Sep 29, 2008

As A Matter Of Fact...

Why ride a mat? Hmm.

Well, it's a hoot! And they don't hurt like hardboards. There's more feedback than from a sponge. Mats go faster than bodysurfing. Surfmatting is rebelious in it's own way...

The big attraction is simply working out how to make the things go. There's a fair amount of thinking involved. And heaps of intuition is required to be sensitive enough to wring out the true performance potential.

Probably the most intriguing aspect is matching fabric to water in terms of form and tension. You have to actually sculpt the mat to work in partnership with the wave. Much more interactively than boarding. Here's part of how it works:

Waves stretch the surface of the sea as they move. Pitching waves pull tremendous water tension up the face. And lined up surf, especially bowling barrels, also pulls tension across the face in a horizontal direction. These lines of tension adhere to the fabric of a surfmat and pull it taught. It's this lateral tension effect that shifts a mat into the next gear, providing tremendous acceleration and traction -- while simultaneously manifesting a mysterious and unstoppable force of nature that inexorably, and universally, forces the rider's mouth into a ridiculously wide smile.

Air pressure in the mat must be in proportion to the suction on the fabric to really cooperate with the surface of the wave. As well as choosing proper air volume in the mat to start with, one must also monitor and adjust this pressure by squeezing the envelope to adapt to the constantly changing pull of tension as the wave morphs. (There will be a quiz on all this next time you go matting in quality surf.)

Small perfect surf is not all that tense, so low air volume suits it. Fatter waves like a fatter mat, so pump it up a bit. Big fat waves like a full mat. The more air the rounder the rail and the more suction to hold in for turning and tracking. Less air creates thinner rails for more speed/glide but less grip in steep faces and hard turns. For unknown reasons, squeezing a soft mat is not the same as riding a pumped up mat in gnarly waves. You have been warned as I was not. I went with a soft mat in sucking out shorebreak for a while until I saw the light an went ahead with a hard mat. Much better grip on the face and less sore neck from going over the falls. That's the beauty of it. -- You have to think for yourself. There's no set and forget with surfmats. It's fully interactive on all levels. Yes! That's what we like!!!

How you perch on a mat determines what the wave feels. And waves have feelings, as we have all experienced. There are infinite ways to place your various body parts on the mat. Inside elbow tucked alongside torso to make a clean hard rail line? Hands off the inside pontoon to allow it to shape itself? Pulling up on the forward pontoon tops to stretch the bottom fabric? Pushing down on the nose to flatten entry rocker? Squeezing the outer pontoon for traction? Pulling up on the outside edge for traction? Laying the mat flat to use the channels for traction?

This is the Zen game that makes matting such a endlessly educational pursuit!

And there's a bit of frontside/backside to deal with as well. Turn your shoulders one way and you're regular foot, twist the other way and you're goofy. Some people have a holdover forehand and backhand standup surfer advanatage/disability. Not me, as I learned how to switch stance as a grommie. But I use the concept of facing toward or away form the wave as a technique to deal with sections and such.

This is also accomplished by how one places one's hands on the mat. Hands replace feet for walking the mat. Pressure equals velocity. Push down and go. Push too hard and slow, because of making drag with protrusion on the hull. Isn't this great, actually having to design your own craft as you go? Well anyway, these are some of the facts of the matter. More soon...

Click on Mat Tech Talk on YouTube for more info on riding surfmats.


Dale said...


Great stuff... I love your blog!

All the best

Okemah said...

Great post Mat! I know how difficult it can be trying to describe mat surfing to someone who's remotely interested in it. You said a mouthful! Things like,"variable displacement" and, "neutral buoyancy" are terms that are best to be discovered personally in the WATER! Timing and techniques will become rich rewards for those who practice...even in less-than-perfect conditions. Thanks for the awesome blog! Keep up the good work!

bluey said...


imo that was the best "how to" post i have read, looking forward to using some of your wise words the next time i get wet !

keep it to the MAX MAT !