There’s been a quiet debate that tends to flare up from time to time in the world of competitive surfing, and it’s centered on the topic of why goofy-footed surfers aren’t achieving the same level of success as their regular-footed counterparts. The argument is usually then made that the docket of top level tour events favors the regular-footed surfer by virtue of a wave’s pig-dog-ability, or that wave’s punt-ability – this wave’s butt-drag-ability, and so on. All may be fine and true. Snapper can certainly make the best goofy-footer look like a flailing mess. But the problem may lie much deeper, and I have formed my own separate rational for the deficiency of the goofy-footer’s competitive triumph.
Why do we become goofy or regular? While I cannot answer that question for you, this initial choice we all made when beginning as surfers carries with it the hidden agenda of hemisphere lateralization. Hemisphere lateralization is a term coined by neuropsychologists when they realized that the majority of rational thinking is conducted in the left hemisphere of our brain, and the majority of spatial thinking is conducted in the right side of our brain. We’ve all heard the saying, “Well he’s creative because he’s right-brain oriented.” The generalization of this being that the right brain controls spatial orientation, and thus creativity, and the left brain controls our more logic oriented processes like speech and problem solving.
Here is where things get tricky: The right part of your brain controls the left part of your body, and the left part of your brain controls the right part of your body. This is why so many people are right handed. The logical, speech oriented part of the brain controls the right side of your body, which includes your right hand, and thus when we perform tasks that require fine motor skills (our logical part of our brain is better at assessing what our hand is specifically touching/doing) or writing (since the speech perception/production portion of our brain is in the left hemisphere) we have a natural tendency to use our right hand.
This is where it becomes clear why we call goofy-footers as such, because they’re goofy. They aren’t like the rest of us regular-footers. I certainly find this to be true in my own life; a tendency for my goofy-footed friends to be more of the creative, musical, right-brain oriented type people. My best friend since 6-months old is a goofy-footer and he’s a music producer in L.A. for criminy’s sake. This is not to say what is true of some is true of all, but there does seem to be some statistical bias behind this claim. Go ahead and do a mock count for yourself and compare the character traits of your goofy-footed friends to your regular-footed.
This is why we get goofy-footed Rob Machado the soul surfer and Kelly Slater the regular-footed tactical, overtly logical, competitive machine. I’m not claiming one is a better surfer than the other, but Kelly might just be the one to use a high-five to his advantage in catching the next set wave at the ’95 Pipe Masters, and thus securing his eventual World Title that year. And Rob’s goofy-footed subconscious might have just sabotaged his own title aspirations by giving the high-five, because hey, maybe that was just the groovy thing to do.
So there’s the conclusion: Regular-footers use their logical part of their brain to control their back foot, the much more critical limb when deciding how to attack the wave. The right brain then controls the front foot for regular-footers, but this fits perfectly because we all know the front foot doesn’t do much logical processing anyways. The front foot just hangs up there and gets a good assessment of the spatial surrounding, which gets transferred to the back foot for logical directional changes to be made. Sorry to break the news to you goofy-footers, but that’s just the way our brains were designed. This is not to say a goofy World Title isn’t in the future, it has certainly happened before, but there is going to be the added uphill battle against biology.
This article is adapted from a piece that originally appeared in DEEP Magazine.