I surf a mat

The surf mat has been my chosen surf craft for a while now.
I still love surfboards and I spend hours in surf shops checking the rails, rockers, fins and foils. It's just that in my opinion the mat is the most advanced and adaptive craft I've ever ridden

As with many things, surfing is about your intentions as much the act itself. The time spent leading up to and even after surfing is as much a part of the experience as the actual wave riding.

Lets begin with the approach, the mat is easily 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 but I actually prefer to walk in some distance to my entry point.
The walk warms up my body, lets me focus my mind, concentrate on my breathing and I have to say I love the beach.

Beachcombing was more exciting before the days of the big sand cleaners. There was 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 my body will just glide along.

The surf 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.

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 much different with than a surfboard. In fact surf mats have some definite advantages. Just before the wave reaches you, you shift your weight forward and use your body weight to drive the front of the mat underwater. At this point you are underwater, under the wave energy churning above you 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. On bigger days I can lessen the inflation of my mat. I can also swim out through larger surf with my mat completely deflated and then inflate the mat once I am safely outside. Easy on a mat, impossible on a conventional 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 fish style short boards. Once you are in good position, you are sucked up the wave where you can turn and with a quick flutter of fins begin your slide down the wave face.

Flying is really a better description, there is much less drag on a mat than on a surfboard. 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. The soft nature of the mat lets the air inside act like a shock absorber. Very little of your forward motion is used up being tossed about. Even choppy days seem smooth and glassy. 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. You have to consider that your mat, your inside leg and your fins make up your "inside rail" when you ride a mat.

If the wave backs off or you want to hold yourself back in the tube, you release pressure on the outboard edge of the mat, the shape of the mat flattens out, then by lifting your fins 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 ridden 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. Wave size, surf conditions and personal preferences dictate the amount of air to use. There is no one right answer on inflation. With variable inflation one surf mat can handle a broad range of surf conditions. I use a quiver of three mats.  After years of riding them I have yet to find conditions at the beach that one (or more) of the mats isn't suited for.

I like to watch waves. Sometimes I'll sit on the shoulder and just watch them go off. 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. The waves you surf this morning could have been born days ago halfway around the world. Sitting just out of the impact zone with a ringside seat waiting for that special wave that invites you to ride it is a very special treat. I try to keep an "attitude of gratitude" when I surf. So many things had to happen just right to make the waves that break on my local sandbar.

Riding the mat is all about the wave. Not necessarily the size because it’s always overhead. Compared to stand up surfing the motions are much subtler, quite often invisible to all but a handful of fellow practitioners. You move your weight around your core to emphasize the changes you make in the mat shape and volume. You aim at maximizing speed and subtle directional vectoring in tandem with the way the wave is breaking at the moment.  Since the wave leads in this dance you are best advised to be "in the moment" without trying to impose your idea of a good ride on the wave.

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!


