Oct 15, 2008

Touching 3rd Gear ... Part II

My "Touching 3rd Gear, Part I" post (10/12) and Jamie's "Note From The Dunes" post (10/14) address co-dependant ideas...that generating speed on a mat is both a sophisticated and highly individual process of discovery. What Jamie experienced the other evening -- a spontaneous variation of his mat's firmness during a ride to generate speed -- is the classic example of what mat riders learn over time.

"3rd Gear" is a term Greenough uses frequently in describing high speed mat surfing. In simple terms, riding straight-off is 1st gear, while trimming across a wave at curl speed is 2nd gear. 3rd gear is moving beyond simple trim speed and running past one section, over a flat area, and through the next section.

One of George's favorite descriptions of a ride on a small wave is, "I touched 3rd Gear." What he means is that just for a moment, he was able to break loose from trim speed, hit 3rd gear, and shoot around a distant section... only to have to drop back into 2nd as the wave slowed.

What makes 3rd gear a challenge -- especially in smaller waves -- is that no single inside-rail-tension (the amount of air forced onto the inside rail by the rider) will net a 3rd gear run. A constantly fluctuating level of firmness yields speed from moment to moment as the wave changes. I would compare this to a musician playing a song...the notes, rhythm, and volume vary from bar to bar. Each bit has to be learned and practiced before the performer brings it all together in a way that ultimately tells the story the composer intended.

If you look at the second frame in "Touching 3rd Gear, Part I," you'd be hard pressed to explain what Greenough is doing at that moment. His weight is forward, yet the nose of the mat is elevated. The rear of the mat is firm, and clearly not in "flattened-out-trim." All this may seem counter-intuitive, but he's extracting an incredible amount of power from the wave. This level of sophistication is along the lines of what Jamie did on the ride he described...

"The unexpected bit came when I took the third wave of a set, which didn't double up, but rather had a nice right wall with more taper and peel. I took off easily down the open line and I simultaneously squeezed the front end and pushed the mat down against the face...instead of the usual lifting of the outside corner. (See B/W photo for an example of these opposing techniques being used.) The back end foiled out completely and I jumped up into the next gear and drifted out sideways across the face. It was easy to regain traction by slightly lifting the outside corner and giving another squeeze to finish out the section and fly over the back cleanly.

For as small and relatively gutless as the waves were, it was great to feel the freedom and speed that I've until today only experienced in much larger, more powerful waves!"

What Jamie is describing is touching 3rd gear...and it was on a waist high wave!


bongoman said...

I suppose the whole issue of mat design comes into play here when considering the "third gear".

How does a mat's dimensions effect the ability to change up a gear?

Is there a justification for having a quiver of different mats of different dimensions for different conditions so that third gear is always within reach?

PG said...

This is a tricky question to answer, because there isn't an answer!

Mats aren't fixed shapes like conventional surfboards, so the wave-size range within a given mat's performance envelope isn't as limited.

The thing about mat dimensions(and this is something I have to explain to stand up surfers all the time)is conventional surfboard design wisdom is limited to conventional surfboards!

On paper, seemingly, a bigger mat will ride small waves better than a smaller mat. But the X factor here is that a small mat can be ridden with less air -- and thus glide better -- because there's less overall volume to control with your hands. You can tighten up a mat with less volume much easier than a mat with a lot of volume. So the flat-to-hard-to-flat transition is quicker and more authoritative on a smaller mat. In skilled hands, this is an idea situation.

True, a larger mat will break loose and run across a smaller wall easier than a smaller mat --
especially for a larger rider -- but what constitutes a "larger" and "smaller" mat isn't as dramatic a change in dimensions and volume than one might think.

A lineup of mats made for waves from 2 feet to 12 feet, say wouldn't look all that different from one another...but, they would surf differently, for sure.

The benefit of a quiver of mats in varying sizes is threefold. You will have a mat that is best suited to the conditions you are riding on that day, you have 2 or 3 mats that can serve a cross-trainers to each other (you learn more riding varying designs), and you have back up mats in a pinch.

On the other hand, learning how to ride one good, proven design in a wide range of wave conditions is an education in and of itself.

See, bongoman, I told there was no answer to your question!

bongoman said...

I didn't think there would be :)

Talking about mat shapes/dimensions, I was down at Wategoes Friday evening having a bbq and George came ambling past after a late session in small, weak waves. I got chatting to him briefly and he showed me the "phatty" mat that you'd made for him.

I think he said it had more rounded corners than your standard shapes.

And another question, is there any reason that a taller mat rider (I'm 6'5") would surf a longer mat? I've got one of your Large 4GF mats but was just wondering....

PG said...

Give me a day or two, and I'll address the Phatty (now called Fatty.)

pg said...

Hey Bongoman,

I'll leave the Fatty out of the conversation for the moment.

But, to answer your question about length, my feeling is that a short rider might be better off with a shorter mat, but a tall rider is fine with a "stock" mat.

The taller rider can actually take advantage of his or her longer legs for added control, with the same essential glide that everyone else has, because the there's plenty of length to the stock mats. (IMO.)

So, in theopry, the taller rider can run a slightly less inflated mat, because they have longer legs to get their fins in the water for control.

The length of mats hasn't gone through much variation, from my experience. The shortest stock mat I ever had was the Merrin (42" deflated.) The longest was 45" deflated ("Stripes Down" Converse/ Hodgman.)

4GF prototypes have ranged from 40" long to 48" long. But the mid range works best for all but the shortest riders.

All length dimensions are measured delfated. Of course, how thick a mat is slightly alters how long an inflated mat is relative to the deflated length. But, since mats are designed "flat," and are much easier to measure when deflated, that's how I measure them.

I'm sure other people might approach it differently.

1/2" variation in length is the most I can feel from mat to mat, and then just barely. 1", however, is very noticable.

pg said...

I meant to say, 1/2" is the least I can feel...