One of the foundational sentiments I recall being introduced to as a grommet was the importance of the relationship a surfer holds with a board and the shaper. Sadly, for various reasons, not many people get the chance to build a personal relationship with a shaper. Nonetheless there has always been an unspoken, almost sacred value placed on the make of a board. Specifically, I remember this unspoken value of a hand shaped board coming to a tangible fruition when I had my first run in with a ‘ghost shape’ during an early morning session. The conversation in the water quickly moved away from the casual mid-set chat to a more intense discussion, about what a hand-shape means. I vividly remember the conversation winding down on the boat back to the dock with everyone sharing stories of our first hand-shaped boards.
I imagine as the reader you are wondering; what importance does this hold to an article on foamies? Personally, I really appreciate the soft top movement. Nonetheless, for the sake of honesty I feel it is important to address the elephant in the room. What is it about these foamies that have the surf world opening our arms in acceptance in the face of a culture I understood as having a foundational appreciation for the hand-shape?
Retrospectively, in my short 8 years of surfing I’ve noticed that the make of a board determines how it is ridden. A subtle, yet poignant example of how make informs interaction can be seen through how a swallow tail influences a surfer’s approach to a wave, versus a pintail. A swallow tail inspires a looser release through critical maneuvers influencing a surfer to approach mushier waves with a skatey, loose stye. A pintail on the other hand offers incomparable hold in a wave. This hold may influence a surfer to approach a more hollow wave with a style focused more on barrel riding and ‘in the pocket’ surfing. In most cases the two general intentions of a shape, whether fish, longboard, or plank is to provide a surfer with; 1) a tool of expression and 2) a new sensation (not mutually exclusive). Why is this important? I feel that this is important because this is what justifies a Catch Surf as a true board, not just a factory pop out or ghost shape. These boards were made with the intent to allow a surfer to experience surfing in a new or forgotten way, just as the thruster did after the twin fin. These new experiences and styles are what continually shifts the paradigm of surfing forward.
This paradigm shifting intent is best expressed by the owner of Catch Surf, George Arzante. In Arzante’s eyes, he knew he wouldn’t become a professional surfer, he didn’t would never achieve the athletic prowess or status of a WSL champion. By the same token, I believe Arzante was tired of a certain culture the surf world was promoting. This culture’s experience of surfing was compromised, and still is fueled by; a foundation of competition at all times, whether a casual surfer or not. When in the water that individual must be able to “best the best”.
Arzante didn’t take a liking to this new competition fueled culture, He wanted the absurd culture of surfing of the late 90’s. A soul of plastic, yes, but unlike the present surf culture, this culture was fundamentally centered around having fun. In a brave step, Arzante combined the two worlds of surfing and plastic to create a counter culture, a response to the seriousness of the new surf world. This counter culture manifested in neon foam, in bizarre, yet functional design under the brand ‘Catch Surf’. In Arzante’s eyes Catch Surf would re-awaken the surfing he knew. through the re-introduction of a forgotten sensation. Surfing based on fun, not being the ‘best’ in the water.
Has it worked? Has the foaminess re-awakened the fun of surfing the masses would say is being lost? I would say so. From my personal experience it seems as though whenever an experienced surfer plants their feet on tender foam, the static frown inspired by a performance board lifts. It’s as if the foam rids an experienced surfer of all the preconceptions of what it means to be the quintessential ‘good surfer’. The foamies are ridiculous aesthetically, and by proxy inspire a surfer not to take themselves so seriously when they hop in the water with one. These boards provide an alternate stage which influences the surfer to approach surfing in a way they wouldn't if they were on fibreglass.
Additionally, Catch Surf foamies unlike other foamies appeal to both the new surfer and the old sea dog. This wide range of appeal in my mind can be attributed to two things. One, Catch surfs are not just factory pop out foamies. They are designed in San Clemente, CA by surfers who know how a good, responsive board should feel. It is this informed design that puts Catch Surf foamies ahead of the rest. The hard bottom, paired with proper rails, tested outlines and hard fin boxes make for a board you could ride in ankle biting mush, or 12ft Pipeline. Because of this aspect of performance, even the most advanced surfer can ride these boards finless and glide through water like a knife through butter, or throw it around with fins like J.O.B. The second reason I believe these boards appeal to the beginner surfer is because after all they are foam boards. As most surfers know their first experience standing on a wave isn’t usually done with fiberglass under their feet, rather it is foam. Because Catch Surf has dominated the market, and been the catalyst behind the soft top revolution they act as the first board for many new surfers. Additionally, these boards can endure rocks, ice chunks, falls and focuses. The build quality behind the catch surf, coupled with triple maple ply stringers can endure wedges and beach breaks from California and Hawaii to the lakes and beyond.
Let’s not stop here — we can delve further into the practical value of soft tops. With the exponential growth of surfing in North America, and other developed nations physical surf spots are being divided to accommodate all levels. For example, in Australia certain beaches have waves solely designated for foam boards. This division of beaches and waves according to boards was created to accommodate the growing amount of beginners to the sport and ensure more advanced parts of the beach are kept organized and safe. Alas, just because a part of the beach is designated for fiberglass boards, it does not always mean that it will have the best waves. Yet, as many a surfer know, sometimes the waves are in the inaccessible areas, in some cases, the foamie designated spots. In this case, the Catch Surf foamie’s practical value shines again. These boards can be used in the foamie’s designated area (where the good waves may be), but because of the design (as mentioned before) still provide a surfer with the responsiveness a traditional board, something a pop out foamie won't provide.
Most importantly in my eyes though, i ask that we don’t forget what and where the soul of surfing is. Whether you are riding a soft top, a 5’10 28L performance board, a bodyboard, a SUP, a longboard, or even a plank of wood, surfing was created to experience the pleasures the water brings to humanity. In my eyes, it was never created to outcompete our crew, or be the ‘best’ in the water. When I was personally in this mindset, surfing became stale, sad and unfulfilling. Who knows, maybe it’s even time to look past the shapes we sit on mid set, and start focusing on what we are all achieving while we are in the water, together.
Words by Surf the Greats team member Zane Elias. Photographs by CatchSurf.