This is an era of “alternative” surf craft like none I’ve ever witnessed in my 55 years as a wave rider. In these times it is not uncommon to see 4-foot finless boards share a lineup with 12-foot SUPs. While I am not capable now, nor have I ever been capable of, standing on a 4-foot sliver of pine, neither am I intrigued by paddle-powered surfboards. Still wanting to be in the mix, I am left with only two options: bodysurfing or prone vehicles. I have chosen the latter, and, surprise! I have learned to love them!
A few days ago my neighbor Ronnie Phillipy stopped by with two small wooden slabs that look something like skateboards. Ronnie, who along with his twin brother Rusty, has long been among North County’s finest surfers, is no stranger to innovation. The twins, along with coconspirator Rob Machado, once cut long soft boards in half, kept the front half, placed fins on it and created a stubby shortboard that predates some of today’s most progressive small-wave boards. Now there’s this!
I am anxious to try my new board and see if I can get half the speed and joy out of it that Ronnie does on a near daily basis. Seeing him ride prone in the Seaside shorebreak is all the endorsement I need.
I had never seriously considered ridding prone until surfmat master Ken McKnight offered to let me try his 4th Gear Flyer about three years ago. I had seen Ken, who had been a standout for years on conventional surf craft, fly across Swami’s sections on something that looked like a Rite Aide pool toy. I came, I saw, I floundered. Next!
About a year after my first attempt I tried a surfmat again after skateboarding legend Henry Hester loaned me one of his mats on a decent day. This time I slid into a good wave and felt that ticklish ruffle beneath my belly while moving down the line. But mat surfing is far more difficult than you might imagine and my next few attempts were not as fruitful.
Right around that time expatriate and close friend Tom Wegner sent me a foam Alia surfboard from Australia. While this opened my eyes to the possibilities presented by boards without fins, this particular model was a bit too long to prone surf well on and too short (for me anyway) to stand on. Younger, thinner friends like my neighbor Dan Dixon, however, did stand up and enjoyed it immensely. I will try it again as soon as I remember who borrowed it last.
About the time I was becoming discouraged with the foamy, Tom’s brother Johnny offered me one of his wooden Paipo boards. This ancient Hawaiian surf craft proved surprisingly fast in tiny waves, but the biggest surprise for me was that it caught waves like a board with many times its volume. I have not ridden a wave bigger than 2 feet on Johnny’s Paipo, but I have had great fun on it on days formerly considered flat.
Another revelation came in the form of a Rubber Soul kneeboard made by Arctic Foam’s Marty Gilchrest. This has proven a great solution for aging surfers who still hope to take off late and get deep. This little “knee rocket” has become my weapon of choice when the surf is steep, wonky or too walled up for a surfer of my vintage and ability.
The surf is small again today and I have a vast quiver of choices — all of which fit into the trunk of my car. So, why not pile them all in and take my new Phillipy out on its maiden voyage? Trunks on, keys in wax pocket, boards at the ready, I’m out. I’ll let you know how it goes.
You might enjoy this little clip of Tom Curren making the most out of a piece of wood: https://youtu.be/gcIF0Wgcd8c