” pumped and hopped down the line, forcing moves in gutless lips. All the while, Bob would ride his longboard like a yoga mat. His close friends thought it goofy, but others in the surf community began following his lead. He then started selling Tunnel Vision fishes out of the shop. The quads perfectly suited Bob’s squirmy and loose style. Bob’s surfing greatly improved at this point and it even carried over to his shortboarding. He’d always try convincing me to ride one, but I maintained the stubborn viewpoint that fishes and longboards were for those who can’t rip. There’d be perfect little waves and Bob would ask if I wanted to go longboarding with him. I’d either say no or paddle out on my shortboard and grovel, which always led to frustration and anger with the waves. In the meantime, Bob would be doing headstands on his longboard, having a ball, enjoying his time in the ocean.
Bob died and I had one of his fishes at my house. I gave it to another close friend of ours, the artist Tom Deininger. Tom started riding the board and loved it. I saw him ride the thing pretty well one day and finally decided to get one of my own. I was a 200-pound, thirty-five year old. I couldn’t “rip” thigh to waist waves like I used to. My first session on my 6’0 quad had me traveling faster on a small wave than I had in years. My ego was immediately hooked. Not only do I now regularly ride a fish, but I also got myself a longboard (Primo, still owe you $80). I now drive around on small days with my shortboard, fish, and longboard in the car. It makes sense. I wish I’d always had this mentality, especially the longboard. Riding one greatly improves your style and wave positioning on a shortboard. Looking back, I realize how fortunate I was starting on that 6’8” egg. It forced me into a clean style. I watched other surfers my age start out on ridiculously short equipment and never outgrow their under-gunned choppy style, which brings me to my point. Why, with the explosion of alternate surfboards, are there people today still riding small waves on potato chips?
I pulled up to the beach the other day and there were half dozen people riding shortboards in waves that just weren’t worthy. They all looked so ugly out there, getting caught behind the lip, hopping in the whitewater trying to catch up. Surfing should never look like this. I paddled out on my longboard and they all sort of rolled their eyes at me. If a marginally short-boardable wave came through, I let them have it. Otherwise, I was on everything, cross-stepping, nose-riding, and enjoying the ocean for all that it was worth. Not to sound like a hippy, but I’ve been feeling the longboard glide lately and it has definitely crossed over to my shortboarding. I’ve been seeing why too much flailing lately as New England surfers try replicating today’s “raddest” maneuvers; it’d be a good idea if they all added a longboard to their quiver in order to iron out their style.
Face it. Here in New England, you have to have a longboard, fish, and shortboard in order to maximize water time. The quality of your sessions will also improve. Unless you can’t afford it (been there), there’s no reason not to longboard. Mastering one will better your shortboarding. Chad Bruce and Eric Anderson are cases in point. Both could be considered as two of the best young surfers from the area and both happen to be incredible longboarders, especially Eric. There are of course older examples of this (Kevin Grondin, Chuck Barend), but my point is mainly directed towards younger surfers. If you want to surf like Dane or Julian, you need the basics: bottom turn/top turn. It’s no secret that the best surfers always have the best bottom turn. Longboarding will teach you how to bottom turn. So please, no more stinkbug hopping down the face of thigh high waves. Get yourselves on the right equipment. I foolishly fought the reality for twenty years and now I can’t help but think of all the sessions I could have had on my longboard back when I was living in Santa Barbara, or the longboard sessions I could have had with Bob on those perfect days when the sun was out and tiny swells hugged our favorite spot.
Photo of Cape Cod longboarder by Gerard Falco