On an early Thursday morning in late July, the streets of Huntington Beach, California, were quiet and gray, street sweepers buzzing about as a few vagrants slept on the sidewalks under week-old copies of The New York Times. But just a stone’s throw away in the shadow of the pier, a surprisingly large weekday-morning crowd was gathered on the sand. Out in the water, the first heats of the Vans Duct Tape Invitational—Joel Tudor’s traveling circus that doubles as a rebel longboard tour—were underway. The gutless south swell made for slow going for even the most flyweight ’QS grinders during the shortboard divisions of the U.S. Open of Surfing, which had been running at the pier all week. But for this particular group of longboarders—inarguably some of the world’s best—it was a more than acceptable stage.
With each approaching set, the crowd cheered as perennial favorites like Alex Knost and Justin Quintal, as well as newcomers like Andy Nieblas, Riley Stone, Kelia Moniz and Karina Rozunko, ran through their gears, perching noserides while arching gracefully back, trailing arm extended above their head, the other calmly at their waist; hanging heels before retreating swiftly toward the tail; bending their single-fins through dramatic, sweeping cutbacks. This didn’t feel like a sideshow, and, given the conditions, for many viewers on the beach and at home live-streaming from their computers, this was the main event.
Up in the judges’ tower, a lean, graying figure looked out over the scene. More than 20 years ago, Joel Tudor won his first U.S. Open here, in 1995. He’d go on to six hard-fought victories in a row, which many won’t remember because so few surf fans were paying attention to longboarding back then.
The judging criteria for competitive longboarding in the ’90s heavily favored a high-performance style—essentially attempting to replicate shortboard maneuvers on boards over 8 feet long—and it drew little interest outside of the few who competed in that format. Tudor may have excelled in competition, but it was his understated, precise footwork outside of a jersey, and his contrarian, traditionalist views, that earned him his reputation as the standard-bearer for good longboarding. At the time, there were only a renegade few practicing the refined, classic logging being celebrated in front of crowds of thousands at the Duct Tape events today.
Conceived by Tudor and bankrolled by his longtime sponsor, Vans, the Duct Tape follows a handful of stone-cold commandments: the 16 invitees must ride traditional logs—longer than 9'2", heavier than 12 pounds, with one fin and zero leashes (not even plugs). Gentlemen’s rules apply in the four-man heats, with no interference calls and $4,000 awarded for the best shared wave. The format makes for a rowdy and raucous good time, full of party-wave go-behinds, all manner of rail-bumping shenanigans, and some very impressive surfing.
Tudor was deeply influenced by the boards ridden and the lines drawn by David Nuuhiwa and Nat Young during longboarding’s ’60s zenith, before shortboards showed up in ’67 and cut longboarding’s progression, well, um, short. Tudor’s acolytes have picked up where traditional logging left off and are pushing the design concepts of that era further than ever, drawing the most radical lines ever done on the classical equipment. And all it takes is one look at the crowd at a Duct Tape event to see that this approach is resonating with surf fans.
What’s odd is that this style of longboarding still occupies only a small niche within competitive surfing, as the sport’s governing body clings to much the same criteria they did in the ’90s. In December, the World Surf League (WSL) will crown a world longboard champion on Hainan Island in China, where an international group of highly talented surfers will battle, pumping rockered-out, wafer-thin boards featuring all the shortboard’s advancements in rail and fin and composite technologies—and all of its trappings. Truth be told, the boards being thrown around by world champions like Taylor Jensen and Piccolo Clemente have more in common with your everyday thruster than anything being ridden in the Duct Tape.
“Progressive longboarding is a relic of the ’80s that disappeared but never went away,” says Devon Howard, former editor of Longboard Magazine and a lifelong torchbearer for traditional logging. “The ’80s were about progression in everything. Not just in surfing, but in life. It was all about the future—technology and gadgets. We were coming out of this futuristic period, and no one was thinking, ‘Should we go and look back?’ There were a couple people, but they were so underground, and so off the radar, that you’d run into them and just think they were a weirdo riding these old boards. It wouldn’t even make sense to you. Now it makes sense. Everyone knows what good style looks like on a longboard: clean footwork, critical noserides. Everyone sees the beauty.”
