not all who wander are lost.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Hanging Ten

Bill Barlow interviewed me the other day for an article that he was writing about hanging ten:

Once upon a time, I was trying to learn how to drive a standard transmission.
I was after clear, concise instructions. How fast should the car be moving before changing from first to second? How many rpm? How quickly do I release the clutch in relationship to depressing the gas?
The answer was always the same: You just have to get a feel for it.
Then, it was frustratingly vague and almost entirely unhelpful. Now, I’m not sure I could explain it any other way. It’s almost like the car tells you when to shift, if you are paying any attention at all.
So it is with surfing. We can talk about wave dynamics and takeoffs and bottom turns, but really in the moment, it is all a matter of getting a feel of the wave. You don’t decide what to do, when (or even how) to put on a little more speed to get through the next section of the wave, when to turn toward the beach or stall a little to let the wave catch up. You just do it. I imagine thinking it through would end in a pretty hilarious wipeout.
The wave and the board come together, and if things are working right, they both tell you what to do next. Unless of course you’re on a longboard and they tell you to take a nice stroll up to the front of the board. It may work for a little while, then the nose sinks, the tail whips around, and after a moment, you come up from your faceplant sputtering.
Here’s one of those big differences between longboarders and shortboarders. A shortboard allows for the dramatic maneuvers, snapping up and down along the face of the wave, or even above it, pumping the board for speed. For most longboard riders, turns are fine if that’s what the wave needs, but not really an end to itself.
I’ve seen a few longboarders get airborne, if the waves are big enough, and that’s pretty impressive. But for most, the ride is all about the glide, and the best place to experience that glide is on the very tip of the front of the board, toes hanging over the edge.
For years, newspaper writers, and plenty of others, would use “Hang 10” in any story about surfing, without any particular interest in the context or meaning. It was more beat up than “gnarly” or “tubular.” But it describes riding with all your toes hanging off the nose of your surfboard, and if you’ve even seen anybody who’s good at it sidestep up there, believe me, it’s way harder than it looks.
By all accounts, it’s a wonderful feeling. Paul Breitinger, an excellent longboarder and all-around great guy, describes the end of his board on a moving wave as one of the best places in the world. Standing out there, with nothing but water ahead and around you, makes it feel like flying, he said.
So how do you get out there?
“The first thing anybody tells you is that you’ve got to set the tail. But I don’t even know what that means,” said Cailin Callahan. She’s a yoga instructor, musician and longboarder who seems to just dance out to the nose. I called to ask how to start walking the board, and I heard more or less that you’ve just got to feel it.
“I spent a lot of time as a kid watching my dad and Monk,” she said. Monk is Mike Monroe, who’s been hitting the waves around Ocean City on his longboard for decades, and her dad, who passed last year, was Paul Callahan, an all-around waterman.
“I kind of just did it,” she said, comparing it to learning to walk after crawling. You do it once without really thinking about it, then you try to do it deliberately.
Watching Callahan on the water, it doesn’t look like she’s walking out to the nose so much as sliding the board back into the wave behind her with her feet, occasionally cross-stepping back to make an adjustment or a slight turn.
So what’s going on?  
Have you ever noticed how much a noserider longboard looks like an airplane wing? The water flowing under the rounded concave nose of the board gives it lift. But it’s the rest of the board buried inside the wave that provides the stability to allow the surfer to walk out to the nose.
You can walk the board in almost any size surf, so long as there is a nice clean line to the wave and it’s going to last long enough for you to get out there. Callahan, who did a lot of traveling this year, described riding ankle-high surf in Sri Lanka with five toes on the nose this year.
A longboard, especially one with a nice, deep single fin in the back, is going to want to keep on a straight line. Like a goose finding its place in a formation, the board will feel the best when it finds the line of the wave, and will want to continue to travel along that line. Most shortboards have multiple smaller fins, in what’s described as a thruster setup. On a turn, half of those fins are out of the water, allowing for a much sharper change in direction. A single, deep fin is more like a keel, holding on to the wave.
Once your longboard is in the wave, any change in the balance of the board will tend to turn it. So to head up toward the nose, you want to sidestep along the center of the board to keep from changing the momentum.
Once you get up there, you just kind of float on the nose, Callahan said. These incredible noseriders who seem to be able to stroll out there no matter what the wave is doing – well, they make it look easy because it is easy, she assures me.
No doubt it’s different when you have a feel for it. My last attempt seemed to be going great, for several lovely seconds. After the board went flying, I was assured that nothing about that ride looked like I meant to do it. It was fun anyway.

You can find the article here

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