On Style

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Adding some style dust to honed technique is a sure way to signal advanced status. Do it in heavy conditions and a surfer enters elite territory. 

While the backside rail grab is deadly functional, it’s never been what anyone would call stylish. The grab-rail emerged as a workaround, a way to offset the body-mechanics deficit of navigating a jacking wave on one’s heels. From the moment John Peck unveiled it at Pipeline in the early 1960s—beautiful wave, iconic moment—the approach wasn’t universally loved. Some members of the old guard wrote it off:  “Aw, he grabbed the rail.” Be it the shock of the new or stooping to conquer, classicists considered it inherently uncasual. That opinion would change. 

The quest for more than a modest backside coverup led to the pig-dog method (originated, according to Gerry Lopez, by Bird Mahelona). The mode aided late drops and allowed for stalling behind the curtain. Forty years later, it’s still with us.  

And while it’s become part of surfing’s orthodoxy, surfers fashion different versions unique to their body type and level of experience. An example: Eli Beukes, here, using his angularity to good effect—and cheating in some delicate hand planing in South Africa. 

[Photo by Ian Thurtell]