I saw Rob Machado surfing what I now know was an Alaia on the Big Island of Hawaii back in 2008 at a fast, shallow point break. At the time I wondered why he chose to ride that small, flat, wooden surfboard. After deciding to surf in the Huntington Beach 100 years of surfing exhibition "When Men Were Men And Boards Were Made Of Wood," it makes much more sense. I only wish it was something that I had gotten into back then rather than just five weeks before the June 21 event.
I think this quote from master shaper Tom Wegener best captures the draw of the Alaia: "It's just getting surfing back to its absolute minimum and then you learn so much more. Like it's just amazing how good it feels to surf on just an oiled plank of wood."
Here's my journey.
Thursday, May 15, Noon
It all starts here. I take a long lunch to drive down to San Clemente and check out a Tom Wegener 8' Alaia for sale at USEDSURF. I'm super psyched to scope out this board, as I've been striking out on finding the right wood board for the surf centennial. It's a cool shop—lots of used boards, all different types. Definitely worth the drive if you want to pick up a board but aren't sure what you want and don't want to spend the money on a new board.
At first glance the Alaia isn't in as good of condition as I'd hoped. There are two cracks in the nose: one cosmetic, one a bit more severe. There's also a big ding in the rail and a small chunk missing from the tail. I consider passing on it, but after looking around the shop, I realize that I need a board in order to start practicing to be ready for June 21. I also figure it won't be too hard to fix it up, and worst case scenario I can always shorten the board by 6" and remove the damaged area. Also, since the board is made from paulownia wood, I can probably surf it right away without worrying about water damage. I notice that the Wegener logo looks pretty crude, so it must be one of his earlier boards.
A history lesson on the Alaia boards:
Thursday, May 15, 6:45 p.m.
I surf the Alaia for the first time just north of the Dog Beach cliffs. I figure this to be a good spot to paddle out and not kill anyone or look extremely stupid. From what I've read, learning to surf an Alaia is like completely starting over, so I conclude that the fewer people watching, the better. It feels weird walking with a wood surfboard, especially one so thin. It's akin to a strange mix of a surfboard/skimboard/snowboard.
The waves are a bit bigger than I expect. As soon as I get on the board and start to paddle, I realize that everything is going to be that much harder. At first it's difficult to find the right point of balance when lying on the board because of the lack of buoyancy when compared to a normal foam/fiberglass board. I also quickly grow tired when paddling the board and decide not to try to paddle to the outer break. I begin to wonder if I'm going to even be able to catch a wave.
From what I'd read online, they said to ride a couple waves on your stomach to get a feel for the way the board rides. At this point I'd be happy to just catch a wave. It's hard to build up enough speed, and the board frequently spins out from beneath me when paddling. I eventually catch a wave on my stomach. It's a wild ride—fast and out of control. I can't believe it. I'm half hanging off of the board, and it slides sideways the entire time.
I'm eager to get my first standup ride and surf into the darkness. Exhausted, I finally bid farewell to the water at 8:15 p.m. I scored a few stomach rides and a few good poundings. At home, I down a few beers to celebrate at least getting a taste of what it's like to ride an Alaia. I also start to wonder if I'll be ready for the event in five weeks.
Some solid tips on riding an Alaia.
Another cool YouTube video:
Saturday, May 17, 7 a.m.
I paddle out at Sunset Beach at Warner to avoid the crowds. The waves look fun. Luckily, many are smaller than Thursday. It feels more normal walking around with my Alaia board. The first couple of waves result in sinking the nose, but I finally catch a ride on my knees. Still, it feels incredible to ride on the face of the wave. I miss the chance to catch a few good waves due to people paddling out, as I'm definitely not at the point yet where I can try to drop in with anyone close by. In general, I have to pay a lot more attention to other surfers around me. I rarely surf without a leash, so that paired with no fin takes a lot of getting used to.
I snag a couple extremely short backside waves in the crouched position while grabbing the rail. The board kind of slides sideways, and I either wipe out or go back over the top of the wave. Most straight rides end up with me sinking the nose and pearling out. I get up to my feet a few more times but fail to get the epic ride I'm craving. I do get into a few waves that feel like they could have been good ones. I know I'm getting close.
