Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

The Science of Summer Surfing

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

The Science of Summer Surfing

Article excerpt

Byline: Bill Longenecker, Shorelines columnist

Summer is the best of times and the worst of times for surfers. The water is warm and daylight lasts past 8 p.m., but the surf is almost always tiny and weak. That irony of a summer surf search in the movie Endless Summer was not lost on Florida's surfers.

To an 8-year-old novice, a 1-foot wave may seem huge. That age- and size-dependent benefit helps the 8-year-old find plenty of surf, but it makes it quite difficult for an adult novice to learn this ancient art.

A wave must be of a certain proportional height to the novice's size to provide enough speed and momentum to make the board a stable platform. The minimal size will vary with the basic athletic skills of the novice.

Not every surfboard will serve a novice properly. The design of a narrow ancient board bought cheap at a garage sale may be a hindrance. A $25 price may cost even an eager novice a chance to be successful at learning the basics.

A 5-foot novice needs an 8-foot board at least 21 inches wide and about 2 inches thick. A 5-foot expert can ride a 5-foot board. Put that 5-foot novice onto the 5-foot board and frustration will follow. It will be too squirrelly to control for an unstable novice. Think of putting a 15-year-old novice driver into the seat of a Porsche for a first driving lesson.

Renting the right board for the novitiate's first month is a good idea. Sunrise Surf Shop rents only soft boards in a variety of sizes. These full-size boards are made of a sturdy, stiff but soft foam. They are "slow" because they do not have the hard fiberglass covering, and thus will be easier to control.

A beginner will more quickly and easily learn the truly few basics of surfing on such a board. The amount of time spent in 1-foot surf will also determine how quickly progress will be made. Surfing is difficult to schedule. The ocean does not care about our plans. Thus, having the right board and having a flexible schedule will help.

Surfing itself appears quite simple to the unknowing. I have seen many well-meaning adults simply yell, "Stand up now!" as instruction to a kid riding a too-small, too-narrow board. …

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