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SURFLINE: Where did you draw the inspiration from to design and ride a type of surfboard many would just see as finless, slabs of lumber?
TOM WEGNER: I had my mind blown twice by the alaias. First, when I saw them in the basement of the Bishop Museum on Oahu back in 2004. And second, when Jacob Stuth caught that first wave on one at Nationals in Noosa [Heads] and went faster than a finned board could have ever gone there. ... As far as someone thinking they are just a slab of wood, I guess I would have thought the same if I hadn't had these first two experiences.
What makes them work?
It's about the flex in the board, and the hard edge on the rail. Those are the two things that hold the board in the wave. But to get a good one, there needs to be a very fine balance in the curves, dimensions, weight, edges, and oil finish.
They appear difficult to master. Can a surfer of any ability ride them?
Yes, but most surfers (even me) will ride them prone a lot. To stand and angle is quite difficult. Prone is easy and still super fun and fast. The sense of speed is unbelievable. You get more speed than other boards by flexing the board to fit into the wave. Like Greenough said years ago, you get much more speed when you can get reverse rocker when deep in the pocket. Still, my favorite alaia surfing is prone over very shallow reefs that are too shallow for finned boards and too fast for boogie boards. In a heavy close out barrel, you can easily pull out the back just like bodysurfing because the board has such little volume and buoyancy.
Stand-up Paddle surfing has not been well received in many lineups around the world. What has the reaction been to alaias in your area?
Actually, the alaia is almost invisible in the lineup. Since I have been riding one, the locals are a lot happier to see me coming down that track. [Laughs] It's a bummer, but it is very difficult to compete with even a beginner on a pop-out. With the alaia, you sit further inside than anybody and take off later. Only the best surfers notice you are there because they can appreciate the speed and difficulty of what you are doing. I guess the alaia is the furthest thing from a SUP.
You have an incredible assemblage of test pilots? What sorts of contributions have they made to your designs?
Jacob Stuth is amazing because he single handedly re-invented alaia surfing. Before him, there was no known precedent. It was a blank canvass and he painted it beautifully. Then, there's David Rastovich, who is awesome because he's happy to try 17 different boards in one day and talk about all of them. Tom Carroll is great because he calls about once a month to talk about his findings. Mike Stewart and I are working on a secret project and will hook up soon to figure out another class of surf design. Chris del Morro and Dan Malloy have put a lot of time into them. Rob Machado is working with my brother Jon in California on the fishtail alaia. And finally, I hope to catch up with Tom Curren after my Patagonia Cardiff slide show on October 11, because I keep hearing he's absolutely ripping on his. You will see all these guys taking alaia surfing to new levels in Thomas Campbell's new film, The Present.
What new design developments are you discovering with alaias?
Oh man, there is another board out there for us to ride in the very near future. It is hollow, so it paddles super well. But it doesn't have a fin. In my opinion, you only really need one for noseriding. Basically, there are lots of combinations of alaia design that haven't been put together yet that are extremely promising in terms of design innovation. I think the next big advance will also come from looking a lot more at Tom Morey's vacuum rail. The alaia has definitely opened a new door to surfing. As a result, in about three years from now surfboards will look very different.
You sound confident that these boards aren't going to be just some short-lived phenomena?
No, these boards won't be going away again. They are just too fun to ride. My friends and I haven't really put them down since we started on them. Also, they are great for making at home or at high school. If you have the wood and the right tools, you can make what Rasta, Curren, Carroll, Malloy, or Stewart are riding. Or, I'd be happy to make you one. [Laughs] There is a world of knowledge in the design and you can reshape a single board many times. Plus, there is nothing toxic about them at all. The whole process has been a gas for me and many others are picking up on it now. The alaia is here to stay. We have finally figured out what the ancient Hawaiians were so stoked on, and are looking forward to continuing that line that ended in the early 1900s by taking them to a new and exciting level.
...ulf - by: captain_tom
3 hours ago