Friday, December 4, 2009

Alaia Surfing, All the Craze

I've been seeing the alaia board all over the place in the last year or so. In fact, just last week while rifling through the used board section at Cinnamon Rainbows in Hampton, I saw a used alaia tucked away in the corner.

The alaia is a kind of 'primitive' finless surfboard ridden back in the day (late 19th/early 20th century) in Hawaii. The geometry of the board is unusual: it is very thin and features a round-nosed and square-tail. This board is the subject of a recent article in the NYTimes, where the author further describes the feeling of riding the alaia:
A modern surfer will find alaias extremely difficult to paddle. Because they are only about 18 inches wide and one inch thick, they provide minimal flotation. I have been a dedicated surfer for more than 30 years and like to think that my arms and shoulders have adapted to paddling the way a marathon runner’s legs have adapted to running, but I was sore and winded by the time I made it out to the waves that day.

But the alaia’s challenge doesn’t end there. Without fins on the board to dig into the water, I went head over heels on my first five waves. On my next 10 I made it down the face, but when I went to turn, the board slid sideways, and I found myself washing to shore, feet first and wildly out of control. It was like learning to surf all over again.
One of the article's most interesting points was finding an analogous relationship for the alaia to traditional surfboards as fixed gear is to cycling or bow and arrow is to hunting.


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