How Surfing Works

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You know the Beach Boys and you've seen those Hang Ten shirts with the little feet emblem, but there's a lot more to surfing than appears on pop culture's surface. From learning how to pop up on the board to the physics of how waves form and break to the Sport of Kings' Hawai'ian origin, learn all about surfing with Chuck and Josh.

Introduction: Brought to you by Toyota. Let's go places. Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from How Stuff

Josh Clark: Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark with Charles W. Chuck Bryant and it's Stuff You Should Know. Just the same as it always was, huh?

Chuck Bryant: I guess so.

Josh Clark: How are you doing?

Chuck Bryant: I'm good. I like your hat. I'm ready to Hang 10.

Josh Clark: Are you? That seems like a probably a very difficult thing to do but not that great. Not that cool.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, it's super difficult.

Josh Clark: I can imagine.

Chuck Bryant: I think it's super cool, too. It's old school.

Josh Clark: Oh, you remember Spuds McKenzie had that Hang 20 or Hang - whatever poster?

Chuck Bryant: No.

Josh Clark: Do you remember Spuds McKenzie?

Chuck Bryant: Oh, yeah.

Josh Clark: Well, that dog could surf.

Chuck Bryant: Could he really?

Josh Clark: According to the posters that I've seen he could.

Chuck Bryant: People still call those dogs Spuds McKenzie's too after all these years.

Josh Clark: Yeah, what kind of terrier is it? Some sort of pit bull terrier but it's like a Stratford shyer I think?

Chuck Bryant: I have no idea. It is a terrier though for sure.

Josh Clark: Yeah. because they go after rats.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: And mailmen. So, Chuck -

Chuck Bryant: Yes.

Josh Clark: - can you guess when the first recorded description of someone surfing was? What are you going to guess, the '50s, '60s?

Chuck Bryant: Well, I know what it is so -

Josh Clark: Oh, well, all right, I'm going to tell you again. It was 1779 in fact. Did you know that?

Chuck Bryant: I did.

Josh Clark: So that was the one you were going to guess?

Chuck Bryant: Uh huh. That's the one I said to you.

Josh Clark: Everyone is a winner. So - and as you know, I guess, by a named Lieutenant James King who at the time of the writing had just very recently become the captain of the HMS Discovery because his captain, Captain James Cook, a very famous explorer, had just been killed by the Hawaiians because he had taken their chief captive in order to force them to return a boat.

Chuck Bryant: Because he surfed in their waters and localism was rough.

Josh Clark: Yeah, I guess so.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: I guess so. And apparently the tradition among Hawaiians', as far as localism goes, it was pretty serious and always has been. It's always been that way. It's very stratified out here.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: But anyway, James King, he first described this sight of people riding these long wooden boards catching a wave and riding it on in and it kind of established or set the precedent for Hawaii as the originator of surging, but what's pretty cool is it's one of those instances where Europeans came in, eons after something had started, and actually got it right because Hawaii was, in almost all likelihood, the place where surfing was born. Like it had started in Polynesia. They had kind of belly boards I think they called them but they didn't really ever stand up. It was the Hawaiians' who first stood up.

Chuck Bryant: Oh really.

Josh Clark: So Hawaii is the cradle of surfing.

Chuck Bryant: Of modern surfing.

Josh Clark: And man did they ever do it.

Chuck Bryant: Yes, they sure did and do to this day.

Josh Clark: Yeah, well, they're carrying on a very long tradition.

Chuck Bryant: They are.

Josh Clark: Yeah, like we were saying, you mentioned localism and I said it was stratified out there, there are actually places in Hawaii where if you weren't a member of the ruling class, you didn't surf there and if you did, you got into huge trouble.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, sure.

Josh Clark: So like the - like King Kamehameha was a chief, a Hawaiian chief, a very famous one, that's the club that Magnum hangs out is the King Kamehameha Club and he was noted for being a really great surfer. Did you know that?

Chuck Bryant: I did not know that. Never heard of the guy actually.

