A Case for the Single-Fin

An interview about longboarding with Harrison Roach

longboarding
Harrison Roach, at home on the nose. Photo: Dodds

For a while there, longboards were the craft people loved to hate. Like many of us, Harrison Roach grew up watching longboarders sitting out the back, taking all the best waves, and trying to muscle through turns that simply didn’t make sense on a 9-foot board. But today, 23-year-old Roach is part of a growing scene of talented young surfers who have embraced logging for an entirely different, and more palatable, set of reasons. Trimming, noseriding, and getting the most out of small waves are as good of reasons to ride a longboard now as they were in the 1960s. We spoke to Roach about how longboards are finding a more natural place in surf culture.

Why has Noosa bred such a healthy longboard culture?

We’ve got these awesome pointbreaks that are just so perfect, but they are often small, so that’s created a big longboarding culture in comparison to the Gold Coast, where nearly everyone rides a shortboard. The waves in Noosa are so ideal for longboards that it would be hard not to ride them. But honestly, I probably ride shortboards more than I ride longboards. I think that most of the kids who grow up surfing Noosa ride everything, and the longboards just come out when it’s small. When you don’t limit yourself to one type of board or one type of surfing, you get to spend way more time in the water.

So what kind of boards do you ride on a day-to-day basis?

I feel like every session I’m on a different board. I have a lot of single-fins, some thrusters, a lot of boards from Neal Purchase Jr., and a lot of fish. I pretty much will try to ride anything I can get my hands on. I just bought a shortboard off Julian Wilson that I’ve been riding a lot lately. I try to just look at the waves and let that dictate what I ride.

PHOTOS: Cali Logging

Do you think longboarding has changed a lot in the past few years?

When I was growing up there were so many high-performance longboarders everywhere—you know, where guys are trying to do shortboard maneuvers on a longboard. When it was at its peak, guys were getting paid to ride longboards, travel the world, and do contests. But something happened and that all disappeared. I think the money that was behind it doesn’t exist anymore, not to mention most people just aren’t that keen on watching guys try to do snaps and cutbacks and all that shit on longboards. My idea of high-performance is really technical noseriding. I guess your perception of “high-performance” will sort of define what you try to do in the water. But for me, thrusters and longboards just don’t really go together. Hanging out with guys like Joel Tudor in California helped me really understand what’s special and unique about longboarding instead of just looking for ways to mimic shortboarding. In the ’60s, everyone was killing it on really heavy longboards. Those boards and that style of surfing just vanished with the Shortboard Revolution, but today a lot of people are realizing the place that those boards still have. You can do things on traditional longboards that you can’t do on anything else. Why would you want to get a 9’0″ version of your 6’0″ thruster and try to do the same things? You’re trying to use two crafts to serve one purpose.

longboarding
Roach, yet another character on a long list of longboarding personalities. Photo: Dodds

There are very few traditional longboarders who are able to surf professionally. Why is it so difficult to collect a paycheck for riding a longboard?

Yeah, the concept of a pro longboarder barely exists now. It’s near impossible to make that into something that actually pays the bills. But longboarding where I come from is just everyone’s hobby. Everyone works other jobs, and that’s fine, because most people don’t care about being a pro surfer. There are a few people at home who are incredible, but even the best guys are just out there doing it because it’s fun and kind of a novelty. When you’re surfing at Noosa on a longboard and the waves are 2-foot, no matter how amazing your noseriding is, its not like you’re changing the world [laughs]. So in that sense, earning a bunch of money for hanging ten is a funny idea to me. Maybe one day that will be the case, but I can’t see it happening anytime soon.

READ: Joel Tudor, Unfiltered

It seems like the few events that you guys have, you guys don’t take them that seriously. Is that true with contests like the Duct Tape Invitational?

I think at the end of the day it’s still a contest and everybody wants to win, but it’s not like there’s that much on the line. The winner gets $4,000, which is amazing because everybody needs a little extra cash, but it’s not like winning $100,000 for first place at a World Tour event. I’m guessing if we were competing for that kind of money, things would get a little more serious [laughs]. But at the same time everybody involved in these longboard contests are all friends. The group of guys riding single-fin logs at that level is really small. We’re all mates because we have something in common. These guys come from all over the world, but we love the exact same style of riding waves. I wouldn’t see longboarding at that level unless I went to those contests.

Do you think people are starting to respect longboarding more now that a lot of surfers have gone back to this traditional style?

I’m not sure, but I have a lot of friends who are really talented young shortboarders and they look at this style of longboarding and can actually appreciate it. It’s so completely removed from the way they normally ride waves, and it takes its own set of skills. But it’s really just about riding the right board in the right conditions, and not just sticking to one thing. You won’t see us sitting behind the rock at Snapper on our logs, pulling into barrels, sitting further out than everyone and taking every good wave. That’s how longboarding got such a bad name in the first place. Fuck, when I was a kid I hated longboarders like everyone else for that reason. But when the waves are small and fun and everyone is on a log, it makes sense and everyone has fun. I like the way longboard culture is going. I doubt it’s going to take over the world or anything silly like that, but I think more and more people are going to realize how much fun they can have on a small day with a single-fin longboard.