I've been thinking about the future of mat riding lately, and that was the inspiration for the above images. I admit it, I was in full mat-geek mode, and probably got a little carried away with my collection of mat pictures and photoshop software. (And, Mat Max has been away from his Kiwi-based computer for a few days...so there was no one around to edit me!)
The nylon mats, initiated 25 years ago, completely revolutionized mat surfing. It wasn't a case of a handful of riders sensing a tad more performance over their beloved canvas gas bags. It was a case of an underground form of surfing -- mat riding -- instantly overtaking everything else in the water in terms of feeling and raw speed.
The gains, however, were primarily in terms of "hovercraft skim" and down the line hustle...not the kind of performance that can be easily conveyed in still photos. You could feel the speed and freedom, but you couldn't always see it. Not the stuff of a surfing revolution, especially in the magazine-besotted 80's.
The fabric used in today's high performance surf mats hasn't changed much in 25 years. Which says more about how bitchin' it was back in '83 than how dated it is now. (Because it isn't dated at all.) It was an existing technology that unwittingly fell into the hands of a few core mat surfers, and took on a long, happy life of it's own.
But, back to the future...
What if there was a material that was as dramatically different from today's nylon as nylon was from the old rubber lined canvas? Would there be similar performance gains? Or, is there a limit to how thin and pliable a material can be and still maintain enough shape under "wave load" to create the suction necessary to grab onto the face and hold? Maybe a mat made of super thin material would "over-conform" to the wave. It might have to be run at a higher inflation level to maintain it's suction-inducing shape, but then lose much of it's ability to flatten out and skim. If that was the case, then maybe what we have now is ideal, and any further increase in pliability would net negative returns.
And what about durability? What if a mat could be made out of a plastic film that weighed less than an ounce per square yard, and it successfully squeezed out another 10 or 15% of performance...but it would only last a couple of weeks of use before giving up the ghost? If that mat cost many hundreds of dollars, then it wouldn't be worth it. But what if it cost a lot less, and the only drawback was the inconvenience of occasionally popping your mat in the water on good days, and having to swim into shore and fetch a back up? You would buy mats in bundles of a half dozen, and expect to do so a couple times a year. Would it be worth it then?
As long as the magazines still weren't publishing mat photos, then yeah, for sure... :)