Some updated thoughts on volume, how best to train for stability, and board trends in the industry.
There is a definite relationship between surfing performance and lower v/w ratios. If you look at any of the top pros they are riding negative ratios, less float than weight. The majority of good surfers are riding at or below a 1.3 ratio. So a 150lbs surfer would at or under 88L or 180lbs – 107L.
I hold firm to the belief that if your goal is to be able to surf at a high level on a SUP you should have a target of getting into the 1.3 or lower range. My experience in coaching the last few years has changed my mind on the correct path to get there for a majority of paddle surfers. (paddle surfers without an extensive surfing background)
To explain, I need to take a step back. I came into paddle surfing with a long history of surfing shortboards. So when I decided to start paddle surfing I wasn’t concerned with wave knowledge, catching waves, or the surfing component. In evaluating the best paddle surfers it was obvious that small boards were a must, and that small was largely a reflection of volume. The surfing would take care of itself once I could stand on a board I could surf. This resonates with anyone coming into standup from the surf world.
It wasn’t until I started to understand how the learning process works with my study of learning and coaching that I discovered the error in pushing volume and learning to surf at the same time. The mind can only process a few new skills at once, and when you push your limits in one area, other skills that have yet to be internalized revert to old habits/patterns.
I’ll give you an example – Someone pushing their volume limits riding a 100L board, who is comfortable in waist high surf, will probably be ok (stable) surfing the 100L board in waist high surf, but when you increase the stress of the situation by introducing larger waves, that the surfer isn’t comfortable surfing, focus will shift to the waves and positioning, and balance will become an issue.
I call that increase in stress is called a flow multiplier, and while flow multipliers are great fun once you’ve hit a certain level, they aren’t great at the beginning of the learning process, in fact they retard it.
What I’ve done with my private clients this year is to separate training for volume/stability and surfing skills. I recommend having at least 2 boards, the comfortable now board (higher volume), and the future stretch board (lower volume). Then, when the waves are good and focus should be spent on surfing, ride the larger board. And when focused on training stability, either in lower quality surf or flat water, practice paddling the smaller board. As you move towards lower volumes the difference in volume will shrink.
The race to the bottom is important, and should be a priority in your training, but should be separated from surfing (at times) and this will increase the learning curve both for surfing and stability.
Ok, so volume is important, but what are the limits?
That depends on your ability, tolerance to pain, endurance and goals. The limits for Mo or Gio would be at about a .9 v/w ratio – they are massively talented, 100% focused on performance and the last 1% matters (photos, videos, contests…), have incredible endurance (paddling super small boards is exponentially more work/cardio output) and their goal is to surf their best.
Those might not be your goals, and they aren’t mine anymore. You get some beautiful moments riding incredibly small boards but at the cost of more work and less waves. The trick is finding the intersection between surfing performance (lower volume) and wave count/fun (higher volume). And then, once we’ve found the inflection point dial up or down volume as the situation calls it.
Let’s look at what the industry has done regarding volume in performance paddle surfing.
If we go back 3 years and follow the trends of boards you’ll see most of the SUP surfing shapes starting to go full-on shortboard style. Lots of rocker, lower volumes, excessive pumping and paddling to get speed, which completely misses the ease of glide and smoothness of longboard/mid-length surfing and folks got frustrated.
The pendulum was bound to swing back, it did, and in the last year we’ve seen the increase of longboard style boards. 9 and 10 foot boards at 27-29 inches wide and still in the lower volume range, aimed at good surfers. But these shapes completely miss the radical/explosive shortboarding aspect of paddle surfing. Fun to paddle with a high wave count, but forget about smashing a lip.
If you believe, as I do, that paddle surfing is the perfect blend of the ease of speed and glide of longboarding/mid-length boards and the radical explosiveness of shortboarding then there isn’t anyone who I believed has yet solved the issue. And it proved a large enough challenge to get me interested.
And if I extrapolate farther, I wish those were the core components of competitive paddle surfing. I was talking to Dave Kalama on an early paddlewoo podcast and he said he didn’t agree with the current path of standup as it would be seen as bad shortboarding, and he suggested a board length minimum. I don’t agree on regulating board size, but do think changing the criteria would be good for the sport. Embracing the style elements possible on surfing a larger board would broaden the audience and eventually the market for standup surfing.
You guys are picking up in act 3 of the design process. I didn’t want to share until this last trip to Costa Rica and testing the 5th and 6th prototypes for what I’m calling the Barra. The brand name is Portal, the board model is The Barra.
In the video I’m riding a 7.4 x 25.5 at 84L and a 7.9 x 28.5 at 107L (deckpad and slow mo). Damo is riding a 6.1 x 22 at 39L (which I’m riding as my shortboard, actually making a 5.8 right now for our next trip!)
