[This editor’s note originally appeared in SURFER magazine, volume 60, issue 4. Keep scrolling to find out which stories are featured in this issue.]
“High performance” is kind of a loaded term, no? When used to describe something, those two words are supposed to mean “this works better,” but over the course of my 31 years on this earth I’ve become conditioned to just read them as “this is a scam.”
Think about the many contexts in which that term appears: high-performance oil is a go-to upsell at your local mechanic’s, high-performance sports drinks are actually just high fructose corn syrup in water, and the high-performance tablets behind the teller at the gas station, well, I’d be terrified to know what those actually are.
What about high-performance surfboards, or high-performance surfing, you ask? Well, that gets a little more complicated. You see, words can be insidious sometimes in the way that their repeated use causes your brain to stop thinking about what they actually mean. When you read “high-performance” as a description of a thin-railed thruster or vertical style of surfing enough times, you start to accept that narrow definition through osmosis – hell, I’m as guilty as anyone, having thoughtlessly regurgitated that term in that context countless times. But what is high-performance surfing, really? Is it the same thing for you as it is for me? Should everyone’s definition of it be hitting the lip like 2018 WSL Men’s World Champ Gabby Medina?
Maybe for some people, but certainly not all. In surfing, we’ve all got different sensations that we naturally gravitate toward – could be the feeling of effortless glide in a highline, the projection you get through a deep bottom turn on a good wave, the slip-and-recovery you experience when you push a turn past your fins’ holding point. We should all be chasing those individual feelings, riding whatever can most-handily recreate them, forming our own definition of “high performance” in the process. And that chase produces something perhaps even more impressive than “good” surfing – it produces stylish surfing.
Style only exists as a point of differentiation, as an individual expression. True style masters are never a product of emulation – even if they took notes from prior greats, they sprinkle a little something of their own on top, not intentionally, but because they’ve got their own feelings to chase, and that comes through in their surfing. Homogeny is what happens when the scam works, when everyone is surfing the same way, on the same boards, and style exits stage left. And in an era when we’re all so inundated with same-same surf content, going your own way has never looked or felt more refreshing.
This issue is chock-full of stories about people who chased a feeling in surfing, sometimes way off the traditional “high-performance” reservation, developing unique styles in the process. For one such story, I met up with talented shapers and surfers Alex Knost, Ellis Ericson, Andrew Doheny and Shyama Buttonshaw to talk surfboard design tangents and see them on display in Indonesia. Their unconventional, self-shaped boards worked (as you might imagine, considering their makers), and the resulting film, “Handmade II,” is full of some of the most stylish lines you’re liable to see. But to me, one of the most stylish moments of the trip didn’t occur on a self-shaped board. It happened on something that could be easily mistaken for a pool toy.
On a head-high afternoon at a perfect right-hand reefbreak, rather than waxing up one of his self-shaped boards for another session of tubes and carves, Ericson pulled out a small, flat rectangle of inflatable rubber and started blowing air into it. He threw on a pair of swim fins, made the humble kicking commute out to the lineup, and proceeded to have just about as much fun as a person can in the
ocean. He was picking off inside bowls, floating over chops with Cadillac-grade shock absorption and locking into high-speed pocket rides up and down the reef, flipping a good-natured middle finger at performance conventions in the process (well, technically it was at videographer Jimmy Jazz, but you get the idea).
Some surfers would scoff at that, say that session was “low performance,” or maybe even “no performance.”
I would just say, “I like your style.”
[Continue on to get a sneak peek of the features of our winter issue, on newsstands now.]
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