I still love surfboards and I spend hours in surf shops checking the rails, fins and foils. 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.
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, 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, 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.
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 you and 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, impossible 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, along with the drag they create.
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 riden 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 surfing 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 and moves 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.
PS Thanks to Jason at Daily Bread for the use of the photos!
One More thing
The summer mat get together is still on and looking like Cottons sometime in mid August, swell and tide permitting. Shoot me an email if you are interested in going and want to be copied on the email with the final day / time / location.