I surf for three hours and am completely exhausted. I've definitely improved over my first session, but I still have a long way to go. Three different people comment on the board on the walk back to the car. First, a long boarder asks a few questions but is confused as to why I would ride a solid wood board with no fin. Second, a woman comments that she has never seen a board like mine before but likes the wood look. Lastly, a group of surfers hanging out in the parking lot playing a ukulele are the first people to say, "Hey, that's an Alaia, right?" They ask a few questions about how it rides and if it's slippery without wax.
Monday, May 19, 10 a.m.
I paddle out at Sunset Beach again, and initially the waves look dismal—choppy and small. I'm bummed at first, but the tide comes up a bit more within the hour and the waves grow bigger. After reading some more on technique I think about maintaining a low stance and keeping my weight primarily on the back of the board. I'd read that when you end up spinning out, to shift back on the board when paddling and standing up. I find the right spot on my board, catch a couple waves but still wipe out.
I realize that another flaw in my previous attempts to date is that I was trying to pop up to my feet too quickly like I would on a short board. I think that was causing me to spin out or just wipe out. Seems like if you let the board gain a little momentum on the wave by delaying a couple extra seconds, getting to your feet is a bit more stable of a maneuver.
I finally connect with a left and stand with my weight mostly on my back foot. The nose dips down into the water on the drop, then skips back up rather than digging in as it had done previously. The ride is short, but I get what I was searching for: My first real ride on the Alaia. It was a quick ride on the face of the wave and gave the true sensation.
With the rush of the ride running through my head, I go for some bigger waves and end up getting slammed, losing my board twice and having to swim all the way into the beach. After two exhausting wipeouts, I focus on controlling the board when I fall. I take one drop over the falls while holding the board, which results in a nice bash to the ribs. I also have a nice wipe out tumbling head over heels in white water with my board. But, I end up catching another left and a right to validate that I can actually ride the board now.
The right provides a new sensation to the ride. When I'm on the smaller end section of the wave, the board does some side-sliding motions that feel pretty cool. I go for a fourth wave before calling it quits and am rewarded with a pretty good wipeout. When I attempt to stand up on a larger wave and drop in, a freak outward wave collides with me and sends the board and I flying. This is the last swim chasing my board for the day. While walking back to the car a man asks if my board is the first surfboard. I tell him, "Pretty close."
I don't think anything looks more fun than being able to ride like this:
Some tips on riding the Alaias backside.
Tuesday, May 20, 5:30 p.m.
It's extremely windy this afternoon. Even Surfline's afternoon report says something along the lines of probably a good afternoon to pass on surfing, but I decide to at least check it out. Based on the webcams, it looks less windy in Sunset Beach. I go there, and it's completely blown out. I drive down PCH to Golden West and do a lap back—nothing looks rideable. I head home and wait until 7 p.m. in hopes that the wind drops. Based on conditions looking out the window at that time, I decide it's not even worth the drive to check.
Earlier today I bought a Seaglass Project Tuna board. It's supposed to ride like an Alaia but give you the advantage of having more float, which makes it easier to catch waves. From the reviews, the board seems to be a complete blast. I'm going to use this board to cross-train. I think it'll be easier to pick up the skills for maneuvering a finless board and be useful for riding a wood Alaia. The other advantage is a leash plug, so I'll primarily use it on bigger, crowded days when there's no way I can take out my Alaia.
These boards are on sale now for $250 plus free shipping, so if you're at all interested in riding finless, this is a great way to check it out.
A video explaining the Seaglass Tuna plus some surf footage:
Wednesday, May 21, 4 p.m.
I decide to fix the cracks in the Alaia as soon as I get home from work to ensure it's dry in time to take out tonight. I'm not sure of the best material to use, but end up going with a five-minute epoxy. It should dry quickly and be strong enough. When they make Alaias, they just use wood glue to hold the planks together. My thinking is that even a quick-drying epoxy will be stronger and tougher. Five minutes seems to be long enough to fill the cracks.
I use a knife first to dig out a wider groove on the top and bottom of the crack, then grab a screwdriver to open the other crack on the nose. After mixing the adhesive, I pour it into a syringe to inject into the crack. All seems well on the first side, so I flip the board and start shooting the top. The syringe starts getting hot. I begin shooting the epoxy as fast as I can and manage to get it all down before it starts to gel. I'm pretty sure I only hit three minutes. The fix doesn't look that great cosmetically, but it feels strong. I'll need to sand it down some to make it look better.
Wednesday, May 21, 5:30 p.m.