Josh Clark: King Kamehameha.

Chuck Bryant: No.

Josh Clark: That's pretty much the only Hawaiian chief I'd ever heard of, probably from watching Magnum.

Chuck Bryant: Really.

Josh Clark: Yeah, but he was a great surfer and eventually surfing became known as the sport of kings because of that. Because the chiefs surfed and they were pretty good at it and their social status was exemplified by the length of their board which was pretty -

Chuck Bryant: So the longer the board the higher status you had as a -

Josh Clark: Exactly.

Chuck Bryant: - a commoner or a king?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Huh.

Josh Clark: And you could be a very good surfer and not be part of the ruling class but you were still pretty well revered and actually you were called a kahuna.

Chuck Bryant: Nice.

Josh Clark: You were a surfing expert.

Chuck Bryant: So what's a big kahuna?

Josh Clark: Yes, that was the fat surfing expert.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, okay. Which a lot of those guys are.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: It's like one part of the world where you can be a big ole fat guy and lay around on the beach and you're, like, king daddy.

Josh Clark: And have face tattoos.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, do they have those, too?

Josh Clark: Well, the - Maori do and I think they surf.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, okay.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: I thought we were talking Polynesia.

Josh Clark: That's Polynesian.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, okay.

Josh Clark: I think. Oh, man, I hope so. So let's talk some more surfing history.

Chuck Bryant: Okay. They were surfing big time in the late 1700s, standing up, pushing up, doing all the modern moves - well, not all the modern moves because they were pretty much long boards back then.

Josh Clark: Yeah, long, long, long boards.

Chuck Bryant: But, you know, it was a huge part of society, still is, but they likened in this one article to like baseball was in the U.S., how it was in Polynesia. And even though it's all just a guess how it evolved, we have no idea really because Polynesians - there's really no certainty about their movement around the earth thousands of years ago. So we're all just sort of guessing at this point but Mark Twain surfed.

Josh Clark: Yeah, he did.

Chuck Bryant: He didn't have a very easy time with it.

Josh Clark: He tried it at least, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, in 187 - I'm sorry, 1866. He published in his book, Roughing It, I tried surf bathing once. Everything was bathing back then. Sun bathing, and then I think just bathing was when you started going into the ocean, even though you weren't washing your butt or maybe you were.

Josh Clark: Right, because no one really bathed back then.

Chuck Bryant: Sure they did. I tried surf bathing once, subsequently, but made a failure of it. I got the board placed right and at the right moment, too, but missed the connection myself. The board struck the shore in ¾ of a second without any cargo. I guess he was the cargo. And I struck the bottom about the same time with a couple of barrels of water in me. So Mark Twain's first experience was probably like many people's first experience with surfing, mine included.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and so Twain visits Hawaii at a time where there are a lot of Americans hanging out there and they were growing a lot of pineapples and since Hawaii wasn't a state, there were a lot of tariffs against those pineapples and a couple of the guys, two cousins, with the last name of Dole, decided to overthrow the Hawaiian chiefdom so that they could get the U.S. to annex Hawaii and get these tariffs lifted.

And as a result of this, and missionaries coming and cooks people and all that, Hawaiians had dwindled from about 800,000 by the time Cook showed up, to like 40,000 and surfing kind of went with it. The interest dwindled but there were some people still surfing. And just enough so that there was a resurgence. When Mark Twain was doing it, he was probably like the first - the second - I guess the second white guy ever to write about it. The third white guy, Jack London, was the one who brought surfing into popular culture.

Chuck Bryant: Really?

Josh Clark: Yeah, he visited Hawaii in 1907 and he hung out and one of the ways that he helped spread surfing was just by writing about a guy named George Freeth.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, he is - he basically invented modern surfing.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: And was heck of a life guard, as were some of the - a lot of the early surfers it seems like. They were great swimmer, great lifeguards, great surfers. Duke Kahanamoku, he was a five time Olympic swimming medalist.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and he traveled Europe and everything and gave swimming exhibitions.

