Our understanding of the forces at work all around us and how they impact motion and energy is only a few hundred years old. Newton published his deep dive into the three laws of motion and the law of universal gravitation in the late 1600s, and modern physics, or quantum physics, built on that in just the past 100 years. Meanwhile, humans have been playing with all these same principles at work on the face of a wave for thousands of years. In other words, people have been noseriding for far longer than they’ve been able to explain the physics that even make it possible.
You’ve most likely watched somebody stand tall on the nose of their board, spent some time up there yourself, or at least tried to, and wondered how it all actually works. Of course, you don’t actually have to know what’s going on and understand physics in the slightest to pull it all off because ultimately the whole practice comes down to feel. Lauren Hill knows the feeling very well but in The Physics of Noseriding: The Science of Surfing’s Fluid Dance, she takes a swing at explaining the science of it all to us. Much of it, as she explains, starts with a phenomenon called the Coanda Effect.
“The Coanda Effect is fundamental to understand both flying and noseriding,” says Hill, noting the moment a board’s nose starts to dip as a surfer steps forward. “Water shoots down and out, lifting the tail, which tucks into the pocket. Displaced water grabs the round rails and bottom, wraps over the deck and over the tail like a blanket, keeping the board stuck to the face of the wave.”
Namaala Slabb tries to visually demonstrate this effect by hanging a board over the end of her bed, wrapping a blanket over the deck, throwing a pillow on the tail, and supporting the nose of the board with a few pillows. She shimmies up to the nose and then takes a few steps back. Cheating? Sure. But according to Hill’s outline of the Coanda Effect, it’s a representation of all the forces at work when a person walks out to the nose of their board.
Science or not, it’s always going to look like magic.
Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in learning to hang five, ten, or heels from one of the world’s most stylish longboarders in 35 video lessons, check out Kassia Meador’s Definitive Guide to Longboarding 2.0 here. The Inertia readers get a 10 percent discount with code WELCOME10.