Winds look lighter than normal, so I decide to go a little earlier today. I scope Sunset Beach, but it looks bad—very small waves breaking on shore, the high tide likely killing it with the combination of wind. I'm going to get wet today no matter what. I park at the north Cliffs lot and paddle out a little south to the entrance where it looks better. No one is out. Perfect. It looks fun, the wind is tame, some bigger sets are coming in and the high tide isn't hurting things too much. It seems to be a little mushy at the outer break with reform shore break, so I start surfing the shore break. It's different due to the choppiness and takes a little getting used to. I spin out on a few waves, then wipe out on another, crunching the ribs again.
I start worrying that I won't catch a wave this session and consider blaming it on conditions. Then a nice peaky wave pops up. I paddle for the left, pop to my feet and glide on the face. I start to get ahead of the wave and just naturally begin to turn back, and the board actually follows my instinct. But halfway through the arc, I lose my balance and fall, catching the board with three fingers and holding on long enough to slow the board while the wave passes.
I paddle to the outer break, and the waves are much better—less walled up. It's tricky spotting good waves because of the chop. Also, being on an Alaia, at least initially, limits your ability to paddle and get to the peak. If I could get to the peak in time, I'd probably be too tired to catch the wave or be too late to start paddling. At least the pressure of catching a wave is off, so I just sit and wait. A bigger wave comes, I go for the left and attempt to stand, but only made it to my knees. I still take a pretty nice drop-in and cruise on the face. On the next wave, I go over the falls on a big one and hold on for a wild ride.
I paddle back out and sit for awhile, waiting for another set. It comes, and I go for it. Popping up on a chest-high wave right at the top of the peak, I drop in, feeling good. This is definitely my biggest wave to date. I ride the face for a few, then turn slightly and slip out. I still don't have the exact feel for how to maneuver on the board yet, so that's the next big thing to figure out.
Tonight marks one week of surfing the Alaia and exactly one month before the exhibition.
A video of the master Rob Machado. I'd like to find better footage of him surfing the Alaia, but I can't seem to find any on YouTube.
Saturday, May 24, 7:30 a.m.
Conditions from the webcams at sunset look poor. I drive down past the Cliffs; seems fun but crowded. It's definitely less congested at 20th Street. I walk a ways south down the beach until I spot a gap in the lineup. A longboarder comments, "And I thought I had an old board!"
I paddle out, reach the outer break, paddle for a few but fail to get anything. The lineup starts filling up, so I keep a close eye on other surfers. I paddle in a little to catch the shore break once my spot gets packed. I see a fun one coming in and go for it, but wipe out. I try to grab my board but miss it, look up to see it tumbling in the surf. One guy paddling out is nice enough to grab it and pass it back to me. I decide it was a little too close of a call to hitting someone with the board. I'd seen them to my far left when going for the wave but didn't think I'd come anywhere close to them.
It's back to the shore break again to avoid the crowds. I paddle for a peaky one and catch it. I stand up and try to ride right, but the wave's closing out. I wipe out near the shore and swim in to retrieve my board. It's not the best day to be out learning on the Alaia, so I call it. Can't wait for my Tom Wegener Tuna. It would've been a good day to give that board a try. I'll be out of town for the weekend but will be back at it on Tuesday.
Tuesday, May 27, 11 a.m.
I decide to take the day off of work so I can catch some waves. A 10 a.m. high tide kind of breaks up the morning, so I head to the beach post-high tide. I drive down to the Cliffs and score a spot in the north parking lot. Only one paddleboarder is out in the water. Waves look okay. It's really nice and sunny out. Water temps are a bit warmer now, so I'm excited to get out for the first time without a wetsuit. I'm also interested to see if a wetsuit makes surfing an Alaia easier or harder. Generally, wetsuits make it harder to paddle, but I worry that the wetsuit helped with flotation since the board had such little buoyancy.
I get in the water, and it's nice and refreshing. Paddling seems easier, but I don't really notice any other differences. I end up staying out there for two hours—paddling like mad to try to get that one wave I crave. Every one I go for either closes out on me, I spin out or I just don't catch the wave. I get a few short crouched standup rides, but not long enough to count. I get two rides on my knees that are pretty fun, but I really shouldn't be counting those anymore. Both this time and the last time I was out were challenging because it was difficult for me to get a good ride.
I surf until I'm completely exhausted and drift to the Bolsa Chica Jetty.
