Posted by Reception on January 2, 2011
The sport’s impact on hotspots from Huntington Beach, to the Gold Coast to Punta del Diablo is increasingly visible, so the most recent evolution in boards is a return to Polynesian surfing hundreds of years ago; back to wood, back to basics and back to the Alaia.
Although it hasn’t made it to the sunny coast of Rocha yet—or at least not as far as any of the local surfers who know its legends can reckon—green surfers in the U.S. and Australia are trading in their polyurethane and foam for a new wave (pun intended) of wood boards modeled of the Alaia boards found in Hawaii and the Pacific until the early 1900s.
I came across a great New York Times pieces about the history and growing popularity of the notoriously difficult boards and the devotees converting. Without fins or fancy factory materials curvature is key, purity is the goal, and as author Jamie Brisick explains, success can be measured in faceplants.
Like something out of the Flinstones, these behemoth boards can be upwards of 7 feet long and pure hardwood, but that’s just the way Aussie surf-master Tom Wenger likes them. Credited for their revival after seeing one of these sticks in a museum, he’s spent the better part of the last five years testing shapes and sealant to come up with four variations for perfect “lala”—the Hawaiian art of a controlled slide in the pocket of the wave.
As a complete and utter novice who already approaches surfing with the same apprehension as I would a sleeping crocodile, the idea of a virtually uncontrollable, heavy wooden board colliding with waves terrifies me; and it should warns, our surf instructor Santi. He hasn’t tried the boards yet, but has seen many experienced boarders crash and burn, nor they aren’t well suited for all breaks.
So what’s the attraction? Practitioners see it as two-fold: low impact, and high thrill.
I asked our other resident surfer (Aussie and carpenter) Skeet what he knew about Alaias and he told me, he had a “mate” back home who swears by it, but suggests the trend is firmly limited to more “hippie” surfing circles. “I’m not a hippie surfer,” he concludes.
Putting aside environmental interests, those who master the boards’ quirks say it pays off in one of the smoothest and most natural rides out there. The boards themselves become a work in progress for the rider, who in turn constantly makes modifications, sanding and shaping the wood as they go.
It may be a while before the boards show up in Punta (Santi says these trends trickle from the U.S. and Australia to Brazilian surfers and finally down the coast to Uruguay), Santi says he’s down to give it a try. “Bring it on.”
If you’re interested, you can read about the movement and the man that started it all in his own words on Tom Wenger’s website. As well as check out the styles and custom boards he makes from his home in Australia.