Welcome To Essential Surfmatters

We've boiled 12 years of Surfmatters down to 45 essential postings, and are presenting it in a new blog called "Essential Surfmatters."

In effect, it's our mat surfing time machine!

As always, the original Surfmatters blog will continue to be an evolving document, well worth staying in touch with. But if you're looking for either a quick start to matting, or just a review of our past 12 years, this is the place to begin.

Thanks for checking in!

Paul and Gloria

From Mat Max

I grew up riding "rafts" in the sixties. During the seventies, canvas airmats faded out. Then, in the eighties, lightweight nylon mats came in! I thought they were the coolest thing ever. Very few people got what I was doing. Some surfers thought I was mad as a hatter... A mad matter... Mat Max! Maybe I was, getting ragdolled by shorebreak on an inflatable. But not to worry, I loved the feeling of surfing on air and knew exactly what I was up to.

Soon, a tiny core group of us got into playing surfing bumper cars, immensely enjoying our rediscovery of rafting. "Real surfers" shook their heads. Some even scoffed. We just laughed politely and carried on... Those days are long gone, and now I'm in New Zealand, where people can more easily get their head around a grown man riding a "lilo". I'm usually out there all alone on my floatie, sometimes sharing the lineup with orcas and penguins. And it's better than ever. The technology has really progressed, with comfortable traction decks, fully-developed designs and easy purchasability. I'm loving modern mat riding. Now, if only there were NZ matters to do go-behinds and slingshots and crossovers with... Give it time.

More people are getting it. There's a minor mat movement in progress. ASP Pros are freesurfing on mats. Surfmat websites and video clips are popping up on the net. Mat riding is generally well regarded in Australia (at least that's been my experience). Surfmatting is turning out to be not so mad after all.

A complete matting kit fits in a daypack. The whole operation is simple, small, friendly and huge fun. Anyone can buy top-quality mats for resonable prices through the internet, and have them shipped anywhere in the world in days.

Part of the reason for this blog is to turn people onto the joys surfmatting. More matters would be a good thing, as we are mostly empathetic types, with not all that much ego. Crowding is a non-issue, because on surfmats, it's way more fun to share waves than to go it alone. The zen focus inspired by mat surfing is a pure lighthearted meditation. I would tend to doubt that there is such person as a really serious matter.

As for matting being a form of surf madess, the classic Jimmy Buffet lyric sums it up best, "If we weren't crazy, we'd all go insane." Maybe this lightweight, sociable, cheap and cheerful ethic is actually a metaphor for smaller and better things to come on Earth. Nonetheless, no matter how many matters there are, it's going to be our good clean fun little secret. Mainstreamers will most likely always be somewhat perplexed when they see us blow up our Neumatic Surfcraft or 4th Gear Flyer, or whatever inflatable debatable, and set out to explore the innermost limits of pure fun.

Inflation: Should You Blow Mo' Or Go Low? From Mat Max...

Fortunately, one can raise the pressure in a mat by squeezing it. For really small or extra smooth waves, I let out air until I can fold my mat to look like the number 7. Even less air often frees up the mat in little bowly waves. You can always compress the outer front corner with your fist to hang in through steep sections and make hard turns.

I find that the 90 degree L-bend is good for 3-4 footers. Then, as the power and steepness of the surf increases, I tend to add liberal amounts of air. For scary suckouts, I'll inflate my mat as hard as I think it will go without popping. A soft mat gets long glides and a hard mat will resist slides...

Charging A Close Out

No happy ending here...but plenty of ragged, burning, flat out speed running across a closed out wall! Fun!!!

Fin Dipping

Remember, back in the day, when you tried to fly a stick-and-paper kite without a knotted cloth tail? And how the kite would violently yaw back and forth? In many ways, the mat rider's legs and fins function like the tail on a kite. Even when your legs are out of the water, they counterbalance the mat's tendency to drift laterally.

Four (of many) different styles of cutbacks...

A carving cutback with fins in the water, and left hand dragging and providing a pivot point.

A flat, drifting cutback with fins out of the water.

A carving cutback with fins out of the water.

A carving cutback while dragging one fin to control the arc. 

 Controlling lateral drift with one fin...

Photo sequence from Greg Huglin's Fantasea
Using the inside fin for directional stability.

Lifting the inside fin to allow the tail to slide out.

Both fins are out of the water... and the mat is in full side slip.

The inside fin is lowered back into the water to check the tail slide.

Two identical flat bottom turns -- 1969 and 1985 -- and two identical uses of flipper drag. In both instances, the outside fin is clear of the water. The inside fin is lowered "horizontally," and just enough to rotate the mat "around the corner"of the turn.