Chuck Bryant: And maybe the first guy to play beach volleyball, too.

Josh Clark: Is that right?

Chuck Bryant: Mm hm.

Josh Clark: He has a great restaurant in Waikiki.

Chuck Bryant: And supposedly one of them invented the little backboard, like, the rescue board.

Josh Clark: Oh, yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Even though that's debated but some people - I think it was Freeth or - was it Freeth, yeah, may have invented that. But he was the first dude to like stand up, do good moves, I think his boards were shorter and this was turn of the century stuff.

Josh Clark: Right, like, 1907, 1912 when those guys were surfing and they were surfing on long wooden boards and it - I mean, like, really long, like, 10 feet, 16 feet. Imagine trying to maneuver one of those.

Chuck Bryant: Well, you don't really.

Josh Clark: But they were the first ones who said, hey, we can kind of change these boards and make them maneuverable so they were the first ones to figuratively and I guess literally, shape modern surfboards.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, did they create the short board?

Josh Clark: They started to. They started to make changes to it so that it wasn't just a flat plank of wood any longer.

Chuck Bryant: Nice. So and then the 20th Century is when the short board came along in earnest and they added things like - they made them lighter, of course, which helps, easier to manage, new shapes, helped with stability and then they started messing with the fins, too, which we can get to in a minute. But the fins make a big difference. There's a lot of stuff that the fins affect.

Josh Clark: Well, like what?

Chuck Bryant: I guess we can go ahead and go there. They impact stability, feel, drive, maneuverability, and you can have all kinds of things from like a single fin up to five, even though I get the impression that five fins is a little obnoxious.

Josh Clark: Yeah, kind of like training wheelsy.

Chuck Bryant: Well, I don't know. I think two or three fins is what you're looking for. Well, it depends on what you're trying to do. The angle of the fin is called the toe and that's the angle in relation to the center of the board so it can be cocked, you know, a little diagonally or just straight on.

Josh Clark: Oh, okay.

Chuck Bryant: If it - it makes the board more responsive the closer the front of the fin is to the center of the board. So the more - the closer - the more it's angled, the more responsive it's going to be and then you have the cant, that is the angle in relation to the bottom of the bottom. So if you have no cant, it's just straight up and down. It's not angled at all. It's going to be super fast. If it's angled, it's going to be more responsive.

So it all changes depending on how many fins and how deep they are, how big they are, what the angle is on how you're going to drive this thing basically. It can be foiled on both sides or have no foil; more foil gives you more lift. It can have a rake, which is how far back the fin curves so if it's like a super shark fin it's going to be different than if it's a little more straight. Small rack is faster but again, not as maneuverable. Flex, stiffness, they can be really super stiff or have more flex to them. Stiffness is stiff.

It's not as forgiving but I think if you're - like a better surfer, you're going to want it more stiff. And then the base link, the smaller the base of the fin, the tighter the turns, the height and the depth, if it's taller it's more stable but it's not going to be as maneuverable. So some of them are removable now, some of them are set in but they make them now where you can actually remove the fins which is great for travelling and storage and I guess if you just want to mix things up a little bit. But there's a lot of work that goes into -

Josh Clark: That's just the fins alone.

Chuck Bryant: That's just the fins on the bottom because I always wondered until I looked into this, like, why does that one just have one fin, why does that have three? Why are those fins huge and why are those angled and it all matters. It all makes a difference. It really just depends on what kind of - it's like when you're buying a car. Depends what you're looking for.

Josh Clark: We have the edition of fins, you can thank Duke and George for that at the very beginning but they kind of popularized surfing on the west coast and the west coast took over and then about the early 60s, thanks to things like Gidget and the Beach Boys, surfing just exploded.

And now we have just - I guess the change from surfboards in 1912 to 2012, in that 100 years, it's just incredible and exponential and it hadn't changed much for the thousand or so years leading up to 1912 so everything just kind of took off in the 20th Century. And now you can basically categorize the kind of board that you're holding or surfing on as either a short board or a long board, right?

