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Sunday Argus, Cape Town, 18 May 2008

Some might call it walking the plank, but the art of longboarding is much more than that. However, many surfers, including part-timers who only ride barges when the surf is small, don't have a clue about the complexities of the discipline, this writer included. By Spike


Of those who know about the free-flowing heritage of surfing's original art, few have the skill set to go beyond some sporadic shuffling, a bit of ass wiggling, lots of Cro-Magnon crouching, the occasional cruise liner cutback and heaven forbid, even a re-entry now and then.

Speak for yourself, you might say. But who can properly pull off even the oldest of manoeuvres, the hang ten, a move so deeply entrenched in the surfing lexicon that it spawned a surf wear label. The silhouette of board rider - knees bent and arms akimbo like a gull skimming a wave top - is the iconic expression of surfing's free spirit. But who can actually do it?

It seems simple. Walk to the end of the board. Stand on the nose. Look cool.

But, 'real' longboarders say this is just the end goal in a repertoire of moves that must flow into each other with style and technical acumen. Even walking the board is steeped in stylised tradition. Less endowed longboarders do what you could call the 'shuffle stumble', an awkward and uncontrolled lurch forwards and back. But when you see a master at play, think beauty and the beast. The proper path to a hang ten would be the crossover, walking with split-second timing to the nose foot over foot with a gliding grace.

The hang five is easier, they say. It is half the hang ten. Instead of both feet, you stand with one foot back, and yet even this is a step too far for the many ballies and a chunk of the groms out at Muizenberg Corner these days. For many, just riding the wave is enough.

However, complex moves done well can be a wonder to behold. It takes skill and years of practice to pull off a hang heels, a kick five or a switch foot hang five. For the hang heels, the surfer faces the back of the board, heels on the nose - the hang ten backwards. The kick five is whacky, and hard.

While hanging ten, the surfer lifts up a foot, basically riding on one leg - a hang five with kick. For the switch foot hang five, simply swop your feet while hanging five.

Remember, moves are switched rapidly, and only performed on waves that warrant them. One needs perfect wave judgment, balance and reflex. The surfer constantly recalibrates with his moving board, pre-empting what the wave is doing ahead of him.

There is none more coordinated and skilled on a longboard than former world amateur longboard champion Matthew Moir, who won the Jeep South African Longboard 2008 championships, then flew out with compatriots Tyrone Jensen and Justin Bing to compete at the Oxbow World Longboard Champs, the first of a two-event world professional tour. Capetonian Moir came joint fifth in the event, held this week in Anglet, France.

The complete longboarder, Moir is internationally revered as a master of the modern way, which is to combine old and modern styles with grace and flow.
local longboarders say that competitive longboarding has become a hybrid discipline that gives equal credence to the lateral flow of the old and the vertical slash of the new, and judged accordingly.

If you rip only like a shortboarder, they say, smacking the lip and pulling off g-force slashbacks, utilising none of the old moves, your maximum score would be five. If you ride only the original way, walking like a ballerina and pulling off technical moves like kick fives, also no more than five.

Surfers must borrow from both eras without making their repertoire look like a dog's breakfast.

But it's an uneasy union, and for a reason. There is often controversy because of the inescapable incongruity between old school purism and the thrash-and-bash aggression of the shortboard era.  Some say the problem is few judges with longboard experience. Old-school purists noses are out of joint, so to speak, when radical moves are rewarded over technically complex longboard moves because of ignorance.

Either way you look at it, it would be a shame if the grace and style central to longboarding was consumed by the ever hungry blood lust for fast-paced bling in a big brand Colosseum.

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