miércoles, 9 de junio de 2010

Mr Wegener’s excellent Alaia adventures

Story by Tim Baker

I have managed to resist the alaia movement thus far. The fact that I can barely remain upright on a standard, finned surfboard might be part of it. I was convinced the alaia and other whacky finless designs were for those wildly talented individuals who find surfing so mindlessly easy they are forced to ride impractical equipment to keep it interesting.I also harboured an uneasy sense that I was being “sold” something with the alaia, that this was another contrived, retro, watermanly marketing exercise to convince cashed up, white, upper middle class wave riders to part with some more hard-earnt to connect with their Polynesian roots. And so I can say it loud, I am an alaia virgin and proud. All these pre-conceived notions were put to the sword, however, on making the acquaintance of the founder of the modern alaia movement, Mr Tom Wegener, formerly of California, USA, more lately of Noosa Heads, Qld. For one, Tom actively encourages surfers to make their own alaias, gives away detailed instructions on how to do it, wanting only for the ancient craft to spread and thrive.We were fellow invitees to the inaugural Yallingup Surf Film Festival earlier this year and, as such, I had the pleasure of sharing several invigorating surf sessions and chats with this charming man.Most memorable among them was a surf on an otherwise unremarkable morn, down the end of another bumpy dirt road, in yet another picturesque cove. The swell was small, lumpy and uneven, the wind a brisk crosshore and the banks indistinct and random. Yet in the company of Mr Wegener and several of his alaia brethren the morning proved a joy.For those who picture the stereotypical alaia rider as some sort of faux-Polynesian poser they could not be more confounded than by the appearance of respected local charger Damon Eastaugh, trotting down the beach with one of the thin wooden planks under his arm. Damon’s a hellman, pure and simple, who’s been charging the outer reefs here long before they became a tow-in photo studio. He rips in big and small waves for nothing but simple enjoyment, boasts no commercial endorsements on his board and has a successful career as a winemaker in the booming local industry. With a young family, and limited surf time he, of all people, has no need for empty posturing on an alaia if there was not something in it. Yet, not only is he loving the things on these sorts of marginal days when a regular surf might be a bit of a non-event, his hotrat grom is also ripping on the things. Wegener appears as happy as a pig in the proverbial poo, gut-sliding on his small board, getting pitted and flying across the semi-close-outs. And, as if all this alaia energy is somehow wafting in the wind, another local devotee of the craft, Guy Walker, just happens upon our group, with his self-shaped, plywood, swallowtail alaia.It occurs to me, watching Guy jog down the beach with his slender plank of plywood, that if you had missed the whole alaia thing, and this was your first view of this odd piece of wave-riding equipment, you would assume Mr Walker had simply gone stark raving mad. Here he comes over the dunes with a crude slab of timber under his arm, looking for all the world like Gonad Man fresh from the jungle. Mr Walker, however, is not mad. On the contrary, he has exhibited the good sense to flee the certifiable madness of the Gold Coast surf industry and find a peaceful, watermanly existence down here in the wave-rich south-west, riding a wide array of surfcraft. His self-styled alaia is simply the latest to take his fancy and he goes out in the shifty conditions and puts on a show. Zipping along the ragged peaks with supernatural speed, slipping into little barrels in the tricky conditions, slamming it up on a rail and pulling wild carves. At one point, I swear, he pulls into a tube, spins 360 degrees and bursts out through the curtain as it closes out. The boy could be winning heats on tour with the thing. It gets me thinking, too, that there must be other areas of human endeavour where this kind of de-evolution is taking place, where a piece of equipment or technology goes through decades or even centuries of advancement and refinement, only to have serious aficionados revert to the original, ancient form. After years of research, Nike has apparently concluded the most efficient way to run is in bare feet and is now trying to produce a shoe that replicates the experience of running bare foot, but with a hefty price tag. Serious music lovers, having been sold successive waves of new technology, cassettes, CDs and digital downloads, are now retreating to rare, collectible vinyl to savour every crackle and hiss of the original recordings. And surfers, searching for a connection to what the ancient Hawaiians must have felt, are finding surprising new lines and thrills on the alaia. Wegener has an interesting theory about the alaia, that the ancient Hawaiians were far more advanced surfers than we could imagine. We picture them, based on old photos and newsreel footage, trimming in the gentle rollers of Waikiki, rigidly upright on enormous olo boards, the large heavy craft of Hawaiian royalty. The alaia was the board of the commoners, and early European etchings depict Hawaiian surfers in all manner of positions on these shorter boards, riding in, up and over the curl. There is even a Hawaiian word, “lala” for the sort of controlled slide they practiced on the alaia. And you thought tail-sides were invented by Kelly Slater and his new school buddies in the early ‘90s. Read more: http://www.coastalwatch.com/news/article.aspx?articleId=7616&display=0&cateId=3&#ixzz0qQIdt4zF

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