2019 to be a Pivotal Year for Longboarding around the World?
A few weeks before the 2019 Noosa Festival of Surfing, Thomas Alexander, John Finlay and I were discussing the notion that something big was on the move in longboarding. Popularity in the sport is on the rise, equal prize money for men and women and a new-found interest from sponsors gives us all a reason to grin.
Over the last year or so, smaller, hipster longboard contests had sprouted up, like the Barnacle in Spain, the Singlefin Mingle in New Zealand and the Relik Tour, with two high profile Pro contests in California. In late 2018, when the WSL announced their participation in the 2019 Noosa Festival of Surfing, they also announced that they were significantly increasing the number of contests on their 2019 longboard tour from one to four. As well as equal prize money for men and women. Overall, this new-found interest and popularity seemed to signal a quantum leap for longboarding, so what had prompted it?
To me, the last 3 decades of longboarding has been embroiled in a standoff between the “Modern or Progressive” longboarders and the “Traditional” longboarders. The surfing of the two genres seemed to be miles apart, so much so that years ago, the Noosa Festival of Surfing started a “Logger Pro” division separate from the “Open Pro”. At that time, there was a clear difference in the surfing styles and the two divisions made sense.
However, at this year’s Festival, it appeared to me that the two divisions had virtually merged into one. As an announcer, I was desperately trying to figure out if there was a difference at all. Talking to the Head Judge Keenan Roxburgh, the difference seemed to be that Loggers are more focussed on innovative surfing, while the Open was looking at the more standard manoeuvres. (Also, there are some board restrictions in the Logger division). But overall, the surfing that I was watching in the different events seemed to me to be very similar.
In my opinion, after watching the young girls surf at new critical levels mixed with grace, the rest of the surfers were held to a new standard – stepping in and out of turns, sincerely critical noserides and graceful flow between manoeuvres. The judges consistently looked for functional manoeuvres which were flowingly linked together. As I watched captivated, it seemed like the old labels had become distant memories.
World Surfaris and the WSL had clearly collaborated closely on a number of aspects to the Festival, one of which was the judging. As evidenced by the fact that when the WSL part of the Noosa Festival commenced, Head Judge Keenan was still the Head Judge and a portion of the judging panel was the same – the WSL simply added a couple more judges to meet their competition and international standard requirements. So when Devon Howard, the new commissioner for longboarding within the WSL, came to Noosa with the message that there will be a conscious directional change to traditional longboarding, I believe this had already happened. The judges were already there.
Head Judge – Keenan Roxburgh
And what better example of the evolution of styles that I have described than the final of the WSL Mens event. Justin Quintal vs Stephen Sawyer. Singlefin logger vs modern thruster design. Natural footer vs goofy footer. This final had everything.
In the end, Justin won with two incredible noserides. His last winning ride displayed the advancement of the judging and aspects of the new longboard culture. On a board which he had designed and shaped with Ricky Carroll, Justin took off deep on a left hand peeler and set up behind the section. He stepped to the nose as the lip broke upon his chest and he was literally leaning into the lip while hanging ten. Then, just for a moment, his nose pearled and it looked like he was going to fall. He pushed on his inside rail and pulled the nose up in an instant and continued his critical noseride. All watching gasped. How did he do that? The judges saw the nuances of this surfing and, in the end, awarded him the win. To be honest, two years ago, I do not think the judges would have seen this manoeuvre and Steven Sawyer would have had the glory.
As a culture, a lifestyle, a dance, an artform – longboarding continues to advance. It is flowing from decade to decade. The Noosa Festival of Surfing seems to have become a monolith in the longboarding world, having maintained its prominence for 28 years now. It does this because it constantly evolves with the surfing. New categories and genres in surfing are embraced. By way of example, the Noosa Festival of Surfing hosted the first noseriding event, the first tandem, first SUP, first Finless Pro, alaia demonstrations, waterman pro, wood surfboard and toothpick demonstrations to mention but a few.
The Noosa Festival is always there for the regular events like the age divisions, but it is also open to change. For next year, the Open event and the Logger event might be merged, as there would seem to be no need for two separate divisions. Surfing is also as sport, but this sport is subordinate to the art form. To me, this is what makes longboarding so very interesting and so much fun. The Noosa Festival did it again under the new leadership of John Finlay and World Surfaris and I strongly suspect, they will do it again next year.
With the public announcement by the WSL that they will be back again in 2020, it seems that longboard surfing has taken a quantum leap forward. Where it will go is anyone’s guess but I think history will show that 2019 was a pivotal year for longboarding.
29 March 2019