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Surf Mats

Surf mats... Rumored to have unreal speed and sensation. Even in junk conditions. 18 ounces. Can last for years. Completely unlike ANY other surfcraft. Popularized by George Greenough, the insideout scenes from inside-the-tube filmed in Crystal Voyager (see below) were filmed from on top of Greenough's surf mat.

Advantages:Surf mats are portable. They deflate and become very compact. A mat and a pair of flippers take up very little room (no airline shipping charges!).
Disadvantages: A pin or sharp reef might pop a surf mat.


Pictured below are Dale Solomonson's Neumatic Surfcraft




Dale Solomonson was a leader in building contemporary surf mats, called Neumatic Surfcraft. He can be reached at dalesolomonson@hotmail.com, or by calling 541-265-8176 (Oregon, USA)

Dale Solomonson commented on surf mats during a forum discussion on Surfline.com, in 2004. Excerpts follow:

The type of surf mats which I`m most familiar operate with very little air pressure.

Unlike paipos or bodyboards, the rider`s position on these mats is down low on the top surface, i.e. chest making contact, chin and face low, too... no hyper-arched back, not propped up on the elbows and lower abdomen. In essence, your body and the surf mat function together as one... a support structure.

The basic holding power of my surf mats comes from curve in the bottom and rails. Primary directional stability comes from nearly straight lines over the length, with several rounded contours across the width. All are variable, continually sculpted by the wave`s face and its surface texture. Mats operate best when minimal effort is applied.

But here`s the catch: unlike photos of solid boards, display pics of fully inflated surf mats are not at all representative of how they appear in motion across a wave. They`re two completely different things.

This type of surf mat is designed to function with very low air pressure, actually looking laughably baggy (thus the fond nickname, "Trashbag") until the rider lays on the deck. In fact, one way to properly estimate air volume prior to surfing is to inflate until the mat can be easily folded on center to 90 degrees.

When surfing, a mat`s exaggerated bottom curves softly flatten, width increases, rails tend to become thinner, taking on the angle of the wave face, become more egg- shaped, and the thickness profile (esp. on the inside back 1/3) tapers down toward the tail.

Edge control can be maintained at increasing speeds (even over chop) because surf mats maintain a substantial contact area with the water, even when banked over in hard turns. Sort of like a radial tire flexing through fast corners.

The bottom material and internal structures are quite supple, offering little resistance to exterior pressures... unless the rider so desires. Instant changes to internal pressure are achieved by simple exterior pressure, freehand squeezing and/or releasing of the mat`s front edges and corners. These actions result in modified flexibility, template, rocker, thickness profile and rail contours... all directly influencing a balance of speed and control.

Plus, after a period of use, my surf mat's bottom material readily takes on a thin, slippery coating of water... just like a smooth, wet stone.

To the best of my knowledge, George Greenough has personally made very few surf mats. He did pioneer mat surfing on the old rubber and canvas designs. He has never actively promoted surf mats, or sold them in Swaylocks. George dislikes typing on keyboards, has no Internet connection, or email address.

In late 1982, George paid me to develop and create the first modern generation nylon and polyurethane mat... it was a successful experiment, and weighed less than 16 ounces. Previous rubber and canvas mats averaged 5 to 7 pounds!

In 1983, George, Paul Gross and I formed 4th Gear Flyer. An 8 page story ("Inflatable Dreams") about that effort was published in The Surfer`s Journal, Late Spring 2000, Vol.9, No.2.

As well as for other surfers around the world, I still make George custom mats, with 2 new designs currently in progress.

I hope this has been helpful. If you have any other mat surfing questions, please feel free to ask. I`ll do my best to answer them.

Pura vida

Some users' comments:
Paul Jensen of Washington (http://www.hollowsurfboards.com/):

I've surfed since 1970... Build my own boards... Live in the PNW...

I got a mat last year...$300 well spent...The mat is a hoot...In the line-up board surfers dismiss you as a kook, fine... With 30 years of wave knowledge I know what's going on... I'll sit inside and snag wave after wave, while the 'surfers' do their decoy imitation ... Sitting and waiting...

