Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I ride a mat

It's been my chosen surf vehicle for a while now
I still love surfboards and I spend hours in surf shops checking the board racks.
It's just that in my opinion the mat is the most advanced and adaptive craft I've ever ridden

lets begin with the approach
the mat rolled up and tucked under one arm my fins interlocked and dangling from one finger of the other hand

Photo courtesy of JHall at Daily Bread

I can casually stroll to the water.
I actually prefer to walk in some distance to my entry point
The walk warms up my body and lets me focus my mind
and I have to say I love the beach.

Beach combing was more exciting before the days of the big sand cleaners
more driftwood, more shells, more beach finds of all descriptions.
These days I am as likely to find a used syringe as a neat looking shell
but still, my favorite beaches are those that don't accommodate the big sand sifters

Since I walked in, I'm warmed up enough that my pre-surf yoga is more effective. I usually don't go for a big stretch just enough to find any tight areas and loosen them up.
That way I can focus more on the wave and less on myself.

Photo courtesy of JHall at Daily Bread

The mat and fins allow me deeper access to the water.
Less paddling on top of it and more swimming through it.
I love the water, I find the feel of it to be quite sensuous.

A bit of wading, a few duck dives and some kicking and I am outside waiting for a set.
Duck diving with the mat is not that different than a surfboard. Just before the wave reaches you, you shift your weight forward and drive the front of the mat underwater.
At this point you are underwater under the wave energy and holding on to a bag full of air.
All that is left to do is relax and hold on while the mat rockets to the surface behind the wave.

I have on occasion swam out through larger surf and then inflated my mat.
Easy on a mat, more difficult on a standard surfboard.

The mat take off for me is a lot like body surfing in that the takeoff is usually in a critical breaking part of the wave. Of course you can take off well before the wave breaks but as a matter of personal preference I like the no paddle take off, no doubt a remnant of a lifetime spent surfing short, short boards. Good position, sucked up the wave face I turn and with a quick flutter of my fins I am sliding down the wave face.

Flying is really a better description, there is much less drag on a mat than a board.
The toed in fins on most boards that allow small radius turns are completely absent.

Less drag means more speed.
Most mat riders are speed freaks.
I make no apology, I like to go fast!

Mats are optimally ridden less than fully inflated.
This allows you the freedom to shape the mat as the wave changes moment to moment.
You build a rail by squeezing the outboard front corner of the mat which plumps the inside rail which as it turns out is quite adequate to hold in steep conditions.

Photo courtesy of JHall at Daily Bread

If the wave flattens out or you want to hold yourself back in the tube, you release pressure on the outboard edge the mat flattens out and with the correct body english you are in a controlled side slide.

"Just like a Willy's in four wheel drive" to quote my friend and Matter El Supremeo, KenDog.

If you have ever raced on a dirt track the feeling is similar to drifting through the corners.

Since you can adjust the floatation of the mat so easily you can change it on the fly from a substantial floating platform to a completely neutral flotation device.

Liquids do not readily compress. Winds blowing across the surface of the water hundreds or thousands of miles away introduces energy into the water which gets passed along atom to atom as waves until it dissipates or breaks upon a distant shore.

I like to watch waves. Sometimes I'll sit on the shoulder and just watch them go off.

Sitting just out of the impact zone with a ringside seat waiting for that special wave that invites you to ride it.

Photo courtesy of JHall at Daily Bread

Riding the mat is all about the wave.
Not necessarily the size (it’s always over head) .
Compared to stand up surfing the motions are much subtler.
You move your weight around your core to emphasize the changes you make in the mat volume. Maximizing speed and subtle directional vectoring.

This quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery explains it best, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Mat surfing is and will continue to be for those of us who seek an intimate relationship with the ocean unencumbered by all but the basics of a fast slide down the waves face and some quiet moments in the water.


  1. This is only the about the 57th or more similar promitional article thats been written about these.
    Look at Surfmatz.com, look at any past surf matters forum. They are all dead or dying. Its hard promoting mats! Even harder paddling and staying out in consistent, difficult, but rewarding conditions. Point breaks with wide open paddling channels are a requisite for the bigger stuff. For the most part this is not a serious or versatile wave riding vehicle because its limits dictate picking and choosing amongst less challenging and less populated breaks. But for small stuff, no sweat!

  2. RB, thanks for your comments!

    The mat community does move around. But they are alive and well, check at Surfmatters everyone is there now.

    You make a good point "It's hard promoting mats!" Very true, there is no Surfer or Surfing, no contests, no Gidget, no money from the big corps that control board surfing. With the exception of the two main manufactures of high performance mats who I believe make only marginal profits I don't think that is a bad thing. I grieve for the simpler roots of surfing before it became an international marketing tool.

