Text © SamBleakley
NOSERIDING IS NOT LIKE DANCE, IT IS DANCE, REQUIRING EXPERT FOOT PLACEMENT AND SWEET TIMING. DANCING AT THE TIP IS A WAY OF OBTAINING PERFECT TRIM SPEED TO MAKE OR STALL A SECTION: FIVE TOES OVER WITH A FOOT JUST BACK FROM THE NOSE CAN SPEED YOU UP; TEN TOES OVER WILL SLOW YOU DOWN IN THE POCKET, UNTIL A STEP BACK TO THE TRIM POINT SPEEDS YOU UP AGAIN…
The greatest dancer of all time, the Russian Vaslav Nijinsky, said that ‘God is a fire in the brain’. For a longboard, noseriding is the dance move realising that fire. But a really finely choreographed gravity-defying noseride is elusive. For those whose daily prayer meeting consists of call and response between longboard and wave, here’s a helping hand to stoke the fire and keep the true religion: choose the right instrument for the job. Different boards do different things.
Noseriding happens because your fin creates drag while the tail of the board is being pressed down by the breaking curl, acting as a counterweight, enabling your body weight to be pushed up. At the same time, water gathering underneath the board can cushion the nose. But to hang ten the board must literally be sucked into the wave. Every curve throughout the board shape, from the rails to the rocker to the bottom, thus affects the flow of water in this suction process. Round rails, for example, suck water over the deck of the board and, in turn, the weight of the water helps to counter balance the noseride. Equally important is the way the curve through the bottom shape will suck and stick the board to the wave once you reach a quick trim speed, holding the longboard in place during the critical noseride. But try not think about any of this while attempting the noseride! Let your instinct and balance do the work, and do your research either side of the ride.
The two most common noseriding techniques are the stall and the trim. The stall is easiest on a modern longboard. These designs are generally quite flat bottomed, with hard release edge rails through the tail, meeting softer rails from the middle, a wide nose, lots of rocker and lightweight for turning ability. They slow down when you are on the nose, and they noseride best out on the shoulder and in soft sections where they are skimming over the surface of the wave with the board pointing 45 degrees towards the shore.
The stall involves waiting for a small section to build in front of you by applying pressure on the back foot to slow down. This pause allows the wave to get very steep around you and gets water over the deck to hold the board in place. While the board is high in the wave and ready to accelerate through the section – walk to the nose (avoid shuffling – its tough, but nothing looks uglier). The wide nose provides flotation and planing area, while the soft rails, from the nose to the mid section, suck water on top of the deck, stabilising the board within the wave and counter balancing the weight of you on the front. You will be dancing at the tip for a few seconds, but when the wave gets steeper the board will become more parallel to the wave and speed up, planing on top of the water. The tail will not suck water onto the deck any more due to the lighter weight, hard rails throughout the back and the dynamics of both the high rocker and the flat bottom curve, preventing the board from getting sucked to the wave. At this point it’s time to back peddle.
Stalling is a good way to practice footwork and the option for a quick noseride. But sensational hang tens and long noserides in trim are best achieved on more traditional longboard designs. The knife-railers of the late 1960s (developed to add more turning capability to the logs that preceded them) have thin rail edges, medium rocker and roll through the bottom – they noseride much closer to the pocket than the modern longboard and go a long way on the tip before spinning out. The roll through the bottom of the board sucks it to the wave, while the knife-like, less buoyant rails easily cut into the wave, but still let water suck over the rail. Most of the board is therefore within the wave for stable noserides. The tail and fin will often be hanging out of the back because the board is not parallel with the wave, but pointing towards the shore at about 35 degrees. Therein lie its noseriding limitations.
The soft railer, more common in the early to mid 1960s, has rounded rails, flatter rocker, except for lift in the tail, heavier weight and hips towards the tail. They noseride superbly in perfect small surf because they hold the parallel trim line. (For classic upright nose riding, study the footage of the masters Phil Edwards and David Nuuhiwa on these designs). Where the progressive flat bottom light board gets its speed from the steepness of the wave and planing, the soft railer gets its speed from tensions pushing against the board from within the wave. The wave wants to push the board towards the shore, while the deep single fin fights the wave and holds the board in. This tension pushes the soft-railer through the water and across the wave, while modern boards skim on top of the water. Having hips toward the tail makes the board ride more parallel to the wave, enabling faster, longer noserides. (The flatter or straighter the board, the more parallel it can ride). Hips also create more flotation and volume, generating further tension with the big single fin and thus speed, as well as countering the suction created by soft rails and tail lift. These tail dynamics are key to killer noserides. As the board speeds up across the wave, the tail will suck into the wave and the nose will begin to lift up. Even while hanging ten the board will accelerate, climb the wave and become more solid: a sizzling dance act.
“Riding the nose is a weightless feeling,” says South Devon stylist Jimy Newitt: “a suspended moment where everything goes quiet, as if your ears close over, like the split second you jump off something high.” “When you’re standing up there, apparently doing nothing, you’re actually juggling a whole load of forces to stay in perfect equilibrium,” adds fellow Bantham legend Ricky Kenyon. “It’s all about keeping pace with the curl as it peels down the line.” “At times it’s functional,” adds Jimy, “but really it’s just about the sensation, the fun. These days everyone is conditioned into thinking they must ride the nose. Noseriding has become the pinnacle of longboard surfing in the same way aerial surfing has for shortboarding.”
Trickery isn’t everything, as Jimy explains: “Rob Beling demonstrates how noseriding can be incorporated into functional surfing when he’s riding Bantham. He might not always curl his toes over the tip, which seems to legitimize a noseride today, but steers the board through a critical wave from just behind the nose, mere inches, all the while treading the board and gaining speed. He does it in a manner never for display, always understated and purely to heighten the experience of the wave. To me he exemplifies pure, good surfing. Arguably the true essence of riding longer equipment is effortless momentum and glide. Often this is obscured by trickery and has really become secondary. This is not to discredit those who have mastered noseriding with incredible skill, but it has become a bit ‘posed’. It’s always an impressive feat and by extension has become a means of displaying ones prowess. But I enjoy watching that whole restrained aesthetic, just standing there, keeping quiet with minimal movement. Somehow that appears more artful and pure to me.”