United States: Surf's up, old-school style

Evan Pondel
Jon Monroy totes a longboard in Malibu.

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

MALIBU, CALIF. – The sun beat down on Andrew Tracy’s longboard, a 9-foot-6-inch wave eater wrapped in green fiberglass and perfectly aged and bruised from too many toes dangled across the nose during low tide.

“It’s like riding a battleship, taking shots off the top of waves and making people move out of my way,” says Mr. Tracy, a sound designer who drove an hour to ride the slow rollers at Surf Rider Beach.

Tracy is not alone in his quest to trot out a longboard the size and weight of a seaworthy wooden door. Today’s longboarders yearn for days of yore, paddling projectiles that are either family heirlooms or intentionally designed and shaped to embrace an art form and style of riding once only known to surfers in the 1950s.

“Surfers are searching for something more soulful to ride,” says Jon Monroy, who owns a surf shop in Santa Monica, Calif. “You’re walking on water when you ride one of these boards.”

The personality and poise required to ride a retro-style longboard is akin to riding a road-wizened Harley Davidson. The more wave miles and blemishes on the board, the more supposed respect riders get from the locals who frequent a break.

But riding an old-school longboard that can weigh nearly the same as its rider is tricky. And not every surfer is embracing the resurgence. Skip Frye, an iconic surfer and San Diego-based board shaper for more than three decades, is dubious.

“They are slow, heavy, and so full of drag it’s like towing an anchor out there,” Mr. Frye says. “I want speed and glide. That’s what stokes me out.”

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.