It was a nice day out in the water, but I'm disappointed I haven't seen much progress since the past two times out.
Wednesday, May 28, 5 p.m.
Surfing the Cliffs again. The wind is very light, and the waves look good. Only a few people are out, and there are definitely some bigger sets coming through. I get into my typical pattern of either not catching the wave, spinning out or pulling out of the wave because it's going to be a closeout. The drift to the north is pretty strong, and I'm starting to get closer to the Bolsa Chica Jetty. Just hoping I can catch one in time. I end up trying for a few, but it doesn't work out and I have to paddle in.
I walk up the beach for round two. About midway through my drift I catch a left and get to my feet, glide for a few seconds then wipe out. I hold onto the board just enough to keep it from tumbling with the wave. It feels good to get a ride after so many tries.
I paddle back out with hopes of keeping the good luck going. I end up going for a bigger one than the last and wipe out on the drop. The board goes along for the ride, and I get to swim after it.
I'm tired, but I decide to give it one last try before I'm back at the jetty. While drifting, I try for a few more with no luck and paddle in—exhausted.
On the walk back some pretty large sets roll through. It seems like the swell has gotten bigger with the rising tide. Conditions look like they will be good tomorrow afternoon, so hopefully I can score a few rides on my new finless Tom Wegener Seaglass Tuna board.
Incredible video of an Alaia and a finless Tom Wegener Albacore board. At one point the guy ollies over someone in the water!
Thursday, May 29, 5 p.m.
I'm taking out the Seaglass Tuna this afternoon for the first time. The board came last night and looks awesome. The bottom contours and rails look so different than anything I've seen, let alone ridden, before. I expect it to be easier to ride than the wooden Alaia, and I like the idea of having a leash again.
I head to the Cliffs, and the waves look fun. There are some bigger sets rolling in—probably head high at times. I jump in the water, and the first thing I notice is how much flotation the board has. The 6'2" Tuna seems to have about as much volume as a typical shortboard of that size or a smaller retro fish. Perhaps it seems extra floaty since I'm used to riding the Alaia. Paddling is easier, and I get out to the break. I go for my first wave, and the board spins around while paddling. I wasn't expecting that, but I guess it's just like the Alaia.
I go for another wave, stand up, start to make the drop and spin out. It feels pretty wild though, and I made the drop on a wave that I wouldn't have been able to make on the Alaia. The shorter length helps a lot.
I paddle for the next wave, make the drop in the crouched position and am cruising down the face of the wave. It feels awesome. Once the speed slows down slightly from the drop, I stand up more. It's such a different feeling than riding a finned short board. It's difficult to describe. When the board loses its grip on the edge, you have to be in just the right balance to be able to steer the board. If you're facing or leaning the wrong way, the board will track weirdly, and you will wipe out. I need to get in the habit of dragging my hand along the face of the wave. I've read that it's a good way to keep your line. Rail of the board is your first fin; hand is the second fin. I eventually wipe out on the wave due to balance problems, but it was my best ride to date on a finless board.
I paddle back out and go for a few others but don't connect. I eventually see a pretty big set wave and go for it. Cutting right and making a pretty late drop, I make it down the face of the wave. The speed of the wave, however, is unreal, and when I try to bottom turn, I eat it and fly off the board, landing smack on my back. I paddle back out and by now am getting closer to the Bolsa Chica Jetty. I go for a few more and end up catching a smaller one that's barely breaking. I ride it straight, and it has the sensation of longboarding. I try walking up to the nose to make the board drop in on the wave more. After a short ride the wave dies, and I paddle in.
I walk all the way back up the beach to the middle Dog Beach entrance and paddle out again. The waves look a lot better than at the jetty. I drift and drift but can't seem to catch the right wave. I catch one but fall. I catch another and kind of spin out and ride crouched backward on the wave for a quick second.
The conditions deteriorate, the wind picks up and the waves drop down in size. There's a lot of chop before the breaking wave, and I'm just trying to catch one more good wave. I end up drifting back to the jetty during 20 minutes of frustration. I've been out for two hours, so I paddle in—exhausted—but glad that I scored two or three really fun rides. I think I'm going to ride the Tuna for a few more days and see how I progress, then switch back to the Alaia to see if that helps. Plus, I've been meaning to oil the Alaia, as the existing oil has been slowly wearing away.
Saturday, May 31, 7 a.m.
