Jarvi delves into the world of foamies be­ing rid­den in waves of con­se­quence.

The very ex­is­tence of soft-top surf­boards came about in the '80s with the Cal­i­for­nian ‘Black Ball’ sys­tem, where surf­boards were banned from bathing beaches for safety rea­sons. It turns out, and rightly so that a fi­bre­glass surf­board un­der­neath the feet of a be­gin­ner surfer is a dan­ger­ous weapon that can wreak havoc on in­no­cent bathers and their heads. At the time there was no dis­tinc­tion be­tween be­gin­ner surfers and highly ex­pe­ri­enced and com­pe­tent surfers. It was merely a blan­ket-ban on all surf craft, caus­ing much frus­tra­tion for many surfers who were not al­lowed to surf their lo­cal breaks dur­ing cer­tain times.

There was a loop­hole, how­ever, and some­one fig­ured it out at the time that fin­less soft-top surf­boards (orig­i­nal boo­gie boards) were le­gal in Black Ball-de­mar­cated ar­eas, and while they were quite chal­leng­ing to ride in their ear­li­est form, they still pro­vided end­less of amounts of plea­sure. Thus be­gan a rev­o­lu­tion of sorts.

This move­ment, for want of a bet­ter word, has gone full cir­cle now, with surfers tak­ing their soft-tops out in the most chal­leng­ing of con­di­tions. Jamie O’brien and friends are to­tally non­cha­lant with their ap­proach to surf­ing on their Beat­ers of dif­fer­ent lengths and tak­ing them out at places like Pipe­line and Jaws to name a few. It does not stop there, with these surfers get­ting up to an­tics like tan­dem surf­ing at Pipe on soft-tops, surf­board to soft-top trans­fers at grind­ing Back­door. Some of the most revered waves in the world are now sub­ject to surfers pad­dling out on pink soft-tops on de­cent size days to have their fun. Bruce Irons even surfed Teahupo’o on a soft top once upon a time.

While these mo­ments are highly en­ter­tain­ing and show the silli­ness of the act of surf­ing at times, the soft-tops also have a dis­tinct func­tion in the hi­er­ar­chy of surf­ing in that they are the best craft for kids to learn to surf on. No chance of get­ting a big board to the head or leg, and very lit­tle chance of a fin cut. Also, if the groms are at the really early stages and are rid­ing all the way to the sand on small foamies, then when the soft­tops dig into the sand and come bounc­ing back at them, they won't suf­fer in­juries. Soft-tops are the way to get go­ing in the surf with min­i­mal risk. The amount of stoke on a groms’ face as he or she flies to­wards the shore­line on a soft top is rea­son enough to buy one, no mat­ter what the price.

For adults, how­ever, there is a mod­ern trend to this, and that is the break­down of the con­tem­po­rary thruster mind­set, as lamented by so many el­der states­men, and the sub­se­quent ad­di­tion of fun quiv­ers to the ev­ery­man. Only once we had all fi­nally got­ten over our ridicu­lous no­tion that the only way to hold your head high as a surfer is to ride a 6’0 thruster and that all other craft are un­cool, did things start to come right. The ad­vent of the mod­ern-day fun quiver was the re­nais­sance our sport needed, and while watch­ing a hip­ster crouch-rid­ing a tiny leash­less twin-fin can even­tu­ally get in­cred­i­bly ir­ri­tat­ing, at least there were these many surfers who were will­ing to ex­per­i­ment, and to ex­pand their surf­ing zones, that saw the fun quiv­ers emerge.

Soft-tops have emerged as a favourite ve­hi­cle in that sim­ple bid to make ab­so­lutely crap waves and te­dious ses­sions more fun. With lit­tle ex­pec­ta­tion and the ide­ol­ogy that you’re just rid­ing with your mates and not shred­ding, soft­top surf­ing can bring a whole lot of ex­tras into your surf­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

There are a few things to re­mem­ber when surf­ing a soft-top, and here are a few of them.

• They ac­tu­ally don't pad­dle that well. Be­ing less dense, and so soft, they fail to gather any

mo­men­tum and drive when pad­dling. It’s not really a prob­lem though; it’s just a slight mind­set change be­cause you can take off really, really late on a soft-top. You’re not go­ing to have a chunk of resin hit you if you don’t make the take-off and there are no real threats of a pointy nose spik­ing you. So you can lit­er­ally take off un­der the lip and not be too stressed about it all.

