Nothing But Air

Some time back in the early 1960s, let’s say, right after the release of Hobie’s first Phil Edwards model, a young Herbie Fletcher cranked a whip turn, assumed trim and walked up to the tip. He’s been there ever since. Throughout one of the sport’s most enduring and influential careers, Herbie, 57, has stayed “on it. “ As a Sixties surf star (he starred in Mac/Free’s Free and Easy and was a semifinalist at the 1966 World Contest), unheralded mover during the shortboard revolution (he worked with Mike Hynson on the downrailer and was one of the original Backdoor Pipeline surfers), prime architect of the modern longboard movement (his 1976 “The Thrill is Back” ads changed the course of surfing history), Jet Ski pioneer (we all know where that got us), filmmaker (1986’s Wave Warriors was the sport’s first ensemble cast promo pic), and photographer, Fletcher has maintained both a skill and stoke level unmatched by anyone before or since. And through it all one his favorite things is still whipping a turn, assuming trim and walking up to the nose for a little tip time. — Sam George

There’s just something about noseriding. There must be, because we’re all still doing it after all these years. Maybe because it’s difficult. It’s still difficult. But to be able to sideslip and control your board from the nose, control the speed in and out of the pocket…well, when you get up there you sort of lose your mind. For one thing there’s nothing in front of you, nothing but air. You’re it, just your feet gliding across the wave. It’s freedom.

Back in the early ’60s Hobie came out with this board called the Phil Edwards model. It wasn’t really known for noseriding as much as for style—whip turns and cutbacks. But what most people don’t remember is that it also worked for noseriding. What I call fast noseriding. That’s a whole different trip than a board that’s designed to slow down when you’re on the nose, with a big, wide tail and big wide fin. Phil passed that on to me. I used to surf with him and I was having trouble sideslipping and he told me how I should be standing on the nose hanging ten. He was a really good noserider, that’s another thing most people don’t remember. But I had a lot of influences. Mike Hynson, with his square-nosed Stretch model. And David Nuuhiwa, who was the master of noseriding. Nobody was better than him back then.

The kids today are phenomenal, guys like Jimmy Gamboa, Tommy Witt, Christian Wach. And Joel Tudor—he’s still a kid. These guys have learned from all the great surfers who came before them. They’ve had all the movies to watch, all the magazines. They didn’t have to invent it, so they can really focus on the technical part of noseriding. The biggest difference is in the equipment. Those early longboards were really heavy and it took a lot of power to turn them. You had to apply power; you couldn’t just whip them around. The boards today are super light, super thin, really responsive, and you can just throw ’em around anywhere. They don’t require the same sort of power. That’s why the good noseriders today are all pretty quick.

Then there’s the guys who ride the old style, heavy boards. Real wide noses, wide tails, 50-50 rails. They’re actually made to go slow. You watch those guys and they can just stay up on the nose forever.

I have a different style than most of the young guys. My whole thing is more of a matador style, more of a positive feel, more power. I like to ride the nose when I’m going fast—I don’t get off on mushy waves too much. So you’ll see me in the shorebreak or hauling ass on the nose, and that’s the way my boards are set up. I make them to go fast from the nose. They’ve got a down rail, a slight concave, the water flows out the back really clean, with a nice swept-back fin. And good rocker throughout the board. So when I stand on the nose and put my weight on my back foot and tuck my cheeks and straighten my back, the thing just goes straight up and down the face. Then I’ll go into a squat, put my fin back in and just fly. Like I said, it’s freedom, man.