I'm stoked to take the Tuna out for a ride Saturday morning after the fun I had on Thursday. I park at 20th Street, and conditions look fun. It's not super crowded yet either. The waves at the Cliffs are better, but it's already pretty packed. I paddle out, and after a relatively short time, catch a fun wave. The waves seem to drop in size as the morning progresses, and I drift in and out of crowded areas. I end up with a good left and a right on pretty nice-sized waves. The Tuna is a really fun board to ride. I have a few good wipeouts, including one wave I drop in on and end up spinning sideways, then partially backward before eating it.
I'm noticing that the glass on these boards is a little light, as I'm already getting some pretty good pressure dings on the top and bottom. I am slamming into the board pretty hard during some wipeouts, and given that the board is so light, I guess it can be somewhat expected. This board has already helped me improve my skills on riding finless, so I'll likely switch back to the wood board for the next few sessions to see if this helps at all.
Saturday, May 31, Noon
I need to oil up the Alaia before taking it out again; the board is getting lighter in color with each session. I pick up some boiled linseed oil, which is one of the more common types recommended for maintenance on these boards. I've heard that linseed oil can spontaneously combust, so I'm not quite sure what I'm going to be working with. It's probably an extreme situation where that can actually happen. I start by using paint thinner to remove stains and other marks on the board. A few times I've gotten tar on my feet, and it transferred to the board. The paint thinner does a pretty good job of removing those marks. I also sand down the epoxy repairs I'd previously done on the nose. They look a bit cleaner now. Before applying the oil I hit the top and bottom of the board lightly with some 120-grit sandpaper to help the board absorb it.
My first observation is that the oil doesn't smell very good. Either way, I apply it to the bottom of the board with a washcloth, let it sit for 20 minutes or so and wipe off the excess. The board doesn't seem to absorb all that much oil. I was hoping that the board would darken up a bit more than it did. It definitely looks better. I flip the board and take care of the top side, which was originally in worse shape and a bit lighter than the bottom. I apply a bit more oil on the top, and it seems to seep in about the same. I'll have to see on the next session if I notice a difference with traction now that the board has a fresh oil coat.
Wednesday, June 4, 5 p.m.
Conditions were bad yesterday afternoon, so I'm glad to get out for a surf today. I'm taking out the wood Alaia and surfing with my buddy Chris, who just bought a red Seaglass Tuna. The waves are a little choppy but better than I thought, and we decide to surf the north end of the Cliffs. First thing I notice when paddling out is how little float the wood board has in comparison to the Tuna, which I'd ridden the past two days. Hopefully what I've learned on that board helps rather than hinders.
The first wave I catch is a left, and I keep a crouched stance. I'm cruising on the small face, holding the rail with my right hand and dragging the fingers of my left hand through the water. It feels good, as if I can steer with just my one hand. The wave dies, and I paddle back out. There are some larger set waves today I would've gone for on the Tuna, but I have to pass with the wood board. It would most certainly end with me not making the drop and paddling in after my board.
I have a few wipeouts during the session but manage to hang on, which is a surprising improvement. I take one over the falls on a good-sized wave, hanging on headfirst. I actually escape that one pretty unscathed. I end up going for a medium-sized peaky wave and make a pretty good drop, crouched and holding the rail. I get a relatively short ride on the face, but I'm happy just to be making the drop on this board. The extra two feet of board length and lack of flotation in the nose is a real challenge in peaky beach break type waves. I catch another similar wave to the last, making the drop in the same manner and end up sliding out while riding the wave backward for a quick second before wiping out.
Conditions deteriorate some, and we eventually end up drifting south past the Cliffs before getting out and walking back.
When I get home, I check Facebook, and my registration is confirmed for the "When Men Were Men And Boards Were Made Of Wood" surf exhibition! I'm psyched; I was starting to worry that I wouldn't get in.
With a little under two weeks left, I'm feeling better than three weeks ago but really need to get some more time in the water.
Sunday, June 8, 7 a.m.
I take the Tuna out this morning; conditions are clean, and the waves look fun. I paddle out at 20th Street and find a small gap in the crowd. As soon as I hit the water, I wish I'd worn my wetsuit. I catch a fun left, cruise for a short while on the face, then the wave slowly dies out. There are some larger set waves coming in, so I'm constantly paddling out trying to snag one of them. I'm usually too tired to make the drop but score a few fun wipeouts.
