It is the zen and ecstasy that all longboarders crave and that makes longboarding so addictive. Standing as if weightless at the very front tip of the board defies gravity, and yet is achieved by gravity because it works only by compensating the weight of water rushing over the back of the board so that you glide as if on a seesaw at the point of balance.
You travel by foot, cross-stepping, to reach the nose, curling five toes over the front, and then maybe the other five, so ten toes embrace the tip and your heart leaps with stoke. This is the doorway to the soul of longboarding. Perched in the sweet spot time and space seem to collapse into a moment’s calm. Round off with a soul arch and the day reaches perfection.
Noseriding is a dance, a performance, requiring precise foot placement and timing to obtain the trim speed to make or stall a section: five toes over with a foot just back from the nose can speed you up; ten toes over will slow you down in the pocket, until a step back to the trim point speeds you up again. Learning to noseride is about learning to integrate footwork into your surfing.
When you accept that cross-stepping up and down the board is of equal importance, noseriding will start to happen without even thinking about it. Effort seems then to be effortlessly suspended, a doorway to the soul, and stoke pours in.
It is rare in any walk of life to achieve weightlessness while gliding across water. Longboarding can do that.
For those who want to fine-tune their noseriding, here’s a helping hand to fuel the fire. Noseriding happens because your fin creates drag while the tail of the board is being pressed down by the breaking curl, acting as a counterweight, enabling your body weight to be pushed up. At the same time, water gathering underneath the board can cushion the nose. But to hang ten the board must literally be sucked into the wave.
Every curve throughout the board shape, from the rails to the rocker to the bottom, affects the flow of water in this suction process. Round rails, for example, suck water over the deck of the longboard and, in turn, the weight of the water helps to counterbalance the noseride. Equally important is the way the curve through the bottom shape will suck and stick the board to the wave once you reach a quick trim speed, holding the longboard in place during the critical noseride.
DO NOT think about too much of this stuff while attempting the noseride!
People fall off their bikes when they start to wonder how they maintain balance. Let your instinct do the work, and do your research either side of the ride, watching master noseriders doing it best. Then back in the water, there is only one way to the noseride – practice! Practice! Practice! Then go back to watching the masters – of the old school probably nobody was better than David Nuuhiwa. Just effortless. Look at his body language – no strain, just elegant torque. From today’s top crew, Belinda Baggs and Chloe Calmon are some of the finest.
The two most common noseriding techniques are the stall and the trim. Stalling is a good way to practice footwork and the option for a quick noseride. The stall involves waiting for a small section to build in front of you by applying pressure on the back foot to slow down. This pause allows the wave to get very steep around you and gets water over the deck to hold the board in place.
While the board is high in the wave and ready to accelerate through the section – walk to the nose. The nose provides flotation and planing area, while the rails suck water on top of the deck, stabilising the board within the wave and counterbalancing the weight of you on the front. You will be hanging at the tip for a few seconds, but when the wave gets steeper the board will become more parallel to the wave and speed up, planing on top of the water. At this point it’s time to back peddle.
Noseriding takes on differing qualities according to board shape. The stall is easiest on the hard-railed longboard, with high rocker, hard release edge rails through the tail, meeting softer rails from the middle, and a wide nose. These designs slow down when you are on the nose, and they noseride best out on the shoulder and in soft sections where they are skimming over the surface of the wave with the board pointing 45 degrees towards the shore. Deep in the pocket, the tail will not suck water onto the deck due to the hard rails throughout the back and the dynamics of the high rocker, preventing the board from getting locked into the wave for the long noseride.
While stalling is good for the quick noseride, sensational hang tens and long noserides in trim are best achieved on more classic longboard designs. The soft-railers are best, but lets start with the knife-railers of the late 1960s (developed to add more turning capability to the logs that preceded them). These have thin rail edges, medium rocker and roll through the bottom – they noseride much closer to the pocket than the hard-railed high-rockered longboard, and go a long way on the tip before spinning out.
The roll through the bottom of the board sucks it to the wave, while the knife-like, less buoyant rails easily cut into the wave, but still let water suck over the rail. Most of the board is therefore within the wave for stable noserides. The tail and fin will often be hanging out of the back because the board is not parallel with the wave, but pointing towards the shore at about 35 degrees. Therein lie its noseriding limitations (compared to the soft-railers).
