It turns out that even MT resorts to waxing his mat after about 6 months of use too. He only applies a light lengthwise wipe along the middle of each section of the mat to ensure he can still move around easily. So rather than being so stingy, I am now applying a light coat of wax to the back 1/2 of the mat and then up along the sides of the remaining 1/2 where the arms rest. I don't like getting wax in my beard.
Mats are certainly popular in Japan as this picture of the Shizunami Surfmat Team shows. Mats are also really starting to make their presence known on the East coast of Australia. MT spoke of a party wave recently with 8 mat riders resulting in utter mayhem and much laughter. Stopped all the board riders in their tracks too apparently. Good stuff and a welcome hark back to the past when the surfing style of the day allowed for the noble art of wave sharing. I have been doing a bit of wave sharing myself occasionally lately slotting in to the pocket behind a board rider much to their surprise when they find I was right behind them at the end of the wave.
Keeping The Body Soft
In terms of riding a thin decked mat, the other most interesting advice MT gave was to really work to keep the body soft and not retain any of the stiffness that might result from having ridden other forms of wave craft. As he says that I am of course thinking, "Well............., I know that and I do it!". However, it doesn't take long for the doubts to creep in and I am starting to think that next time I go out, I am going to have to keep that in mind and try to be more aware of what I am actually doing. Apparently, MT's son Daniel, apart from shaping the most radical boards on the planet, has been taking this notion to the extreme developing an arms back by the sides style of mat riding in an effort to reduce the rider effect on the mat as much as possible. This as been dubbed the Ironman, but I am thinking that maybe the Rubberman might be a more apt description.
Anyway, since this conversation, I have had two sessions on the mat. I have entered the water both times with the goal of observing what I am doing with the aim of "keeping my body soft" at the top of my mind. I discover straight away that maybe I am not relaxing my body as completely as I might. This, of course, is because it can be a little difficult to overcome the natural tendency not to do so, especially if the drop is a little steep or the face is sitting up and the wave really powering along. So I set about consciously making myself relax completely in to the mat in these two situations particularly. The results have been pretty amazing and taken my mat riding experience to a new and very satisfying level. The mat sets a rail more easily and once on the face consciously giving in to what the mat is doing results in it definitely going faster and inexorably gaining speed if the wave is long enough. I think this is the explanation why 4th gear, and beyond obviously given the right conditions, can suddenly occur without any obvious rider input. ie. Staying soft and relaxing into the mat must have occurred without my awareness.
I can also report that remaining aware and submitting to the sensation of the moment in this way really enhances the whole mat riding experience. Giving in entirely to the mat on a wave that is really cranking along is a somewhat surreal sensation. Now I know many of you ride mats because you appreciate the way they interact with a wave. But, there is a difference when you actively focus intensely on what the mat is doing, how your body is reacting in response and do little but remain soft and relaxed. Quite breathtaking to be honest. All a bit Zen, I know, but after the second most enjoyable session, on some seriously good sized waves, I had been more zoned out than usual as I relived that truly magic carpet ride like experience in my imagination.
I am a little stunned that I am now enjoying mat riding even more because I am doing even less having thought I had already hit the champin' at the bit to get out again wall!
As a consequence, I can't wait to get the chance to work towards my next goal of applying conscious softness to carving turns whilst continuing to practise staying soft in general to ensure it becomes unconscious softness!
PS My apologies to all of you who have taken the time to visit expecting to see this post but I accidentally posted it before it was completed to my satisfaction.