The resurgence of finless surfing started in Noosa when Jacob Stuth rode an alaia on the afternoon of March 5, 2005. He traversed across an open shoulder faster than anyone could have imagined on an Ancient Hawaiian alaia replica. Since then, the alaia has gathered a cult following around the world. The buzz you get from riding across an open wave is exhilarating, and many seasoned surfers have said that it brings back the grommet stoke of surfing all over again.
The downside of the traditional Hawaiian style wooden alaia is how difficult it is to paddle and get into waves. Competing for waves with other surfers can be disheartening on an alaia, and many shapers are currently working to capture the feel of the wood alaia with a more paddle-friendly foam board.
For some, the jump from a purist surfing pursuit to foam and competition is too much of a leap. The inclusion of finless craft into competitive surfing will provide a fresh challenge for the athlete, as well as renewed spectator enjoyment, particularly in smaller waves.
Modern surfing, which is based around the tri-fin set-up, has evolved to a point where perfect waves are expected. Conversely, the finless boards are small-wave friendly. They are extremely maneuverable, fast in small surf, exciting and new. For the past two years, the alaia division at Makaha’s Buffalo contest has been the most hotly contested.
In thinking that we need to begin a new dialog around this genre of finless surfing, I have set out some very basic guidelines for surfers and judges to consider, which are based around finless surfing’s unique advantages.
The Take Off: There are a variety of ways to take off. You can drop in straight, slide sideways, backwards, into a 360 drift, or set the edge and go backwards toward the pocket. They can be tricks as well as functional ways to get into a position in the wave to gain speed or set up for the next maneuver. The take-off is a maneuver to be explored and mastered.
The Cut Back: Possibly the most phenomenal maneuver in finless surfing is the cutback at speed, way out on the shoulder. The finless board can maintain speed on a soft shoulder, giving extra currency to solid rail cutbacks that displace an amazing amount of water.
The Rebound: After the cut back, the finless board will head back at the whitewash with speed and acceleration. There are many possibilities for terrific maneuvers when you rebound off the lip or the whitewash, including 360s, aerials, sliding into and then coming out of the tube. This area needs to be explored and names given to moves.
The Tuberide: The possibilities for tube riding are exciting. Alaia converts are constantly pushing the boundaries for tube time. The finless board has incredible down-the-line speed, possessing the ability to accelerate out of a deep tube as well as stall and sideslip in the tube. Rasta’s huge tube ride during the expression session at last year’s Noosa Festival was possible because he was keeping control by side slipping down the face while in the tube. One nice maneuver is to pull into a close down tube and then side slip out in the whitewash.
The 360 Spin: At first glance, they look like a trick for points. But there can be a real function to the 360 spin. This maneuver can act like a coil to spring you out of an un-makeable spot. The sliding tail causes the board to flex into the wave, and the stored energy throws out a bit of extra speed at the end. A wave’s energy goes in circular motions and it seems the 360 spin is a natural extension of this.
The Lala or Side Slip: “Lala” is the ancient Hawaiian word for alaia surfing. It is defined as the controlled slide in the pocket. The root of alaia surfing is grabbing the wave with the edge, releasing into a drift, and then gaining control again with the edge. Although this maneuver may be hard to see for for the spectator, it displays the surfer’s control and finesse.
Sharing Waves: Two surfers can share a wave in harmony. The boards are so versatile in the pocket that sharing a wave is an easy way to showcase a new complexity. In the earliest surfing photos, surfers were often sharing waves and still having fun.
Perhaps finless surfing could become known as “Alaia style.” Alaia surfing is ancient, and we are just discovering it again. Although we are moving away from pure Hawaiian roots, using the name will forever give the Hawaiians the respect and credit due for this advanced style of surfing. Another ancient culture, the Basque, have a unique language that has survived for thousands of years. They have a word for happy: “alaia.”
Coincidence? I doubt it.