    I disagree with you regarding the paddle out issue you mentioned. I surf in the consistent beach break conditions I believe you are referring to and the adjustable buoyancy in the mat is a big help. Kicking against a side shore current is no more difficult than paddling against one.

    I also disagree with surf mats not being a serious or versatile craft I’ve found them to be the most versatile . I can only offer that it's a subjective call and I totally understand if it's not your cup of tea.


  3. Dear RB,

    Since Surfer, Surfing and Skateboarding magazines' parent company declared bankruptcy, it seems conventional board sports are all dead or dying. Apparently they're very hard to promote!


    Source Interlink, the company that publishes Surfing, Surfer, Skateboarder, Snowboarder and five other action sports magazines and web sites, said today that it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

    The company, which publishes a total of 75 magazines and 90 web sites, described the bankruptcy as a prepackaged filing.

    In documents filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware yesterday, Source Interlink estimated that its assets range from $1 million to $10 million, but that its liabilities exceed $1 billion, and that it has 50,000 - 100,000 creditors - 18 of which joined in the voluntary bankruptcy.

    It published a new page on its site today to describe how the prepackaged filing is expected to work out.

    Some highlights from the site: Source Interlink says it will remain open for "business as usual" and that it can tap a $250 million revolving line of credit to maintain its operations.

    But, "regretfully, all of the company's common stock will be cancelled," the site notes.The company said the bankruptcy will allow it to go private.

    In a release, Source Interlink said vendors will be paid in full if they agree to keep current credit and payment terms. Lenders have agreed to cancel nearly $1 billion in debt and provide $100 million in additional liquidity.


  4. Surf mats are controversial. I guess RB's opinion is quite relevant for that matter.
    It's curious in fact, because RB has a point, you hardly see anyone surfing mats.
    A surf-mat rider is looked at either as a crazy dude trying to be GG again, or a kind of Peter Pan of surfing, a kid that didn't grow up enough to stand up on his board.

    I guess it's not really important how people consider surf-mat riders, because in the end, the only thing that matters is the feeling you get when you surf it.

    Their is one thing that every body should keep in mind though, and this would argue with RB's opinion about surf-mats in heavy conditions : it is true that a surf-mat is the easiest way to surf, it would be the ideal thing for every child to start surfing. But at the same time, surf-mats also are the most dificult surf craft to handle at an advanced level, with no doubt even more dificult then a surfboard.

  5. The funny thing about mats is that they're the easiest thing to surf on a basic, beginner level, but they're the hardest thing to surf on an advanced level.

    It takes 10 years of experience before you can drive them anywhere near their potential. I've been riding mats day-in and day-out for over 50 years, and I'm still learning things. I've never been bored riding a mat, ever. They're just too challenging and too much fun.

    A mat has a variable shape. You shouldn't blow it up rock hard then go out and ride it. You run it softer in small waves so the corners will stretch out flatter and it will skim more, and a little harder in powerful waves so it will be stiffer and hold in more.

    You can fine-tune the handling between rides by adding or letting out air. That's an unbelievable thing to be able to do. It's like changing boards any time you feel like it.

    I ride my mat really soft. When the mat's soft and you are running down the wave there's very little water coming off the outer rail. You can see this in pictures.

    As you throw a mat into a turn you squeeze the front. That stiffens the mat up and it holds in through the turn. You learn how to squeeze the front when you want to hold in and release our grip when you want to break loose and skim.

    Mats are the most challenging things I've ever surfed on. I love the way they feel too ride, and they work in any kind of wave. Also, they're very easy to transport. You can roll up two mats, a pair of fins and a wetsuit and put it into a handbag and carry it onto a plane.

    If I had to ride one thing out of all the surfing vehicles I have-- a mat would be my choice.

    (George Greenough)

  6. Flying

    The majority of those who I've made custom mats for are experienced standing surfers, average age 25 to 65. Most are multi-talented waterpersons.

  7. Thanks for the article Solo. Actually, I had read it myself in Switch-foot book if I recall.
    The Peter Pan coment was quite ironical.
    I'll have a closer look at your blogs and get back to you.
    What I also love about mats is that all your gear fits in a backpack. At least you don't get jerked around with airlines fees !

  8. oups ... empty blogs Solo ...

  9. Interesting discussion, I'm fairly new to matting and use it as part of my quiver. I also bodysurf, short board, long board and ride a gun when it gets big. Each has it's place. At my current ability level I find the mat to be the best tool for overhead lumpy waves, preferably with a channel because for me it's still a little harder to duck dive than my surf boards. As I get better I think the kinds of waves I ride will expand. But for now I can enjoy a category of waves that I previously did not get much out of so I'm stoked!

  10. Wich I could try one one of these days...