Chuck Bryant: Well, yeah, and then there's dozens of other boards within those categories but yeah, those are the two big categories.

Josh Clark: So if you're pretty good at surfing, you're probably going to use a long board, right.

Chuck Bryant: It just depends on what you're looking to do.

Josh Clark: Okay. But if you are a novice, a long board is not the good one to start out on.

Chuck Bryant: Well, I mean, it's easier to stand up on because it's large and more stable but you're just going to - you can't maneuver it and cut back and stuff unless your super good and it's - I guess akin to either driving in the big Cadillac down the highway or being in your little sports car.

Josh Clark: Yes. Okay. Which you could learn to drive on either one of those.

Chuck Bryant: Sure, you can learn on a long board. It depends on what you're after. I would be a long board guy now.

Josh Clark: Would you?

Chuck Bryant: In my earlier days, I tried surfing and it was like I tried the short board and tried to do the -

Josh Clark: Because you were a hot shot.

Chuck Bryant: Well, it was just - that was the thing but now I would get up on the long board and just stand there, like, walk up and down, hang 10, do all that good stuff.

Josh Clark: Have you ever seen one of those Frankie and Annette beach movies where they're surfing and they're just - they are just literally standing there with their arms out like moving side by side and in the back it's just a green screen behind them.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and long boards you can get a couple of people on them and - two or three people if you're good.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and you just stand there and waive your arms side to side apparently from what I've seen. Okay. So you've got long boards, you've got short boards, you've got the fins, the sides of the surfboard, the rails impact how the thing moves.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: Whether or not it's a curved - the bottom, the board, the bottom of the board, the rocker, if it's curved or not and how much its curved I imagine makes the board a lot more maneuverable, the more convex it is, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: And then you've got long boards which are about nine feet long up to 12 feet long which is just crazy to me, like, you could fit three people on there pretty comfortably.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I've seen, like, a lot of people on a long board, like, when they do the tricks and stuff.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: I can't name a number of people but I feel like I've seen at least four or five people get up on a long board.

Josh Clark: Yep. And then you've got fun boards, right? These sound like the most fun.

Chuck Bryant: What's a fun board?

Josh Clark: It's kind of like in between a long board and a short board and it's fun. It's best for tricks. I think if you want to really kind of shred or whatever and also I should probably say I have no idea what I'm talking about here because I've never surfed.

Chuck Bryant: I think people have understood that by now.

Josh Clark: But a short board is obviously better for that because you can - like I said, you can shred the wave, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: But - and the long board is harder to maneuver unless you're really, really good at it. But a fun board just kind of falls in between those too like you can kind of rest and relax and just stand there if you want but you can also maneuver.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: That's my impression of the fun board.

Chuck Bryant: I'll have to look into it. I had never heard of the fun board.

Josh Clark: Oh, you hadn't? I had.

Chuck Bryant: Really?

Josh Clark: Yeah, I really genuinely have.

Chuck Bryant: I believe you.

Josh Clark: One thing I did know what I was talking about.

Chuck Bryant: So back in the day they were all made of wood. Now you can still get wooden surfboards, in fact, I think a lot of the purists can still get those sweet, handmade wooden surfboards but mostly these days they're going to be what's called pop outs, mass manufactured, they pop out of a factory mold, that's where they get the name and they're either polystyrene or polyurethane covered in fiberglass and resin and - but you can still hand make those, too, obviously. You can get kits or you can pay thousands of dollars for some dude in California or Hawaii to hand shape your own sweet little board.

Josh Clark: Yeah, Tracy said that surfboards cost between a $150 and $500.

Chuck Bryant: I think that's when you're shopping on

Josh Clark: Yeah. I found some that were pretty awesome for less than a $1,000, I mean, like the vast majority are less than a $1,000 and I was kind of surprised because I thought she was way off but she wasn't off by that much.

Chuck Bryant: No, and I think you can spend over a $1,000 like anything, if you get like the sweet dude that hand makes them and he's known for it, then you're going to pay a pretty penny.

