Editor’s Note: This feature is presented by Axxe Wetsuits
Devon Howard had a busy year. As the director of the World Longboard Tour, he just finished a whirlwind (but well-received) season, one that took two years to finish thanks to the pandemic. The tour wrapped up with back-to-back events at the Surf Ranch and Malibu. He’s helped Channel Islands redesign its midlength boards, a shape he’s come to personify with his graceful brand of wave riding. And, oh yeah, he and his wife welcomed a baby into the world.
We recently caught up with one of the most stylish members of the surfing tribe to talk about the tour, his new board, and with winter coming, his favorite wetsuit.
Mr. Howard uses Axxe wetsuits. The ones made for your individual body (their fit techs literally take your measurements in surf shops for a custom fit). Axxe has been handcrafting suits for 35 years. Second-generation owner Tatsuya Kurosaka took over the Japan-based company from his father, Nobuo, who was originally a scuba diver. Tatsuya has evolved Axxe with the times (which now includes three brands: Axxe, Breakerout, and AX).
Finishing the longboard world tour seemed like a triumph in itself.
Like most of the world, Covid came along and we had to put the season on pause. We started 2020 with the event at Noosa and got three more events in before going on pause. We came back and lost one of the events because of COVID (the funding went away). It was a little strange to go on pause for well over a year but I think we made the right decision. When we got going again with the Surf Ranch, I think people were quite surprised and delighted with the surfing they saw. A longboard works really well on that wave. It seems to favor horizontal surfing. We went quickly into the final event at Malibu and it was a really fun title race throughout the day. Fortunately we got good waves.
Why were the events so tight together like that?
It’s hard but the reason we do it is because longboarders generally don’t have much in way of sponsorship. So doing two events made it quite doable with one plane ticket. They felt like it was worth doing the work for two events. It also allows fans to follow something while it’s still fresh in their minds. And logistically, it works well.
Will the tour look similar next year, when you’ll be able to run it during a continuous 12-month span?
We haven’t put out a calendar yet (we will in the next few weeks) but the feedback has been good. This condensed, tight schedule, surfers like it, viewers like it. It’s not official but we’ll know here soon. You look at the Triple Crown: Haleiwa, Sunset, and Pipeline, that’s something you could model off of in a short period of time. The WSL is getting really good feedback on our consecutive events so we like the direction where the whole thing is going.
Do you have any regional locations where you’d like to make the multiple-event format work?
Malibu, for sure is where we want to crown a world champion. They’re very keen to have us back next year, which is great news. Then of course the South Shore of Oahu, which is essentially the birthplace of surfing, so we would fit there for obvious reasons. It makes sense to be there. The best longboard talent in the world is coming out of Waikiki. A couple of other zones would be another space in Southern California, or several spots in New York.
And the midlength with CI has been really popular. That shape has become synonymous with your surfing.
The board’s done really well and we’re getting ready to release another design. If you think about it, when it gets head high, it’s a big leap to go with a longboard. It gets unwieldy. That’s where I think the midlength is a great solution. Shoulder high and under, I like to ride the longboard or a fish. Once the waves get head high, I like to drop down into an egg or midlength design because you have this really nice canvas for all types of turns and full rail engagement. With a shortboard, you’re on the back third of the board. With the midlength, it’s a different type of surfing, closer to snowboarding. It’s a lot of big, full-rail carving turns.
And with winter coming, we wanted to ask about your relationship with Axxe? They do wetsuits right, for sure.
I’ve known the crew at Axxe since 2006, and they’re a rad, down-to-earth crew that loves what they do. It’s obviously a luxury to have a custom wetsuit, but it’s an awesome thing to treat yourself to. I spend my most of my free time surfing so it’s worth it to me to get the best equipment. Having endured a lot of time in a crappy wetsuits, I can attest they can let you down in a lot of ways — ranging from stiffness to chaffing to flushing, icy-cold water. Those kind of suits make the experience less enjoyable, and once I’m shivering or chaffed, I’m out.
The Axxe suits are made in Japan, where culturally they really take pride in quality built goods. The material and fits of my suits are unreal, and more recently Axxe introduced their U-Zip (a feature that allows the entire neck area to unzip in a horseshoe shape). The first thing I noticed about the U-Zip was being able to get in and out quickly and easily. I have broader shoulders, and all other neck entry suits I’ve tried from other brands feel like a wrestling match putting them on and off. With the Axxe, their normal neck entry is already better than others out there, but the U-Zip takes the concept of easy entry to a whole other level. You get this amazing comfort around the shoulder while paddling and you don’t ever get a flush of water with this kind of opening. Even bodysurfing, I never get water rushing into the suit. Hats off to whoever came up with this design on the Axxe team. All my suits going forward will have this entry system.
Find out more about Axxe or order your own, here.