The soft railer has rounded rails, flatter rocker, usually lift in the tail, and might have hips towards the tail. They noseride superbly in perfect small surf because they hold the parallel trim line. Where the hard-railed, high-rockered longboard gets its speed from the steepness of the wave and planing, the soft railer gets its speed from tensions pushing against the longboard from within the wave.
The wave wants to push the board towards the shore, while the deep single fin fights the wave and holds the board in trim. This tension pushes the soft-railer through the water and across the wave, while the high-rockered longboard skims on top of the water. Having hips toward the tail makes the longboard ride more parallel to the wave, enabling faster, longer noserides. Hips also create more flotation and volume, generating further tension with the big single fin and thus speed, as well as countering the suction created by soft rails and tail lift.
These tail dynamics are key to killer noserides.
As the board speeds up across the wave, the tail will suck into the wave and the nose will begin to lift up. Even while hanging ten the board will accelerate, climb the wave and become more solid: a sizzling dance act.
How did the noseride come about? Finless ‘hot curl’ redwood boards, created in the 1940s at Waikiki, offered a huge step forward from the heavier, slower planks ridden in previous decades throughout Hawaii. They opened the door to riding more demanding waves and to riding tighter in the pocket. Crucially, they allowed improvisation, as surfers could play with weight distribution.
In a search for speed, innovative riders like Rabbit Kekai moved to the front of the board, producing downward force to trim faster. At Queens Beach Rabbit would fade right, stall, swing left, move up to the nose and shoot the curl on a high line in a soul arch. Using the nose was born. It was a mixture of function (speed) and form (elegance). Riding the nose then came into its own in 1950s California as the central manoeuvre in ‘hotdogging’.
Dale Velzy developed the easy-to-turn ‘pig’ shaped board and learned to hang ten at Manhattan Beach, rolling all ten toes over the tip of the board. This was hugely significant as it would become the ultimate (but elusive) move in longboard surfing: walking up to the very front of the board while gliding at speed across the wave face, then hanging your toes hang over the front in the definitive test of balance, again almost walking on water.
Meanwhile Malibu surfers such as Matt Kivlin, Joe Quigg and Tom Zahn perfected a flashy hotdogging routine of turns and noseriding on the perfect peeling cobblestone point riding ‘Malibu chip’ designs. Next came master stylist Mickey ‘Da Cat’ Dora (better not get on the wrong side of those claws!) and noseride maestro Lance Carson. And of course there were standout noseriders in other scenes around the world from Hawaii to Peru to Australia to South Africa to the UK. Noseriding had become surfing’s ultimate objective and design was centred around maximising tip-time.
In 1965 Tom Morey organised a timed noseriding invitational contest at Ventura in California with $1,500 prize money. People turned up with wacky creations, including plywood and brick-weighted tail extensions, squared-off noses and winged fins.
The front quarter of the boards were spray-painted fluorescent red and Mickey Munoz clocked up the most time in the zone to win. But when Surfer Magazine asked Phil Edwards (then widely regarded as the world’s best surfer) to pick the world’s ten best noseriders in the same year, he placed David Nuuhiwa on top, naturally.
The Hawaii-California transplant took 1960s nose riding to its zenith with a grace unmatched until Joel Tudor in the 1990s. Nuuhiwa was good because his walking matched his poise on the nose, and he never hesitated, confident that he could pull it off. He linked his visualisation and his body to read the wave ahead of time. Nuuhiwa mastered the zen paradox of noseriding – apply weight, remaining weightless.
He was expected to win the 1966 World Championships in San Diego, but Australian Nat Young blew everyone away with his aggressive style, carving arcs and ‘S’ turns on a revolutionary shorter board with a George Greenough built dolphin-like fin.
It was a lesson in the future of surfing and heralded the shortboard era, leaving noseriding in the dust until the resurgence of longboarding (ironically, led by Nat Young) in the 1980s. Today men and women around the world continue to bring stunning variations and subtleties and heaps of style to the effervescent art of noseriding. And it is the new breed of women longboarders who are showing the way, putting elegance above muscle.