The idea behind the Barra, and my impetus to design it, has it’s foundation in my ideal of standup surfing. I see standup, and I’ve talked about this countless times in the journal here and on the podcast, as the perfect blend of stylish longboard/midlength surfing and radical progression of shortboard surfing. Done correctly it is the most complete, highest form of surfing, although I doubt many surfers would share that viewpoint, at least at this time.
If we break down the components, the dichotomy of what makes paddle surfing beautiful, you come up with a unique set of parameters that makes design a challenge.
The essence of long rail surfing, longboards/midlengths, is an ease of speed. Using the wave to generate speed through positioning and enjoying the ride. In shortboard surfing the surfer enforces his will on the wave, riding in the most critical sections, with the most radical lines. The two endeavors require different crafts in paddle-less surfing as the combination of rocker, rail, template and volume for either goal is mutually exclusive from the other – some boards do come close, retro twin fins, hypto krypto…
Generally speaking in surfing (without a paddle), a board that has glide will have a length, weight and volume that won’t perform well in the pocket, and a board that can fit in the pocket and surf radically won’t have amazing glide.
Ideally you would have a board that didn’t compromise.
What changes this equation is the paddle. The paddle allows you to enforce your will on a much larger board than you’d ever be able to turn without a paddle. It’s having the ability to immediately, for an instant, double, or even triple your weight. So, your board, which at an incredibly large volume for your weight if you’re thinking in shortboard terms, momentarily becomes a shortboard when looking at forces.
The addition of the paddle allows you to surf a board with a large volume both optimized for glide, while not using the paddle, and optimized for radical maneuvers, while using the paddle.
The design challenge was to create a board that is optimized for both glide/trim at normal, non-leveraged, bodyweight and radical surfing while leveraging the paddle. While, seeing as it is a standup board, and you need to be able to paddle it, meeting the volume requirement, which I tried to separate from surfing.
At this point I won’t dive into all the details and how we arrived at the Barra model, or give away the secret sauce, but I will say that what you’re seeing now is the result of 5 months of work, over 60 designs, input from 2 acclaimed shapers (one in the standup world, one from surfing), and lots of prototypes and testing.
I tried to add up all the influences that have have gone into the Barra and landed somewhere around 50… There are a lot of good boards out there and this was not designed in a vacuum.
Some examples of influences and the process –
Mid rocker theme is based on feelings from a 6.10 Howard Special, a 6.10 Rawson, the feeling of the Hypto Krypto in good surf, the L41 Popdart in small surf, the Lost Rocket v.1 and the way Torren Martyn has been surfing on his twinnies… I also looked at 4 boards that I hate for how they carry speed (which I won’t name) and compared those to what I loved. I studied the combinations that seemed to work and extrapolated from shortboard to standup lengths/volumes and made educated guesses on what might be ideal. From there the elements and combinations were drawn out to test – rocker, rail, bottom design.
The first rocker designs were spot on for glide but lacked performance, or more precisely lacked rail surfing performance. The middle third of the board was great but I missed the balance between where mid and tail rocker needed to transition and how much was necessary. This was a 2 week dive that I might write about, but the gist is that I wanted a board that can drive/glide from the front foot and tap into incredible turning off the back foot, without moving foot position. There were some long conversations with a one of my consultant shapers and through reframing the question we arrived at a more correct solution. This changed entry rocker, mid and tail rocker to get both the desired feeling and performance. I don’t think we’ll refine much from this point on this model.
The step deck was a natural evolution because as rail thickness increases my like of trim/highlining and front foot drive (pivotal in that glide feeling we were trying to get and response off the bottom) decreases. In all the board mapping I did, there was a definite correlation between thin rails and a effortless trim which equals free speed. Thin rails doesn’t equal trim, but trim does equal thin rails (at least in standup terms). So, thin rails were a must, and the question became how to get them.
I’ve owned both highly domed deck (Banzaii, Hobie) and step deck boards (early Stretch quads and the Popdart). The first models of the Barra were domed. Paddling stability suffered because of how much volume we were packing in the center and the steep angle of the dome. To hit the mark on rails, volume and length the boards are thick in the center but from my testing you don’t feel at all. Not all volume is created equal. I wasn’t sure if stability issues were because of thin rails (low volume on the rails) or the angle of the dome itself. I found in further prototypes that it was some of both, but that with a step/flat deck it offset some of the balance and with the thin rails you could actually opt for more volume, better stability and paddling speed, and still surf better. (after the last round of testing I’m increasing volume 8L on my standard board to 92L)
The Barra isn’t quite ready yet, but we’re close! I have four new Barra prototypes, each with slight variations for testing, waiting for me to finish at the factory tomorrow.
I’ll post some photos in the next few days of how the shapes are looking!