We like the hand. It’s encoded in our surfer DNA. It echoes through the history of wave riding.
Think back to those early Polynesians streaking across blue combers with erect and regal style. Their alaia and olo boards came from sacred trees—koa and wilwili wood—and included rituals, rites, prayers. They were carved by hand, no doubt with great love. Leap forward to the fifties and there’s Greg Noll and Pat Curren on the North Shore, mowing foam under palm trees, brushing resin up and down the deck, sanding the fin with deft strokes. Across Oahu, in Makaha and Waikiki, old ladies are hunched over sewing machines, stitching together what would be the first surf trunks, the trunks that Noll and Curren would wear as they hurl themselves over the ledge of massive Waimea Bay. And across the Pacific, on Balboa Island in SoCal, Carrie Birdwell is sewing the early Birdwells -- not totally unlike today's version.
I’m reminded of this as I run wet/dry sandpaper along the rail of my 8’1” Scott Anderson Meth Model. This is the first ding I’ve fixed myself in over a decade and the caress, the intimacy, the five-year-old-hugging-his-teddy-bear closeness, I realize, is a big part of the surf experience. Surfing was born from industrious hands. We like the tactile; we like to have a physical connection to our equipment and accoutrements.
We like the hand in the water, too. Miki Dora’s karate-chopping front blade as he cross steps to the nose on a First Point peeler. Gerry Lopez’s spell-caster fingers as he swoops off the bottom at Pipeline. John John Florence’s impossibly relaxed front hand as he man-carves out of the lip at Pupukea…
The Dazzling Blue is a series of short pieces about things we do in boardshorts. It is written by Jamie Brisick. A Fulbright scholar and a lifelong surfer, Brisick has written several books about surf culture, including Have Board Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate, and Snow and Becoming Westerly. He lives in NYC and rides a 5'10" Channel Islands Pod.