Josh Clark: Right, but I mean, like, I even came across one that was Proctors Surfboards and they do custom boards and even those were less than a $1,000.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: It was pretty neat. It's nice because it makes it an egalitarian sport.

Chuck Bryant: You think so?

Josh Clark: A little.

Chuck Bryant: I'd say they're still a little pricy.

Josh Clark: It definitely is but I'm saying at least it's not like the - the gap between the poor man's surfboard and the rich man's surfboard is not 10, 20, $30,000, it's a $1,000, $1,500, you know.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I guess so.

Josh Clark: That's what I mean. You can easily be priced out of it but you could still get a decent surfboard for what, a couple hundred bucks.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I had - I bought a surfboard for $50 that I just kept it for in college because I thought it was cool to have in the corner of my living room.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: And I took it to the beach a couple of times and it sucked.

Josh Clark: Did your bedroom look like a Pottery Barn teen catalog scene?

Chuck Bryant: I've never seen that.

Josh Clark: They frequently have surfboards like stood up in the corner and stuff.

Chuck Bryant: No. It was just Chuck's silliness in the day.

Josh Clark: So did you say that stuff made of polyurethane?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: An it's covered in a resin?

Chuck Bryant: I did.

Josh Clark: And fiber glassed?

Chuck Bryant: Which makes it light, it makes it buoyant but I can also that if you get hit by one of these things, it hurts bad.

Josh Clark: Yeah, they're lightweight but it's - you whack somebody in the head with it or if you get stabbed with it, you know, they're sharp on the front and sometimes on the back.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I would never buy a sharp surfboard. I'd just be afraid of it.

Josh Clark: What would you do?

Chuck Bryant: Get one that's more rounded.

Josh Clark: You'd get a boogie board. I'll just get an inner tube. Okay. So you've got your surfboard.

Chuck Bryant: Yep.

Josh Clark: Another really important thing that you have to have, you have to have - all this other stuff aside from the leash is kind of superfluous, it's nice, it's an add-on; you have to have wax because polyurethane, resin bound surface tends to be slick especially when you're standing on in the water. And you can use wax to basically create a traction surface for your feet.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it helps for sure. And they're also not like completely slick on top, like, where you'll stand, they'll have - I don't know - it's not sand paper or maybe it is sand paper, okay -

Josh Clark: Okay. I was wondering.

Chuck Bryant: - like blast into it to help out a little bit. But not always. Again, surfers are very particular about what they like and what they don't like and there's all sorts of choices.

Josh Clark: And is there Dr. Zog's sex wax like the wax or is that just the wax that guys like me have heard of?

Chuck Bryant: I'm sure that's the stuff that we wore as teenagers, like, that's like saying was - who's the guy that suntan lotion guy?

Josh Clark: Panama Jack?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it's like saying was Panama Jack the lotion of choice? I think it's sort of like that.

Josh Clark: But Panama Jack was the lotion of choice.

Chuck Bryant: Was it really? He was the t-shirt of choice, for sure.

Josh Clark: Yeah. Rolled up sleeves.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, yeah. Board shorts, Tracey Wilson wrote this, Tracey points out, board shorts are studier versions of swim trunks. I didn't know that. I guess they're beefed up in certain areas.

Josh Clark: Well, they have a tie so it's not just like a -

Chuck Bryant: Elastic.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Is that the difference?

Josh Clark: It's got a strong tie. They usually don't have elastic. And they are sturdy. I just think they don't come off as easy. I think they're designed not to.

Chuck Bryant: Gotcha. Because that would be embarrassing.

Josh Clark: Sure. Rash vest. Those are just like the little short sleeve Oakley shirt that you wear that keeps your - and she says it helps prevent chaffing with impact with the water. It may be true but it - if you've ever been on a surfboard, your chest, it gets a little chaffed as well from the sand and stuff like that. So that protects you there. And then of course wet suits when you're cold or if you're in the pacific ocean, which, you know, year round they're wearing wet suits up there.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I guess the wet suit is not superfluous, I mean, depending on where you're surfing, you have to wear a wet suit.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and you're either a regular surfer or you're a goofy foot which means which foot do you put forward? If you put your left foot forward and you're right foot back, that's just standard and then if you turn around and put your left foot back, you're known as a goofy foot.

