tuberiding


Riding through the hollowed-out area of the wave formed as the curl arcs out and down into the trough; regarded since the late 1950s as the ultimate surfing maneuver. Only a small percentage of waves are both hollow and well-shaped, and the infrequency of what are called "makeable" tubes is one reason why tuberiding is among the most difficult surfing maneuvers; it's been estimated that less than 5% of surfers worldwide can consistently place themselves inside the tube.

Most tuberides last less than three seconds; anything longer than five seconds is exceptional; rare tuberides at a select few surf breaks worldwide—Superbank in Australia, Desert Point in Indonesia, Skeleton Bay in Namibia—can last for 15 seconds or longer. Until the mid-'90s, tuberiding was rarely attempted in waves bigger than 15 feet.

Tuberiding is often thought of as separate from the rest of the sport, with its own constantly evolving set of strategies and techniques. In the most basic tuberiding scenario, the surfer, already angling on the wave face and having spotted a hollow section forming ahead, speeds up and crouches, arrives at the tube just as it's formed, gets encased, holds a line, and shoots out of the tube's mouth. ("Spit" is the lateral stream of mist blown out of the mouth of a thicker, harder-breaking tube.) Most tuberides, however, are set up with a stalling maneuver of some kind, with the surfer checking his forward movement in order to not outrun the tube. The stall is often done just after takeoff, usually by planting an arm in the wave face as a brake. The rider might also drop to the base of the wave and do a delaying turn while the tube forms overhead.

Tuberiding in the 1950s was a rare and more often than not accidental event. Conrad Canha and Sammy Lee of Hawaii began riding the tube with some regularity in the early '60s at Ala Moana. California's Butch Van Artsdalen, however, often is cited as the first great tuberider, a distinction he earned at Pipeline, the funneling wave on the North Shore of Oahu that remains the sport's most iconic tuberiding break. Surf magazine publisher Steve Pezman was on the beach at Pipeline in late-November 1962 when Van Artsdalen made his reputation. "The curtain threw out and over Butch," Pezman later recalled, "then erupted into a thundering explosion all around him, but through the falls we could still see the flash of his red trunks. Then he came flying out [and] we gasped in disbelief."

Tuberides were nonetheless few and far between until the shortboard revolution of the late '60s, when boards went from 23-pound blunt-nosed 10-footers to spear-shaped seven-footers weighing as little as eight pounds. The new boards were often called "pocket rockets," as they were designed to perform in the curl-lined pocket of the wave, and tuberiding became the sport's highest calling. Hawaii's Jock Sutherland was the best tuberider in 1968 and 1969, and also strove mightily to capture the moment in words, describing the tube as a spinning field of "prismatic auras and shimmering spectrums," and viewing his approach to Pipeline as analogous to a caveman hunting and killing a Tyrannosaurus rex. Gerry Lopez, also from Hawaii, was the world's premier tuberider in the early and mid-'70s, transforming the act into a kind of Zen practice as he raced inside thundering Pipeline caverns in a relaxed crouch, with little or no expression on his mustachioed face.

Other spots meanwhile gained notice as prime tuberiding breaks, including Kirra and Burleigh Heads in Queensland, Australia; Cave Rock and Bay of Plenty in Durban, South Africa; Big Rock in Southern California; and Mexico's Puerto Escondido. But Pipeline—including Backdoor and Off the Wall, two right-breaking waves adjacent to Pipeline—remained tuberiding's focal point. Sports Illustrated delved into tuberiding with a 1977 cover story titled "All Aboard the Tunnel Express," which talked at length about Pipeline.

South African Shaun Tomson had by that time reconfigured the tuberide by teaching himself how to maneuver his board from behind the curtain, which not only allowed him to ride deeper inside, but also greatly improve his rate of success. Tomson is often described as the sport's most influential tuberider.

Tuberiding was at first thought of as something performed while riding frontside (facing the wave) rather than backside (back to the wave), as the latter demands a more difficult set of body positions to avoid being hit by the falling curl. John Peck and Sam Hawk of California, along with Hawaii's Owl Chapman, developed rudimentary back-to-the-wall tube techniques at Pipeline in the '60s and early '70s, but backside tuberiding as it exists today took form in 1975, led by Shaun and Michael Tomson of South Africa and Wayne Bartholomew of Australia. The squatting rail-grab stance (with the surfer placing the trailing hand on the shoreward-facing edge of the board) gave way to the layback stance (back and shoulders planing on the water surface), which in turn led to the lay-forward, or "pigdog," stance (back knee lowered, trailing shoulder brought forward, chest atop front knee), out of which developed the self-explanatory backside stand-up tube. Frontside tuberiding remains the easier form for most surfers, but top pros during the 1990s—including Kelly Slater and Andy Irons—learned to ride with near-equal depth, length, and frequency in either direction.

Contests at Pipeline or Teahupoo in Tahiti are primarily tuberiding events. The only contest designated as such, however, was the Tavarua Tube Classic, held on Fiji's Tavarua Island in 1995 and 1996, with surfers judged solely on time spent behind the curtain.

Big-wave tuberiding was greatly advanced with the development of tow surfing in the '90s, as the jetski-assisted running start, as well as the reduced-area tow-in boards, allowed the surfer to place himself in a more critical position on the wave, rather than just racing for deep water.

In 2015, the Kelly Slater Wave Company revealed a machine-generated wave set in a huge outdoor pool that produced a flawless head-high tubing wave lasting for over 30 seconds. By artificial means, it looked as if the scarcity of tubes might someday be greatly reduced. In many surfers minds, however, the magic of tuberiding would also be knocked down.

Dozens of synonyms for "tuberide" have been coined, used, and discarded over the decades, including "barreled," "slotted," "pitted," "piped," "shacked," and "kegged."