SURFING: What happens if I choose the wrong board for the conditions?

Hello everybody on HIVE and especially the Sports Talk Social Community! I am writing to you from Cape Town, South Africa. I like to use HIVE to post about music (I’m a song-writer) and the sports that I enjoy doing myself, mainly surfing!

Now I didn’t plan to write a post like this (what happens if I try to ride big powerful waves on a small wave board) simply for the amusement of you readers – it happened by complete accident!

I’ve written a post before about why a surfer wants more than one surfboard in his collection (@jasperdick/surfing-the-perfect-quiver-of), but essentially you want to ride small waves on short fat boards (maybe even without the middle fin) to get as much energy out of a weak wave as possible. For bigger waves, you prefer a longer, narrower board with a middle fin to help you keep your control when the wave has plenty of energy for you!

My current quiver – the board in the front has been replaced by the one in the silver bag and will be sold soon (I promise my darling wife!) Behind it are the boards I actually use: the short fat blue board likes small waves, the one in the bag likes medium waves and the long pointy white board likes quite big waves (but should be even bigger in my opinion – sorry my darling wife!). Ironically the biggest board with the orange outline likes tiny waves – it has a lot of volume but is much flatter than its pointy neighbour. Yes, there is also a bodyboard – some waves are just very short and dumpy but still great fun on a bodyboard!

On the recent day in question, there was a massive 4-5m 16s (bigger gaps between waves mean more powerful even at the same height) swell out in the ocean with a spring high tide pushing. Trust me, I wanted nothing to do with the open ocean no matter what board I chose, but luckily Cape Town is a very varied peninsula – some surf spots face straight into the open ocean swell direction, while others are much more sheltered and can break at half the size when the wave actually gets there.

I was headed towards one such wave. I have written about it once before on HIVE, where I referred to it as that spot (@jasperdick/surfing-another-place-to-hide).

The problem with that spot is that you never know what to expect. If the swell angle was a bit different or stronger, it could be bigger than I expected… or the opposite! So, of the boards in the photo above, I threw the middle three in the car, and the bodyboard for good measure, and headed to town! Unfortunately, I could only leave in the late afternoon after work!

By the time I got to the carpark the sun was already low in the sky and I had quite a bit less than an hour of light left. I saw there were waves, but they didn’t look more than head high, and the people already in the water were struggling to catch them. I immediately remembered how much my soft-top, short, fat, flat blue board with no middle fin had helped me have fun the previous time I had surfed here in these conditions, and I only had a short time left – so I picked that one and rushed to paddle out.

I should have watched a little longer from the carpark than it took to put on my wetsuit!

Even as I paddled out, I could feel more energy in the water just paddling out and being drawn by current and energy further down the point by each wave. By the time I got out it became apparent that the set waves only made it around the corner to that spot about once every ten minutes and were significantly bigger than the normal waves I had seen. To be safe I would normally wait further out for these ones and that was what everybody else was doing. I watched as surfers on medium to even big wave boards struggled to catch the waves and make the steep take-offs, often failing spectacularly! I had definitely chosen the wrong board!

Still, if I was going to get back to shore I may as well try to catch a wave. I placed myself a bit further down the point where hopefully the other surfers would fail to catch a wide breaking wave, which would then shrink a bit before reaching me… Eventually one such wave did come my way!

Here it comes! By this time the sun was setting, and I needed to think about getting back to shore safely…

I did well to make the take-off and get started on my ride, as the wave stood up on the shallower rocks below – you can see the circular outline of the water reacting to a rock that’s a bit shallower than the others – we call that a “boil”!

At this point I have survived the take off and I’m on my feet – that’s usually the hard part over and I should be enjoying the rest of the ride now! However, the board is too flat and fat with a wide tail and no middle fin for stability! It is not designed to handle the speed and power I’m currently experiencing and so it is bouncing and wobbling around like I’m a poor cowboy at the rodeo!

Eventually I can’t handle it and fall – here’s the colour of being deep underwater…

The colour gets lighter as I rise back up towards the surface…

I surface and even take a breath behind the wave! But – oh no, my board is still surfing the wave without me and I’m about to get dragged by the leash tethered to my leg!

Yup, here I am getting dragged just under the surface by the power of the wave still having a hold of my surfboard, leashed to my leg, even though it only weighs a few kilograms when I am nearly 80kg! The wave was that strong and the board is that buoyant!

The wave is over, and I start pulling my board back to me with the leash tethered to my leg – but why does the board feel so far away?

It’s easier to show you why back in the carpark. That leash was barely longer than the board before that wave – it’s been stretched by at least a few feet! I’m grateful it didn’t break or rip the Velcro strap off my leg so I would have had to swim in – who knows where the board would have gone in those conditions (and what kind of swim I would have had)! The leash I have already replaced, but a lost board would have been very sad! Especially, as this board is great in small waves! It’s also safer if it hits me than a normal fibreglass board, so I tend to want to play with it in dumpy shore-breaks more than a normal board, nearly like a bodyboard. It’s actually much more versatile than I expected when I got it, but on this day, I finally gave it a job it was definitely not designed to do! Either of the other boards back in my car would have been much better!

So let this be a lesson to myself, to watch the conditions closely, especially at that spot, before deciding on what board to use, or if I even belong out there at all. It turns out there is a big difference in the power of the waves at that spot as it starts to break above head high!


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