The ride on a mat is a mind blower...The speed is real...The ability of the mat to make the waves is real, too... Carving turns take some time, but the journey to mastery is the essence of the search...

Say what you will, but for me I look forward to each mat session with the enthusiasm of a 13 year old gremmie... Hey, if was all that a mat could do, that's enough...

Stay wet... keep an open mind..."

Paul

Peter Waitkun of Maine:

"... Ya know for some reason I purchased the mat and began riding with it regularly. The experience/feeling with riding such a craft IS unlike anything else I have experienced. The point break rides I wrote about on Swaylocks were of a different level far above anything I have felt before.

Drawing from other forms of wave ridding it was in a "way" like long board feel. Sweet lines can be made and drawn out, with the speed turbo-kicking in when necessary... ... Unlike bodysurfing or paipo riding the mat sucking through hollow sections still blows my mind. Feeling the mat change shape, lifting up knowing the reaction is now speed.

Such a fine balance of letting go and direction at the same time. The mat has helped me let go on a personal level as well, fine tuning my daily ride out the front door and letting go life's indirect lines.

There is a wave a caught one day---- After the first bowl skimming across the flats I made eye contact with a surfer paddling out inside of me and close to my line. the wave reformed again, riding high then shooting down at an angle carving gently across this guy's stern. Upon passing I spoke "howzit going" calmly, just like one might do walking down the street (very matter of fact). Leaving him to fight the tornado of white water approaching him... I made 3 more reforms with a huge grin on my face.

How could I ever think of putting a price tag on that? Simply there is none. Surfing has shaped my life, mat riding has fine-tuned it."

Peter

From Tony Lum of Hawaii:

"I ordered a Neumatic from Dale about a year ago. Although I had no prior mat-surfing experience, I assumed that I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from a surfmat. I was anticipating bodyboard-like performance with a little more flotation.

I was completely wrong... the surfmat sucked!

My first few sessions consisted of flailing, missed waves and struggling just to stay on top the moving bag of air. Although I initially had my mat at near maximum inflation, it still felt too soft and flexible to be any good for wave riding. A skeptic would have rolled the mat up and written the whole thing off as a scam, but the ashes of my curiosity were still smoldering. Dale, and a few others, seemed genuinely jazzed about inflatable surfing. I decided to stick with it.

As time went on I got used to the flexible, almost organic, feel of the surfmat. All of the confusing (cryptic) things that Dale was telling from the beginning were starting to make sense. I figured out how to drop into waves without having the mat fold in half like a book. I learned that wrestling with the mat's rails and nose won't make it turn any harder. Oddly enough, the less effort I exerted, the better the mat performed! I also began riding the mat at lower inflation levels. It seemed to go against all logic, but the "dish rag" theory worked!

The first time that I felt the surfmat shift into its higher gears was a complete accident. I was instantly hooked! Although it is intensely challenging, I feel like I learn something new about the Neumatic every day. It's a very rewarding and unique experience. To anyone interested in surfmats, I highly recommend that you contact Dale. He is a great person and an even better friend. I`m proud to say that I have become a full-blown surfmat junkie. Just when you thought surfing couldn't be more fun, it is!

... I think the biggest hurdle in mat-surfing is letting go of the mental baggage accumulated while riding other "solid" surfcraft. Ultra light surfmats are a completely different trip. When you learn to separate yourself from old habits associated with hard-board surfing, you begin to realize the great potential in inflatable mats. With surfmats, more so than surfboards, you have to trust the equipment. The mat will naturally seek out the wave's energy. All you're really doing is slightly manipulating a trapped bubble of air.

Some of the best moments in mat-surfing come when the surfmat is driving and accelerating on its own... and it is by far the fastest piece of surfing equipment I have ever owned! It is frictionless in the water and can be fine-tuned to ride anything from unbroken swells to heaving, closed-out mountains of water. It is a truly unique and rewarding surfing experience. Try to imagine better wave-catching ability than a longboard and more speed and maneuverability than a shortboard...