Photo: Wardie

Subtle but critical adjustment, mid-trim...

A speed run into a building section. Both fins are clear of the water.

A quick dip of the right flipper tightens the rider's line into the face.

Both fins are released for maximum speed. The adjustments for wave altitude and angle of attack have already been made before the wave crests. All that's left is to sit back and enjoy the ride!

The Heart Of The Matter -- From Mat Max

When I was a little kid, we all rode airmats pumped up much as possible, and were incapable of cutting across fast waves. Our biggest stunt was to stand up on our rock-hard rafts, perched on the crest of a six foot shorepounder, then kamikazee over the falls in heroic or comical stances.

Bellyboards served for angling and tuberides. Of course we borrowed nine-to-ten foot 35 pound longboards to paddle out and emulate the surfstars of the early 60s. No one in Malibu was onto deflating mats to slide along the various cobble points. (Although, legendary waterman Pete Peterson was able to bodysurf underwater all the way down First Point, holding his breath like a dolphin.)

Hawaiian Paipos didn't satisfy us kids. When footage came out of mat surfing in Santa Barabara and Australia, we were too wrapped up in our psychedelic evolutionary shortboards. Boogie Boards were okay but not really getting it. Pretty soon local surfers in North Malibu were all riding 7'-8' singlefins. Then thrusters came out, and everything got very generic. I was over herd mentality by that time, and have kept at it with the thick railed pintail miniguns ever since.

Fortunately, when tiny trifins were proliferating, I got turned onto black nylon mats. I must have had a dozen of them over the years. Not one blew a seam. Some ripped open on the rocks. One blew away in Hawaii. Most I gave away to people who begged. Some were sold to pay bills. My last threadbare leaking tarbaby got thrown out during a garage cleanup by a friend's wife in Australia, when she though it was useless old camping gear.

About a month and a half ago I found out that 4GFs were available online and bought some. Now the 12' standup paddleboard (21st century goat-boat), 9'8" log, 8'6" gun and two sponges sit gathering cobwebs. I've got a raging matitis infection and refuse to undergo any sort of matectomy.

There is no rational explanation for this unusual addiction. It's certainly not for fame and fortune. I can't even get someone to take my picture on the silly things. When I tell people it's because I'm a nerd they don't buy it. And there's not all that much of psychological complex attempting to revive pre-adolescent memories by fulfilling subconscious desire to regress into deep mega-retro pseudo infantilism. Or is there?

Nah, mat surfing is just plain interesting. Making them go is interactive. Getting it right is an achievement. Letting it happen is zen satori. There's no pressure to perform. Who expects anyone to rip on an airmat? No one cares what you do. And they freak out when you zoom past them at thirty mph! It's a blast.

But is matting a healthy obsession? Is it worth shunning boarding for? Sometimes I worry about myself. Then I remember all the bumps and bruises and fiberglass cuts, fin slices, stitches, snapped surfboards, folded bodyboards, ego trips and altercations...

Yeah, I reckon that surfing an airbag actually goes straight to the heart of the matter...

As Matter Of Fact -- From Mat Max

You have probably played with a postcard or index card, gliding it on ground effect across a smooth desktop or glass table. Amazing how well they go. Especially if the front edge is bent up a bit to gather air pressure. Plus you can concave the card just slightly. Then put a load on it like a coin. The loaded and contoured card skims even better, goes further, and faster, with some mass aboard to provide compression and momentum. Well, you can do the same with your surfmat. Gently lift the nose to gather pressure, both hydro and aero, and ride on a pressure cushion of increased lift. Press the outer pontoons down to make a concave cross-section, and your weight will more easily be carried across flat water. This skimming ground effect phenomenon is the key to shifting into higher gears.

I reckon that first gear would be kicking and paddling around. Second gear is simply riding the wave in a normal fashion. Third gear seems to result from extra pressure building up under the mat to provide a mysterious form of jet propulsion. One clue is that sometimes air accumulates under the mat in the grooves between the pontoons. This effect promotes super-acceleration, due to less fabric touching the water, and from high pressure air shooting out the tail ends of the channels. The feeling is most definitely like shifting from second to third gear in a fast car or on a quick motorbike.

On rare occasions I have experienced the good fortune of having strong offshore winds combine with perfect long walls to lift the whole mat clear of the surface to levitate like a hovercraft. Could this be fourth gear flying? I certainly assume so. At that point, with no drag on the water, and reluctance to trail my flippers on the wave face, the optimal method of steering seemed to be using my flippers as aerodynamic rudders, sort of like pushing the pedals in an airplane cockpit. The rush of wind and free floating sensation of skimming weightless was a major thrill!

As for fifth gear, or overdrive, well I'm still trying to get my head around what that might be...