During the Longboard Renaissance at the turn of the century, Tudor and Howard railed against those steering longboarding in a high-performance direction. Much of their argument stemmed around the Ride Everything movement, which made a case for longboarding that Thomas Campbell so neatly presented in his genre-defining film, The Seedling, which Tudor was instrumental in producing: “It’s all down the line with technology and modern glide…if it’s head high, ride a shortboard. Logging is really an under-head-high trip. Leaving the chop-hopping and the butt-wiggling in the dust…”
“Side bites, side fins, rocker, hard rails: it was an effort to make longboards a reasonable board choice in heavy or hollow surf,” Tudor says. “Which was unnecessary. It didn’t need to be done. In small waves, traditional longboards are a better fit. It took people a long time to figure it out, but they figured it out. Nowadays, most people riding tri-fin longboards are old guys coming off shortboards, looking for more maneuverability without changing their surfing. They want to make things easier. They’re using training wheels.”
Most of the world’s best traditional longboarders have abandoned hopes of competing for world titles, not because they aren’t competitive, but because the judging criteria doesn’t reward the kind of nuanced, classical surfing they’re passionate about. Which is a shame, because there is more and better traditional longboarding being done in 2016 than ever before. In waves under 4 feet, the surfcraft of choice for young and old alike is increasingly becoming a single-fin longboard.
“Longboarding isn’t small anymore,” says Tudor. “It’s really big. Japan, Australia, East Asia—longboarding is blowing up in all these places. Longboards are good for certain types of waves, and the world is full of those types of waves. If the waves are going to be small, traditional longboarding is going to look better.”
And it isn’t just men who are embracing traditional logging. Pull up to Malibu on any given south swell and you’ll witness a new generation of female loggers giving their male counterparts a run for their money. In traditional longboarding, it’s grace and poise that separate the good from the great, and for surfers like Moniz and Rozunko, as well as countless other stylists like Lola Mignot, Soleil Errico, former ASP World Champion Schuyler McFerran, Mele Saili, Honolua Blomfield, Sierra Lerback, and dozens of other world-class young female talents, logging seems to come effortlessly.
“Women’s longboarding is the absolute next big thing, no question,” Tudor says. “Girls hanging ten, riding longboards beautifully—it’s incredible. Especially because this generation of girls is so cool. Holy shit, they’re inspiring. They each have their own style. You see them all over the world, traveling to waves that fit their style. And it’s amazing to see the younger girls looking up to them, and how they’re on their own trip.”
The 16 Duct Tape invitees dancing across surfing’s main stage at the U.S. Open are but a handful of what are now hundreds of talented, hungry, radical longboarders worldwide. Aside from the Duct Tape, traditional longboarding events have begun popping up around the globe, like the Mexi Log Fest in Saladita, Mexico, or the Deus Nine Foot and Single in Bali. These specialized events are securing bigger sponsorships and offering more prize money, visibility, and prestige than the one WSL longboarding event that decides the world champion.
Unlike the WSL, the Duct Tape doesn’t draw inspiration from prime-time sports in terms of packaging and presentation. Instead, the events draw from the spirit of the first California surf contests, the gatherings of the tribes, and from the Coalition of Surfing Clubs (CSC)—which includes small clubs up and down California and the East Coast as well as England, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, Hawaii, Brazil, and even Holland—which has kept that culture alive for the last 50 years. Pull up at dawn to the Malibu Surf Association’s MSA Classic and you’ll find the parking lot turned into a venerable tent city, filled with families from Hope Ranch, Blackies, Windansea, and beyond, sharing waves all weekend, sleeping in RVs and camper vans showing signs of years of surfy abuse. Multiple generations of surfers have grown up together at these events.
Tudor is referring to the infamous 1963 Malibu Invitational, the MSA’s annual event at First Point. According to Matt Warshaw, author of The Encyclopedia of Surfing, the Windansea Surf Club “pulled up on the morning of the event in a rented bus containing groupies and hangers-on, a generator-powered rock trio, a Dumpster’s worth of empty beer cans, and a stumbling drunk all-star lineup of surfers including Butch Van Artsdalen, Joey Cabell, L.J. Richards, and Mike Hynson. Windansea found their legs as the day went on and ended up placing five men in the six-man final for an easy, boozy victory.”
“Throw a good party and people want to come back,” Tudor says half-jokingly. “Though I do wish some of [the competitors] would take it more seriously. It irritates the shit out of me. I mean, these assholes only have to surf three heats, and there’s money involved. Go to bed!”