... I still ride surfboards regularly, but more often than not, I find myself sitting in the lineup wishing I had brought the surfmat. I've tried some of the cheaper mats and found that they can't really
be compared to the high-performance surfmat. The cheapo mats don't have the ability to catch and ride unbroken ocean swells. They can't successfully outrun heaving, closed-out sets. And the low quality rafts won't connect long, dead sections between waves like the Neumatic will. Most importantly, NOTHING can match the Neumatic's speed... a fine-tuned mat will automatically find the fastest line on a wave. Squeezing and releasing the front corners firms and softens the rails, providing drive and edge control.

From personal experience, I can tell you that high-performance surfmats have almost nothing in common with bodyboards. During my first few sessions on the mat, I tried to ride it like a
bodyboard with horrible results. It took me a while to unlearn my old bodyboarding habits, but only then was I able to see a bit of the surfmat's great potential."

Tony
  

On Riding Surf Mats

To Inflate or Not
Comment: "Wow. My first instinct would be to over-inflate the hell out of them to get the bottom as firm as possible. I can't believe you ride 'em flabby like that. Thanks in advance for any more comments."

Response by Dale: The higher the inflation (firmer), the more these surf mats begin to feel and behave like a solid object: they begin to loose their sensitivity, and the subtle ability to adapt to the wave and its textures. A mat`s higher levels of trim and turning speed also fades. Top and bottom surfaces are deadened... not able to independently respond to wave and rider. High inflation prevents a mat`s rails and thickness profile from being naturally tapered by the wave face, tending to remain in a round, 50/50 contour... what a total drag!

Bottom line: if you`re looking for a solid/firm "board" feel, a bodyboard or paipo are much better choices.

Hope that helps...

Dale Solomonson

Catching Waves Early
Comment: " "How can you possibly get in early on an under- inflated mat?"

Response by Dale: Some time ago I asked George Greenough his opinion about catching unbroken swells with low air pressure surf mats. He said, "It just takes practice... you learn to use every little ripple to your advantage. You can`t do that on solid boards!"

George often rides mats so low on air that he jokingly refers to them as his "Magic Towels". Part of the game of riding such a flat, limp wave tool (super fast skimming) is to know when, and where, on a wave to squeeze the forward rails, instantly increasing the internal pressure, temporarily firming everything back up for more control whenever necessary... the seemingly effortless down-the-line effect is surprising.

- Dale

Unlearn Your Old Techniques
Modern surf mats involve completely different technique and sensations from prone riding solid objects. They have almost nothing in common with bodyboards or paipos.

While surfing, your chin should be down low near the front edge:

Roll from side-to-side through turns, sliding around on the deck is seldom necessary.

Sounds strange, but it`s true: a surf mat`s initial learning curve is all about "unlearning".

Try adjusting air volume so your mat easily folds on center to about 90 degrees.

Find some nice, long, uncrowded waves where there`s time to think about what`s happening... reforming, flat-faced, choppy walls are fine. ANY type of longer wave... beach, jetty, reef, point. Know of any empty spots choked with thick kelp?

Once your mat`s air volume is tuned, try paddling for a wave off the back of the mat, w/arms extended... the effective waterline is increased and you`ll be able to take off farther outside.

Experiment with different air volumes and buoyancy between waves. Think tuning a guitar...

Last but not least... a powerful pair of swim fins will allow you to fully exploit your mat`s potential.

- Dale

Crystal Voyager. The 1972 surf film,Crystal Voyager, begins as a portrait of George Greenough, a surfer/filmmaker/inventor who revolutionized surfboard design, and ends with an extraordinary 23-minute sequence that becomes an abstract meditation on the beauty and dynamics of waves. If you want to experience the spiritual side of surfing, suggests director/producer David Elfick, "look at the last 23-minutes of Crystal Voyager." Cut to Echoes, from Pink Floyd’s album Meddle, the sequence is nothing less than an aquatic version of the hallucinatory starfield episode in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. See on snippets on YouTube.com.





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Last updated on: 11/11/13