• Many of the mod­ern de­sign soft-tops don't have much rocker. They’re pretty flat. If you’re se­ri­ous about buy­ing a soft-top for your quiver, be sure to do your re­search and find the model with enough rocker in it. What this ul­ti­mately means, how­ever, is that when you first start rid­ing them, you’re prob­a­bly go­ing to be dig­ging some un­ex­pected nose for the first few ses­sions, and not un­der­stand­ing why. Maybe JOB, Ju­lian and crew don't nose­dive much, but they are some of the best surfers in the world who in­nately know how to keep that nose out of the wa­ter on the steep­est of take-offs.

• They have less con­trol than you might think. The rails are al­ways go­ing to be chunky 50-50 kind of rails, which means that they’re not go­ing to track, and are great for slip­ping and spin­ning In other words, most of the soft-top de­signs are ridicu­lously loose, and spin 360’s can be done with the great­est of ease, if that’s what you’re into. How­ever, much like the orig­i­nal boo­gie boards, they can be ma­nip­u­lated very eas­ily. Once you learn how to en­gage the rails, ev­ery­thing changes, and once you learn how to do a full bot­tom-turn, you’re in the game. Even if they have fins, you need to en­gage the rail to get the most out of the equip­ment con­cern­ing per­for­mance.

• Soft-tops come into their own in big waves, for many rea­sons. Firstly, you do not have a fear of a heav­ily glassed, triple-stringer with XL fins smash­ing into your head, face or arse if you eat shit on the take-off. If your board is soft, then you only have the ocean to deal with, and it does make things a bit eas­ier to com­pre­hend. If you crash on a mas­sive wave on a soft-top you just need to get un­der that wave and out the other side. So the real or imag­ined dan­gers of big wave surf­ing are less­ened some­what.

• It gets you out there when the waves are abysmal, be­cause fun. If you’re out there with a few mates, catch­ing a cou­ple of fam­ily waves and gen­er­ally hav­ing a hoot, it’s great to be soft. There are no risks and dan­gers, and the soft-board un­der­foot can be rid­den in dif­fer­ent ways with unique turns and tricks to put to the test. You can kneel, sit or stand, and even pull into bar­rels while ly­ing down. It’s cool, and it’s dif­fer­ent.

What’s good about ‘em.

They make un­real travel surf­boards. It is way harder for a spite­ful air­line em­ployee to ma­li­ciously ding deck and rails. Un­less they have a knife, which they shouldn't be­cause they go through se­cu­rity checks on the way to work.

Safety: This can­not be overem­pha­sised, although I am ob­vi­ously try­ing my hard­est to do that right now. The soft deck and rails of this surf­board will soften any blow to the head.

Durable: Those dings will even­tu­ally sap the life out of your stan­dard board, turn them brown and make them tired, but soft-tops stay young for­ever.

They will save you time and money: These boards are typ­i­cally cheaper to buy off the rack. Dings cost your board time out of the wa­ter and cost you money out of pocket to fix.

The soft ma­te­rial will also pre­vent you from dam­ag­ing other surfers' surf­boards. So if you fuck up and ride into some­one on a top-end Firewire or sim­i­lar, they won’t get too bummed and try and hit your face with their hands.

Good value: un­less you find a real sucker or a noob, it is im­pos­si­ble to re­cover your costs when re­selling a dinged up brown surf­board. When you're ready for a new softie, you can sell the one you have and make the ma­jor­ity back.

Some soft-top man­u­fac­tur­ers, un­be­liev­ably, pro­vide a war­ranty up to 12 months. You’re not go­ing to get that from any EPS/PU man­u­fac­turer un­der the sun.

Im­proved tech­nol­ogy and ma­te­ri­als make this an ex­cel­lent op­tion for some­one who wants to be­come a fun­da­men­tally sound surfer. You’re not go­ing to be­come an­other John John, but you could be­come com­pe­tent and con­fi­dent, un­der­stand your pad­dle, make late drops and un­der­stand rail work.

What’s less good about ‘em.

Many peo­ple be­lieve that be­cause they are rid­ing on soft-tops, the rules are dif­fer­ent. Not true, the nor­mal rules of surf­ing ap­ply – like don't drop in, flick board, punch or swear at other peo­ple in the wa­ter. Be cool. Al­ways.

Some soft-tops can se­ri­ously rash you up. Wear a tee.

At cer­tain beaches, it might still be ig­no­min­ious to be walk­ing down the beach with a soft-top. Hold your head high and your soft-top higher. Be proud to be soft.


There's a per­verse amuse­ment in see­ing JOB get bar­relled on a foamie at Teahupo'o. But it does re­in­force their le­git sta­tus.

Soft tops are the fu­ture? Dis­cuss.

Imag­ine the re­ac­tion if you pad­dled out on a foamie in a Hawai­ian shirt if you weren't JOB...

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