But how to throw a good party isn’t the only thing Tudor’s taken from his experiences at the Coalition events. Many of the Duct Tape invitees got their nods from Tudor after catching his eye at an MSA event, or the Malibu Boardriders’ annual Call to the Wall competition.
“I had surfed in the Call To The Wall, and I’d won,” says regular Duct Tape invitee Troy Mothershead. “I guess that sort of put me on Joel’s radar, because I was surfing Cardiff [California] one day and I caught a wave, kicked out by where he was paddling out, and he just said, ‘Hey, you want to come to the next Duct Tape?’ I didn’t even think Joel remembered who I was! The Call to the Wall was the first event I’d done in years. My last pro event before that was in Sri Lanka in 2006, and it was one of two world-title events that year. I brought a log and a high-performance longboard, because that was how you won contests. I lost first round riding the high-performance board and spent the next few days having a blast riding my log. I was over it.”
Mothershead would go on to win the 2015 Duct Tape at Noosa, Australia, held in all-time conditions: groomed 3-footers peeling top to bottom at First Point. He’s competed in every event since.
One of the greatest talents that the Duct Tape has unearthed is stocky Floridian goofyfoot Justin Quintal. Having won a fair share of regional longboard events on the East Coast, Quintal slipped into the very first Duct Tape event at the East Coast Championships in 2010 as a wildcard. A relatively unknown surfer at the time, Quintal would go on to win the first two events.
“At first, there was a lot of controversy around the Duct Tape,” Quintal recalls. “In Virginia, you had the event running alongside a ’QS, with all these aggro guys grinding it out on shortboards. And here come these guys on single-fins. They didn’t really get it, or know what to think about it. But now it seems like it’s gained way more momentum than I would have ever expected, and there are big crowds and people are super into it. There’s a different type of energy at good longboard events. Sometimes, when the longboarders hit the water, there’s more people psyched on it than there are for the shortboard heats. Longboarding’s so stylish and smooth, and it looks good when the waves aren’t pumping. For the average spectator, I think it makes more sense to them, and it’s probably more appealing.”
Quintal’s victory at this year’s U.S. Open brought his Duct Tape tally to a whopping seven event wins. In the years since first being invited, he’s traveled the world chasing waves, appeared in award-winning surf films and on the covers of international surf magazines, and is recognized amongst his peers as one of this generation’s more unorthodox talents, which is exactly the kind of ripple effect Tudor had hoped for when he first started the Duct Tape. For guys like Quintal, these events have offered a platform to showcase their considerable talents and the resources to surf more events and hone their skills in lineups beyond their home breaks.
“It would be cool to see more kids able to earn a paycheck from longboarding,” Tudor says. “But it’s working out. I can’t tell you how many people have benefitted, who are surfing amazing, and on their own trip, and when the waves get big or good they ride other stuff. Tyler [Warren] and [Ryan] Burch, they’re the All-Board Generation. This crew has figured it out.”
One of the event’s first invitees, Warren has surfed in every Duct Tape to date, winning in 2011 at Salinas, Spain. Now a successful board builder and sponsored surfer, Warren sees the Duct Tape as a way of passing on the opportunity to the groms, keeping the traditional logging ethos alive and well in the future.
“For me, it’s about the next generation coming up behind me and Al [Knost],” says Warren. “There’s so many young kids in these little packs at Doheny and San-O who are just getting into longboarding. I’m sure it was the same way for Joel and Devon watching us grow up.”
Tudor wants to continue building on the success of events at Malibu and Noosa and add more Duct Tapes around the globe, solidifying the series as the de facto tour for the growing pool of highly talented traditional loggers.
“If a couple more people with money get involved, these guys have an opportunity to travel around and have a whole legitimate tour,” Tudor says. “You could have a legitimate world champion instead of a world champion where you’re like, ‘Who won?’”
Looking out over the crowded scene at Huntington, it was obvious the Duct Tape has been an incredibly successful experiment. The crowd’s excitement at the sight of top-shelf logging hinted at the potential for a traditional longboarding world tour, one that highlights the beauty and elegance of a timeless style of surfing while pushing it into the future.
The next 10 years may see an explosion of young longboard talent. Indonesia, Mexico, France, Sri Lanka, and many other international surf locales now all host successful, well-attended logging events. Paddle out at Biarritz, Sayulita, or Malibu and you’ll see an army of little loggers flying down the line, locked in trim on refined, foiled, single-finned, traditional equipment. Give them a stage and you’ll see them dance.