Friction-Free Surfing

You might assume that surfboard advancement revolves around the future. But some people are going faster than ever on a board design that’s actually 2,000 years old.    

Lately, we’ve seen a number of big-name pros (among them Dan Malloy, Dave Rastovich, and Rob Machado) shredding on strange-looking finless planks. Why, and just what are they? We caught up with Los Angeles surf artist Chris Del Moro, who shed some light on the growing phenomenon as a member/ test pilot of the movement. –Mike Fish

Transworld SURF: What is this thing?    

Chris Del Moro: It’s a more than 2,000-year-old replica of a Polynesian surfboard called the Alaia. That’s where it originally came from.

How did it resurface?    

The guy who’s brought it back from obscurity is Tom Wegner. He was the guy in Sprout who does all the wooden boards. He was able to take templates of them from the Bishop Museum in Hawaii. They’re completely original replicas of the traditional boards.    
Now there’s this insane little movement of people riding them and pushing the boundaries. This year, we rode them on the North Shore as well as at California pointbreaks. It’s an incredible, forgotten wave-riding experience.

What are the dimensions?     

They range from six feet to upwards of nine feet. But the majority of what we’re riding is six feet, fourteen inches wide, and just about one inch thick—so they’re really paper-thin.    
They’re made out of paulownia wood and are super lightweight. There’s no glass or anything like that. They’re cured with linseed oil.

Are there any channels or anything on the bottom?     

Not now. We’re starting to play around with a slight roll or concave. But the original ones are pretty much flat. It’s a trip.

There’s no fins on it?     

No, they’re finless. It just has really hard rails that keep it in the water.

It must be challenging to turn it.     

Yeah, I’m definitely not claiming that these things are user-friendly. You’ve got to be an experienced surfer. And you need to be willing to devote yourself to learning the board.

What’s the goal in terms of progression?     

We’re obviously never going to compete with modern progressive surfing, but I think where we’re going is to hit the fastest glide and trim speed that there’s ever been. It’s basically completely frictionless surfing. It’s the fastest, lightest board you can comprehend.    
We’re starting to do full cutbacks, bottom turns, off the tops, and get barreled. It’s exciting because we have no idea what ancient Hawaiians were doing on them. We’re just pushing it in a new way coming from our modern surfing.—Mike Fish