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The draw with alternative and ‘retro’ surfboards is strong amongst a small, but increasingly growing population of wave riders in the UK. Logs, fish, stubbies, mini-simmons and the like seem to be increasing in relevance within our communities, much to the dismay of ‘old-school’ short boarders. Surfing, like anything, is cyclical; there will always be those whose passion for something leads them deep into the rabbit holes of history, searching for a clarity that comes with understanding the family tree of their passion and bringing those elements to the forefront, whether that be guitars, motorcycles, surfing or anything else that is on a constant trajectory of evolution. From within this warren of time, naturally, things will be re-discovered as working well and picked up by the savvy money-men.

The draw of the retro-scene for some, it seems, is consistent with the frustrations of many. People who are unable to find their place in contemporary shortboard culture will choose to hide behind the thin guise of historical or Californian ‘passion’. There is a lot of money to be spent on a beautiful objet d’art, glossed to within and inch of it’s life and surfed tentatively by proud city-dwellers. The draw for others, however, lays the other side of the fine line of discovery.

If you strip away the bullshit, you will discover tribes of people who have been passionate about an entire spectrum of surfing since before the Instagram-age

The romantic marketing of the Californian import brands is creeping it’s way onto our shores with their overpriced and unremarkable spin on surfing. If you strip away the bullshit, you will discover tribes of people who have been passionate about an entire spectrum of surfing since before the Instagram-age. You will find that this passion has always been there; alive and well, but perhaps not in designer chinos and a five-panel hat. The cast out mid-lengths and heavy-glassed logs sitting in garages gathering dust are creeping their way onto ‘For Sale’ pages online and back into the sea by a new breed of frothers, empowered by overpriced stripey t-shirts and tuned-up shorts and it is going to change the culture of British surfing. At least for a while.

Retro surf

​Sally McGee, local singlefin devotee with a classic style.

The UK is home to a plethora of world-class set ups. Within an hour North or South of my front door are waves as good as I have seen in North Africa, France or Indonesia. The few times a year they turn on, they will be busy with a line-up of boards that are almost identical, give or take an inch or two in length and a slight variation in tail shape, and rightly so too. We know they work; they do a job extremely well and when world class waves are precious, of course we grab the board we can trust. But more often than not, we surf average beach break days, 2-4 foot, rarely gentle off-shores and good banks come and go.

Shapers everywhere are being forced to delve into the history books and widen their repertoire, often with pretty hilarious results

I can count on one hand the surfers in our community who have tapped into the thriving scene of Californian and Australian longboard riders and are influenced by their history-bridging approach to riding nine-foot plus boards with a style and grace rarely seen on our shores. The internet tells me that elsewhere in the country, there are swelling numbers of people looking at traditional longboarding; functional nose-riding, drop-knee cutbacks; that classic single-fin style, and seeing it as a new style of surfing, a progression from the wrong-tool-for-the-job, bad version of shortboarding approach to longboarding that all but killed the sport in the 80s, 90s and 00s.

Hot in its pursuit are a range of boards being popularised by a small number of Californian rippers, single-fins, mini-simmons, fish, alaia etc. The washed out, long-haired, no-shoed marketing of the newest cycle of surf fashion is beginning to translate into spending choices. Gone are the days where three fins is king and any deviation from a plain white PU shortboard is just plain weird. Shapers everywhere are being forced to delve into the history books and widen their repertoire, often with pretty hilarious results.

Retro surfboards

​Matthew Ayre of Polymath Surfcraft enjoying the morning glide on a wood veneer twinfin.

The truth is, with the rise of the democratic online media platforms, no longer are surfers getting their inspiration from the same few paper pages as the previous generation. The WSL, though still relevant, is being diluted with a wider range of information; Noosa has never been closer to Newquay and the reign of the thruster-or-kook surfer is beginning to suffer the infiltration of floppy Alex Knost look-a-likes with smiles as wide as their boards. Maybe not on the reefs just yet; but certainly on the beaches and social media.

I want to offer three pieces of valuable advice, from someone who has ridden a variety of boards for some time now, along side a standard shortboard. As you make the unwitting transition from die-hard shortboarder to a liberated subscriber of the ‘ride-anything’ ethos –

  1. Don’t ask your shortboard shaper to make you something classic, they won’t have a clue. Go big and heavy, compromise is for wimps. If your going to do it, do it properly. There are a small number of shapers across the country who can do these boards justice and there are an even bigger number who haven’t got a clue.
  2. Watch the Thomas Campbell films, ‘The Seedling’, ‘The Sprout’ and ‘The Present’. there is nothing new under the sun.
  3. Stay the fuck off my beach, it’s full.

Words and images by Tom Bing check out some more of his work by visiting or check out his instagram

Polymath surfboards

A Polymath surfboard made from an EPS foam core, parabolic timber rails and laminated with a fiberglass reinforced wood veneer

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