Chuck Bryant: The same with skateboarding, too.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and I don't know if - well, surfing lead to skateboarding.

Chuck Bryant: Some say. I think it directly lead to skateboarding. And I don't know if that's s slag to call someone a goofy foot or to be a goofy foot or not.

Josh Clark: I think it probably was originally but so many people skate or surf goofy foot now it's just like a term.

Chuck Bryant: It had to be a slag because or they would've called it like cool foot or something if it was super cool to do it that way.

Josh Clark: Right, or if a really popular guy named Tom had done it, they'd be like well, it's Tom footed.

Chuck Bryant: The Tom foot.

Josh Clark: But wherever you put your foot in the rear, that's the one you want to have the leash attached to and that is not superfluous either. You want to have your board attached to your ankle because if you fly off, you don't want to have to go swimming too far to get it.

Chuck Bryant: Sure, and it also can - if it's attached to your foot and you're having trouble, you can grab hold of your surfboard and help save yourself perhaps.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: So how do you learn to surf, Josh?

Josh Clark: It's - I think one of those things that it's easy to learn how but very, very difficult to master and it takes tons of practice and I also want to give a shout out to too - we got a lot of that history from a site from an article written by a guy named Ben Markus and the article is called From Polynesia with Love. Good stuff.

Chuck Bryant: It is good stuff.

Josh Clark: And then the has this whole section called Beginning Surfing Tips and they have everything you need to know. They're so friendly and one of the things that they just kind of put out is this mantra just like go into this whole thing knowing that you're not going to be good right away, that you're going to fail and it's - just try not to get frustrated and certainly if you start to get so frustrated that you don't want to surf anymore, they say take a break, like, it's supposed to be fun. It's surfing.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: Don't get so uptight and basically don't come in like you're going to be a champ right away. It takes tons of practice and a lot of the practice starts on land, like, practicing the pop up.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I had the opposite experience that you described which was easy to do, hard to master. I had a really tough time doing it at all.

Josh Clark: Oh, really.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I did and everyone in my little group that had never done it, like, none of us could stand up on that first day at all.

Josh Clark: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I mean, like, if you - just looking at it on paper and thinking about what you have to do, there's not that much to it but being able to do it, mastering it, too.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it was tough for me.

Josh Clark: I can imagine, and it will be for me, too, eventually.

Chuck Bryant: You going to try it?

Josh Clark: Sure I am. So basically when I say it's kind of easy, there's just a few steps. Basically you want to swim out, paddle out on your stomach to the breakers, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yep.

Josh Clark: And this is where the waves are starting to turn into white caps, they're breaking. And when you get to this line, where is it that all the surfers hang out? What's it called? Oh, the line up. That's where all the surfers are just hanging out waiting for the wave, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, talking philosophy and music and how to beat up people that shouldn't be there.

Josh Clark: Right, you want to go in a curve because you don't want to get beat up and you want to avoid the waves and just basically it'll make it easier to paddle out there and it's easier to not get beat up from getting in another surfers way, right?

Chuck Bryant: True.

Josh Clark: So when you get out to the lineup and you're starting to catch a wave you want to be facing the shore and as a wave starts to swell, as the swell comes in and it starts to break, you want to be right on top of or right in front of it, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: And you're paddling really fast.

Chuck Bryant: Trying to catch the wave as they say.

Josh Clark: Yes, I think that's even in bold.

Chuck Bryant: It is, catching the wave.

Josh Clark: And right as the - right before the waves starts to break or right as it starts to break like maybe to your right or to your left, you do what's called the pop up, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: You do like a pushup and then you pop your feet underneath you and now you're standing and you can apparently -

Chuck Bryant: Hopefully.