misterdirk said…
"About the wave" -- that basic attitude explains a lot about the people who ride mats, and how they approach it.
Anonymous said…
Incredible post! I am still in awe that there is only one comment. Although, surfers are a bit of a quiet group so maybe they are at home soaking up your awesomeness in their humbled silence. I, however, will applause this most excellent post. In the last couple of years that I have decided to add water activities to my life I have learned so much. I have learned more through the language of people who love the ocean. I have decided that I am way to curious to just surf on a board per say, so with that being said I have in my possession a small sailboat, stand up paddle surfboard, a classic Robert August long board, CatchSurf Beater board (body/surf board), and a surf mat. I have found that all of these items will allow me to get on and in the water faster than anything else. Truthfully, I love them all and I can't imagine my life without them. I was out surfing this week and realized that as long as I am in the water I am happy. I think your statement about being on the mat and so close to the ocean is true. I really think that you sense and feel the power of the ocean on a larger scale on a surf mat than on any other. Whenever we head out to surf the surf mat is always in tow. The bottom line is no matter what you choose to glide/shred on the experience in the ocean will change you for the better.
Anonymous said…
I agree....an incredible post.....and I ...as a 45 year surfer.....a 30 year kneeboarder.....have all praise for those that have gotten past the early learning curve for matting the universe..... I sooooooo believe....that I can TASTE it.....I can watch the video....."sacrifice a sweet day" on Cape Cod ...to the learning curve......and and and....NOT catch a wave to my satisfaction......too many preconceptions...internal hard-board built-in assumptions....old habits die hard....and all that....I still have faith.....lotsa flipper choices...a KryptMK5....and a PG Fatty....and even a Dale S. in the family.... I look forward to the day that I can look BACK on my Mat Learning curve with a smile.....and articles/words/testimonials such as this....feed the flames of Mat-ness....I thank you....from afar....ch...of sunspirit....and a 6ft quad-fish Knee board perspective!!!! smiles......
Unknown said…
I have a problem of choking while riding my mat. My mouth is usually wide open with a huge smile when the lip hits me in the head, or a foam ball catches me and I inhale the ocean.
When I'm on a wave, smiling, I look out to those paddling out any they're smiling. Either they're laughing at me, or with me.
I think it's the latter.
Tim Ciasto said…
Thanks for the great and inspiring post! I really liked the "attitude of gratitude" part. Here in Sweden where I live, there are so many things have to come together in the right way, that most of the time there's no surf at all. When it all lines up I'm so happy and grateful, before, during and after surfing my mat. Can't wait for the next time...
matman from Beach Haven said…
Well said, Pranaglider! How true the sensation of flying. Changing the foil at will with just a delicate squeeze outside rail or releasing the pressure for instant acceleration, like a bird pulling in his wings for a dive. Matting has given me a new life in the waves after nearly fifty years of wave riding. I'm like a kid again, all smiles after another "best wave ever." I'm a little passed the half way point of GG's ten year learning curve so I've got a few "learning" years to go.
Growling Gecko said…
Lovely stuff Prana. Because it is so hard to describe the mat riding experience it is a pleasure for all of us to have it explained. LOL! I am working on a response titled "I ride mats too!"
pranaglider said…
Mr. Dirk - It's a mindfulness practice. No doubt.

Mikala - Thanks for your comments and thank you for sharing your experiences.

Anon - We all go thru that curve. The funny thing is that we are learning to do less and watch the wave more. Relax It's comes in it's own time.

Jason - First thank you for all the pictures. Second work on your pranayama!

Tim - To cultivate an appreciation for whatever you have is the key to life

Matman - The mat is one of those surf craft you can spend ten lifetimes getting to know. Enjoy the ride!

Robin - Thanks! Looking forward to your post. Always good stuff.
Henry Hester said…
"I'm with you fellers."
Benoit said…
I have been riding a surf mat for a few monthes, and I definitely love it. the felling of flying is so true. It is completely different from bodyboarding, it is faster, harder to control, but so rewarding when you have a fast, nice ride. The only issue is duckdiving, when I am caught inside and waves are too big. Sometimes I known the duckdive won't be enough so I have to let the mat go. Maybe I'll get some small handplane under my wetsuit so I can easily reach the mat in these cases :)
Thank you for your inspirational blog. I'm 58 and have loved the ocean all my life (all except the sting ray injuries). Blessed to have been born and raised in Southern California. I've called Huntington Beach home for the last 25 years.I body and old school surf matted though my childhood. Kayak surfed then wave skied in my 30's and didn't break through the learning curve of traditional board surfing till I hit 40. An unfortunate collision with my own board's fins left a large hole in my face (skillfully remedied by plastic surgeon) but beyond the subtle scar l was left with Parkinson's disease as a consequence. I've persistently tried to hang on to my beloved board surfing but have had to relinquish my prized shorter boards, one at a time, as my balance and agility, but not my passion and appreciation steadily drain from my body..Now I'm as excited as I've ever been to commit to acquiring the skills for mat surfing while I still can. It compliments my remaining abilties and personality of liking to be different. Echoing "Underground's" post getting out through heavy beach break posses a challenge (which I'm sure he has mastered now) but I was wondering, on the biggest days, how common is it for matters to swim out through the brake with their deflated mat either belted to their waist or tucked in their suits? I'm looking forward to trying this when the next big swell hits and hopefully my drop in skills have improved..i welcome any feedback, advice and company if you're ever in Huntington Beach. Thanks again for your article and everyone's contributions

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