Lately, Bells Beach has seen a major influx of crowds now that every hipster in Melbourne calls themself a surfer. They usually rock up in a 5-seater Audi with about four boards strapped to the roof, each a DHD or Channel Islands carbon copy of the other. Their coiffed mullets catch some of the Victorian breeze as they change into their wetties, their stoke palpable and adorably naive.
I kind of hate them, but I’m also insatiably fascinated by them.
But I can’t hate them for being excited to surf Bells, it’s the freaking best. Plus, I’m always curious to see how these blokes will manage with their mega high-performance Slater sleds. Generally speaking, they all seem to have a tough time catching waves with such small boards. Their arms are like cartoon jet propellers, splashing wildly in desperation to get into a two-foot wave and then getting super pissed off when they can’t catch a wave. I get it. I’d be frustrated too.
The locals, on the other hand, tend to dominate on their mid-lengths, hybrids and longboards, gliding effortlessly into every wave and carving lustrous lines from Rincon to the Bowl. The average board size out there tends to range from a 6’10 twin fin fish to a 9’6 fluted flier glider, and you rarely see anything smaller than 6’0. They’re having the best time simply because they’re catching more waves. I hate to say it, but in this case, it seems that size really does matter.
(Please note that it’s not beyond me to mention that of course the locals are going to have it easier than the Melbourne blow-in’s. They surf Bells most days of the week, while the City Slickers are lucky if they get down to the water on the weekends, lockdowns and COVID permitting, of course. I’m just making observations here.)
But it’s gotten me thinking about how competitive surfing has dictated to the masses that if you want to be a great surfer, you can only ride the teeny tiny boards popularized by professional rippers like Italo, Gabriel and of course, Kelly. There’s a reason those guys are pros, and the harsh reality is that most of us won’t get to that level, but as I’m sure you already know, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a ball out in the water.
But there’s something beautiful happening in the lineup. The variety of shapes making a resurgence in the surf feels almost nostalgic. They seem to pay homage to the retro shapes of the 70s and the creative ingenuity of shapers past. I see more twin fins than ever before, and can’t help but admire the variety of tail shapes in the water; swallow tail, diamond tail, pin tail, asymmetric, the list goes on.
It feels like we’re experiencing a revival of the classics that honour the unique style of the individual surfer. And when you think about it, surfing is beautifully unique to each individual surfer. No matter who you idolize or who pushed you into your first wave as a grom, surfing will always be an elegant water dance between you and Mother Ocean that belongs solely to you. So, why not allow for more variety in the types of boards we surf so we can experience the fullest expression of that dance that accentuates our personal style and ability?
Knowing that you’re not limited to the quintessential shortboard hailed by pros around the globe, which board would you choose? Would you go for the drivey Twin Pin, or even a high-performance, reactive mid-length? How about a smooth operating Diamond Tail?
At the end of the day, it’s about catching waves and embracing the connection between you and the ocean. So, if that means riding anything other than a typical Channel Islands 6’3 thruster, then more power to you, mate. Ride what makes you feel free and helps you catch more waves.