Sunday, September 5, 2010

A surfmat riding experience!

All suited up and also sporting a cap and blue Gath helmet making me look remarkably like Buzz Lightyear, I continue to keep an eye on the conditions from the bench on the lookout as I sit down, raise my right foot and apply 4 bandaids to a toe. It still seems to need a little extra protection even though I also wear 2 pairs of 2mm fin socks to protect my feet from the heavy but powerful UDT swim fins I am using. I am resisting modifying the UDTs as I hope there will be no further need to once the fins wear in, my feet toughen up and I become more accustomed to using them. When I first started mat riding, I used a pair of POD 2 bodyboarding fins which are much lighter and shorter allowing high frequency kicking from the knee joint. I think that much of the toe issue is caused whilst in the excitement of trying to get on a wave and I still tend to kick like this using the UDTs. I am trying to change to a lower frequency kick generated from the big muscles of the thighs and I think that will alleviate the situation.
I pick up and pull on the low cut pair of fin socks and then the higher cut ones wiggling my toes around to make sure I have not pulled them on too tightly. I reach across to the UDTs and tugging strongly on the side of each pull them on to my feet after which I pull the big thick straps over my heels.
I stand up, reach down with my right hand to pick up the cylindrical object still on the bench, hobble awkwardly down the steps and slowly make my way across the beach to where the rip is flowing out next to the rocks. The waves are pretty straight and quick with a few bigger sets coming through that seem to hold up a little longer creating a right hand wave. These are not conditions I would normally consider venturing out in but today I am not taking out a surfboard but a unique and most capable wave riding craft.
As I lift my right hand I allow it's contents to unroll revealing a canvas and nylon Roundtail Tracker surfmat produced by Paul Gross at 4th Gear Flyer in the US. I raise the top of the canvas side of the mat, place a valve between my lips and start blowing in to the mat and it slowly springs to life against my body. After 20 or so breaths I stop, place the stopper into the valve and bend the mat in half to form a 90 degree bend.
Satisifed, I turn around to face the land and start wading out backwards feeling the strong cross current in the water increase as I move gradually deeper in to the ocean.
As the water reaches my waist and I feel the current starting to pull me backwards rather than sideways, I turn around to face the ocean and, squeezing hard on the top two corners of the surfmat, fall forward on to it and pull the now temporarily stiffer mat down and under my chest. I release my grip and I feel the mat immediately come alive as it responds to the movement of the water beneath it. As I start to bob and shimmy around crazily in the disturbed water of the rip, I use my arms to paddle out and then across to where the waves are breaking.
There are a few other hopefuls out the back and I get the usual double look from some who have not had my company before. I notice one guy turn to his mate and mutter something and they both break out in a chuckle.
I present them with a huge grin as I paddle past to sit the furthest out the back, move back off the mat and, with my legs hanging almost vertically in the water as the rear of the softly inflated mat bends under the weight of my body, wait for a set to arrive.
I am looking for a wave that sits up hard and is about head high from a stand up surfers point of view. A set builds and I am immediately searching for the focus of the energy within the wave to make sure that I am well placed to use it to mount the beast. Although this wave is a good size I can see that it is not going to sit up enough as the energy of the wave slides too quickly away from where I am positioned. As I slide over the top and down the back I can feel the depth of the water reduce as the bigger wave behind sucks up the water in front of it. I can see this waves energy focus heading straight for me but I can sense that I am too far in and, sliding my body half on and half off the mat with my arms not quite fully extended, I kick hard out towards it stopping at the point I judge will allow me to turn and still have enough distance to use my flippers to create some momentum forward. Reaching this point, I turn and, looking over my shoulder to check my position, move steadily forward until the wave and I will meet at exactly the point it starts to lift.
Perfectly positioned I feel the first thrust of movement of the wave start to lift me and my left hand squeezes the front of the mat stiffening it up a little as I take my right hand away to paddle hard to help my legs which are now kicking powerfully.
As I feel the wave take the mat in it's grasp and I return my right hand to the front of the mat and squeezing hard in concert with the left pull myself on to it angling straight across and down to the right where I can see the face building. Keeping my arms in and my body low I release my grip and I feel the mat take off automatically finding and holding a high line. Without quite understanding why I am doing so, I find myself touching up the mats shape by squeezing and releasing the corners, subtly shifting my body weight and dipping my fins in and out of the face of the wave to enhance it's progress.
I can see the section is about to close out in front of me but that the wave continues on beyond. I raise my fins from the water and dive down the face of the wave and with a terrific burst of speed fly across in front of the whitewater and through to the next section where the mat moves back up on to a high line I continue on my merry way.
The wave is now about to close out completely but I sense that it is reforming back in the other direction so I give the right corner a big squeeze and shift my weight to the left and the mat immediately carves around in the other direction and shoots across a face that is now barely above my head.
Squeezing, releasing, shifting, dipping and kicking I maintain momentum until the wave finally closes out and I turn towards the beach and relinquish all control back to the mat and remarkably it finds a means to continue forward in front of the whitewater until it can go no further. I stand up and move awkwardly back across to where the rip is running, turn around and, squeezing hard on the top two corners of the surfmat, fall forward on to it and pull the now temporarily stiffer mat down and under my chest. I release my grip and ride the rip out continuing the cycle again and again until I force myself to eventually call it a day and come in.
Flopping off the mat in the shallow water I just have enough energy to wrench the heavy straps of the fins off my feet, remove my fin socks and pull the stopper out of the valve. With the rapidly deflating mat in my right hand and and fins with fin socks tucked inside in the left, I wearily make my way out of the water as a grin splits my face and I marvel at the adeptness of this seemingly inappropriate limp bag of nylon to assist me to ride a wave. Any wave! Such a bag of Fun!


  1. LOL. Nice description. I was trying to pick up a few tips too. I just can't seem to part with my hard board at the moment.

  2. If the mat loses air and there is no one around to notice did the mat have air to begin?


  3. Very Zen Kendog and true to form for a matter I would think!