I end up catching a nice smaller right, cruise on the face and am fully standing up for most of the ride. At the end I crouch down and use my hand to attempt a spin on the board—it actually works! However, I only make it three-fourths of the way around before the wave dies.
I paddle back out and try to catch one more, but the crowds are getting worse, and I'm freezing by now. I end up wiping out on one, then paddling in.
Monday, June 9, 5 p.m.
It looks kind of windy this afternoon, and I debate on whether it's worth going for a surf or not. Pulling up to the Cliffs, I decide that although it doesn't look good, it looks doable. The waves are just barely breaking on the outside, then sort of reforming close to shore.
I end up scoring two rides. They're not great due to the shape of the wave, but they're still fun. Since the tide is slightly high, the waves aren't fully forming, which makes it somewhat easier to stand up without having a steep drop on the wave. Eventually the conditions deteriorate, and I decide to call it quits.
Friday, June 13, 4 p.m.
It's just one week until the exhibition, so I need to try to get as much time on this board as possible. Winds are lighter than the previous day, and the Cliffs look fun but small. I catch a few short rides but nothing too memorable. Overall, my consistency has improved when the waves are relatively small. Right now the waves next Saturday are looking to be 1-2 feet, so I should be able to handle that pretty easily.
Saturday, June 14, 7 a.m.
I paddle out at 20th Street. It looks like a typical weekend crowd. I'm riding the Tuna and wearing my wetsuit this morning due to the fact that it was freezing last time in the morning when overcast. I make it out and find a gap in the lineup. The waves look fun, are peaky and are breaking well. On my first wave, I make the drop and instinctively go to make a hard bottom turn, forgetting I'm riding a finless board. I completely slide out and wipe out. It's funny, I've been riding finless for five weeks now, but you still return to your habits when not paying attention.
I paddle back out and catch a few shorter rides. I go for a pretty big set wave and wipe out pretty good. I have one really nice ride but end up dropping in on someone and bailing part way through the ride. It's too bad; it may have been my best ride to date. I catch another wave and accidentally spin backward on the face of the wave, then wipe out.
I drift up the beach, and the crowd is filling in more and more. I want one last good ride, but it doesn't pan out and I paddle in.
Check out this other modern finless design: The Rabbit's Foot
Monday, June 16, 11 a.m.
Waves look small but fun at the Cliffs. I'm surprised how crowded it is for a weekday midday. I walk up the beach a bit to get away from the crowd. Most of the waves are just barely breaking on the outside, but every once in a while a good set comes in. The tide is still coming up, so conditions will probably worsen as time goes on.
I paddle for a few, finally catching one. I crouch and slide to the left. It's a small wave and dies off pretty quickly, but it was a fun ride. I catch another but only get to my knees. Still fun! The next wave is a pretty good ride. I get to my feet, slightly crouched and sliding on the face. It's one of the longer rides to date. I paddle back out and catch a few short rides.
Not once do I lose my board, which is a big accomplishment.
The waves crap out, and I paddle in. I need to get at least two more good days in this week.
Wednesday, June 18, 5:30 p.m.
I paddle out midway along the Cliffs. The wind is very light, and the waves are fun and peaky. I catch the first wave. It's a pretty sweet right, and I get a longer than normal ride. I paddle back out thinking that this is going to be a really good session. Everything is starting to feel more natural. I proceed to catch the next wave but wipe out quickly, resulting in having to swim all the way into the beach to retrieve the Alaia. I paddle back out and am pretty tired now, but I rest for a few waiting for the next wave. It's so nice out. The water is warm and clear; the sun is shining.
I paddle for the next wave, drop in, sink the nose, wipe out and am rewarded with another swim back in after my board. I bodysurf a few waves in, so at least that was fun. I really need to focus on keeping ahold of the board for the rest of the session. I end up catching a really nice left but only make it onto my knees. Still, it's an awesome glide on the face, and I stay in just the right place on the wave, right in front of the curl. If only I was standing, that might've been my best ride to date.
My next wave is a left, and it's a pretty good drop in. I keep crouched, holding the rail and dragging my left hand through the wave. I get a pretty long glide across the face of the wave and pull out, keeping control of the board. If I can score a ride like this at the exhibition on Saturday, I'll be stoked.
