Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Australian Alaia titles a first

Chairman of the board … Cronulla rider Matty Cook will battle the waves in the inaugural Alaia and Longboard divisions at Port Macquarie this week. Photo: Steven Siewert

The ancient Hawaiians were onto it and now Australian surfers are rediscovering the art of Alaia surfing.

Long, thin, finless and made from wood, Alaia surfboards are neither practical nor easy to master. But when international pro Jacob Struth hit the water at Noosa with an Alaia board five years ago, a retro revival began.

Fringe and retro styles and surfboards like the Alaia have experienced such a surge in popularity in Australia that Surfing NSW's peak event, the Australian Surf Festival, will hold its first Australian Alaia Titles starting today.

''They're really quick, they're very fast on the water and they just glide. Once you get your feet on one, there's no better,'' says Tom Wegener, a Noosa surfer who shapes alaia boards using Paulownia wood grown around Kempsey and Coffs Harbour. ''If you had a really souped-up hovercraft and a car, the Alaia would be the hovercraft and your regular board the car.''

Matty Cook, a Cronulla rider and shaper of Alaia boards, is one of 10 competitors in the inaugural Alaia and Longboard divisions held in Port Macquarie this week. He says the alaia revival is a subtle backlash to the hard core, commercial surfing of the '80s and '90s.

''Everyone was all about perfection and competition and trying to drive surfing into the next level of aerials and seeing who could do the most radical manoeuvres,'' he said. ''For me, it's more about having fun and that feeling you get rather than trying to be the next Kelly Slater.''

But even world-class surfers have been seduced by finless boards, hailing them a revolution in surfboard design and a near-spiritual surfing experience. Pro surfers Tom Curren, Dave Rastovich and Thomas Campbell are all Alaia enthusiasts, attracted by their environmental credentials as much as their primeval qualities.

''The really good surfers want to see how good they are compared to the ancients,'' Mr Wegener said. ''And it's just like learning how to surf all over again. It's an incredible feeling.''

Surfing is having a retrospective moment as the sport reaches its fifth generation in Australia, said Mark Windon, chief executive of Surfing NSW. Surfers are starting to collect memorabilia, blow the dust off surfing music and take to the water on old-style boards. To some, modern surfing with the standard ''thruster'' shortboard has become stale.

''I suppose the sport had to get to 50 or 60 years old before people started looking back,'' Mr Windon said.

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