They say only a shitty carpenter blames his tools. But in the surfing world, surely a board makes a difference in how well you surf, right? Well, there’s a lot more that goes into being a good surfer than equipment alone, though having a great board definitely helps.
I first moved to Southern California when I was 14. In this new environment, surf culture was deeply ingrained in the community, and it felt obligatory to immerse ourselves if we had any hope of fitting in.
My dad took this challenge head-on and bought a board from the first shop we saw. Disclaimer: we had no idea what we were doing or what to look for.
And that’s how he found himself with the Liquid Shredder, an 8’0 foam board with cobalt blue swirls and orange flames that would make a landlocked Instagram Influencer quiver with excitement.
Being a recently retired jet fighter pilot and competitive swimmer, my dad was in phenomenal shape and confident he’d be able to pick up surfing. He’d done well with a few successful sessions, but after a junky day and a lot of swell, my dad dragged himself out of the ocean with a broken rib and his tail between his legs.
The Liquid Shredder was then stuffed in a corner of our garage, collecting cobwebs with the other high action sporting equipment, until a friend came to visit and, being a surfer himself, asked to take it out.
“That has got to be the worst board I’ve ever been on,” I remember him saying to my dad with exasperation. “No wonder you couldn’t surf – this thing is terrible!”
My cheeky brother chimed in with a smirk, “I thought only a shitty carpenter blames his tools?”
Now, to be fair, after that injury, my dad never gave surfing a fair crack, and as you know, surfing takes years to reach a state of proficiency. It’s a lifelong commitment and is never truly mastered.
So in my dad’s case, he was an inexperienced carpenter with dull, antiquated tools. He never even stood a chance.
But this argument of tools vs. carpenter isn’t that simple, as I’ve come to find in my single decade of accumulated surfing wisdom. It’s an incalculable combination of both. It comes down to both the wizard and the wand, and how they choose to wield their magic.
Because the beauty of surfing is that it’s undeniably unique. Every single surfer has a very distinct style and approach. And even if you give two surfers with similar degrees of skill the same board, they will undoubtedly surf differently.
I mean, sure, if Mick Fanning was screaming down the line on a Liquid Shredder, of course he’d be able to make it look better than my dad could, but I doubt he’d be able to push the boundaries of his own skills with that lifeless, foam plank.
So, yes, having a beautifully crafted surfboard does make a huge difference, as it was divinely sculpted with the ocean’s curvature and temperament in mind. But in order to do a superb watercraft justice, it requires an innate understanding of your own skills, body type and overarching style.
However, good surfers tend to demonstrate some overlap with regard to key attributes. Their ability to connect with the elements and allow instinct to take the wheel comes with years of study, commitment, resilience and self-awareness.
Ultimately, good surfers are those who are able to reach their fullest expression on a wave without thinking, but acting on instinct. It’s when your mind and body are perfectly in tune with the ocean’s structured chaos are you then able to take a single note and turn it into a symphony.
With only a decade under my belt, I can confidently say that surfing is one of the hardest things I’ve ever incorporated into my life. But the hard is what makes it all worth it in the end.
How would you describe what makes a good surfer? Share your thoughts in the comments below!