I have a few more memorable waves. One is a right where I make a pretty good drop but get pitched by the wave. I manage to hold onto the board this time. My last wave is a smaller left that I cruise on for a bit, then straighten out and try to milk the ride into shore. I've surfed for over two hours and feel exhausted.
I think this is my last session before the exhibition. I feel ready, and I'm stoked to have had such a good last session.
Friday, June 20, 4 p.m.
I'd originally decided not to surf the last two days before the event, then realized Friday was International Surfing Day. It's impossible not to want to get out there after having some really good rides during my last session.
The winds are light, so I decide to paddle out at the Cliffs. I catch a few shorter rides here and there, then finally connect with a really good ride. It's a nice peaky wave, and I go for it and get to my feet. I'm cruising to the right on the face of the wave, and the wave keeps peeling. The sensation is awesome. As the wave starts to die out some, I stick with it, then it reforms on the inside and I glide into another section of the wave, pulling out at the last second before the wave crashes in shallow water.
It's definitely the best wave to date, and to get it on International Surfing Day and just one day before the exhibition makes it just perfect. I paddle back out in hopes of scoring another epic ride, but the tide comes up more and the waves really crap out. All it takes is one wave to make your day.
Saturday, June 21, 9:30 a.m.
It's the big day. I arrive at the event and register. The waves look fun—not too big and the wind is light. I hang out on the beach waiting for 10 a.m. when it's time to paddle out. I'd heard that some of the other people surfing in the event are coming later in hopes that the waves improve as the tide comes in. I just want to get in the water.
They announce the start of the event, and I pick up the Alaia and make my way to the water. It's just me and one other surfer—Dillon Joyce—paddling out. The southside of the pier has been sitting empty until now. I go for a left on my first wave but wipe out. On my second wave I go for a right and make it to my feet, but I'm in the white water. My board starts to slide sideways, and I wipe out. I take a left, get a short ride and eventually wipe out. This time I lose my board and have to make the swim in to retrieve it. My next wave is a right; I get to my feet but end up sinking the nose and guess what, wiping out. Now it's a left; I make the drop in a crouched position and get a short ride before the wave breaks over me. I go for another left, making the drop in again, but this time my board slides out, and I end up going down the wave backward and quickly wiping out. So far all of my rides have been pretty short ones but still so fun.
It's really cool being out here and watching everyone catching waves on these wood boards. Bartholomew "Bart" Genovese has been getting some really nice rides on his board, and I can't believe the incredible rides Ryan Hurley is getting on the George Freeth replica board. It's the first time the board has ever been ridden, and Hurley is catching some amazing rides. Duke Aipa is another surfer riding an Alaia and is also scoring some sweet rides. It's really motivating to be out there surfing with so many talented surfers in this exhibition.
My next wave is a right, and it's a pretty good size, about shoulder high. I make the drop and am gliding on the face. This is what I've been searching for. I start to lose my balance, then it's all over in a flash. I lose hold on the board, but luckily it doesn't wash into shore. It's not my longest ride to date, but it's my first solid wave today. I contemplate going in to take a rest, but I really want to score another sweet ride.
The rest of my rides are pretty short, and I eventually paddle in—exhausted—around 12:30 p.m. I was out there for over two and a half hours. I drink some water and eat a Clif Bar, and now I finally get to see the skills of the other surfers from the sand. I wish I could've surfed and watched the exhibition from the beach. I see Kim Hamrock scoring some really sweet waves. I end up resting for about 45 minutes, then go back out for the last 40 minutes of the exhibition. I'm tired to the point where I really don't want to paddle back out, but I also can't miss this opportunity.
The waves have deteriorated some, and only the set waves are worth going for now. I end up paddling around a lot but not connecting with any waves. I paddle for a few but am either too late or just not in the right position to catch them. The time is being announced, and it's quickly passing. There are now only a few minutes left, and I just need that last wave. A set comes through and I paddle out for it, but it's too walled and would've most certainly resulted in me eating it. With the last few seconds left in the exhibition, I hope to see a wave on the horizon but nothing.
I paddle in exhausted but relieved that I caught some good waves today. Most rewarding of all, I got to share almost four hours in the water with some amazing surfers riding wooden boards in celebration of Freeth and 100 years of surfing in Huntington Beach. I may have never chosen to ride an Alaia if it weren't for this event, just like many people may have never ridden surfboards if it weren't for surfing pioneers like Freeth, Duke Kahanamoku and those who followed in their footsteps.