Josh Clark: Yeah, well, that's the process, and you can apparently get onto your knees and then onto your feet and it can work but apparently you don't want to learn to do that because it's a really bad habit and it's going to keep you from really surfing well so what you want to do is pushup with your hands and then put your feet underneath and stand up in kind of a crouching position. And now you're surfing.

Chuck Bryant: A sideways crouching position.

Josh Clark: And then that's it.

Chuck Bryant: That's all there is to it.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, my favorite part - when I tried it back in college and stuff was when you're sitting out there with the other dudes and there is no surfing involved when you're just sitting there feeling cool, bobbing up and down with the surfing guys.

Josh Clark: I used to do - skateboard like that a lot.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, a lot of standing around and talking.

Josh Clark: Just sitting down on the skateboard. It was called dimple butt because of the grip tape eventually would just kind of form a little pattern in your butt.

Chuck Bryant: You would actually ride the skateboard sitting down?

Josh Clark: No, you're just sitting there talking.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, okay. Sitting there talking.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Talking shop with the other crashers. So when you're going out, you mention that you want to go out in a curve and not go at this thing straight on, if you've never done this and you don't have anyone teaching you how, it can be very frustrating because you will paddle out and the wave will bring you back into shore over and over and over and then eventually you're just going to go to the beach bar with your surfboard looking cool. But what you want to do is called the duck dive and that is as the wave approaches, before it's cresting and falling on you, you just want to push down on the board and go through the wave and come out on the other side and if you do this right a couple of times, then you'll be behind where the waves are breaking and you'll be all good to go.

Josh Clark: Because you're maneuvering yourself out of the way of most of the force of the wave.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and it's - the duck dive - I think they call it - that you actually roll upside down and what's called a turtle roll with a long board, but I bet you can duck dive with a long board, maybe not.

Josh Clark: I don't know.

Chuck Bryant: I wonder about that.

Josh Clark: But yeah, with the turtle roll, you roll underneath the board and then pull the nose down, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: That's the turtle roll.

Chuck Bryant: Yes.

Josh Clark: Duck dive sounds easier. Turtle roll sounds more fun.

Chuck Bryant: I've never been on a long board. I should try that.

Josh Clark: So let's talk about waves, man. This is - that's funny because I'm finally like, phew, we're finally at a point where I know what I'm talking about.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, the physics of waves.

Josh Clark: Yeah, so you can't surf without waves and if you really want to surf, you have to understand what you're dealing with, like, what you're riding, you know. If you're going to shred a half pipe, you better understand the physics of wood.

Chuck Bryant: Right, so if you're going to hit the Bonsai Pipeline - and by the way, we were talking about duck diving and all that, for these huge mavericks, like, near San Francisco, at Princeton by the Sea, the Bonsai Pipeline, most of these duds and ladies are being towed like a jet ski because they're just too big. You can't be like see that 50 foot wave, I'm just going to duck dive. You will be duck confit if that happens. So we're just going to cover what your average west coast surfing waves.

Josh Clark: Okay. So if you're out to sea and some wind suddenly whips up, you're probably going to see some white caps, right? Which is basically like the froth. Just the water being batted around by the wind but there's also going to be little crests that form, right, and these crests give the wind a little more surface area to work with and all of a sudden you have what is called a peak. And this peak starts to travel away from the direction of the wind. Now, we're not talking about just a nice little breeze or something. We're talking about hurricanes typically to form a good size wave but any wing could conceivably create a wave, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yes.

Josh Clark: So when this peak starts to travel away from the wind, it actually expends a little bit of its energy and it goes from this kind of choppy wave to this nice rounded thing called the swell. It doesn't look like there's much to it. The reason it doesn't look like there's much to it is because it's actually really deep at that point, right. So you get a bunch of these swells lined up. As they get closer and closer to the shore and they start to make contact with land at the bottom, the ones in front start and sometimes they combine into large swells. And as these -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, they get together, essentially, going in the same direction and say hey, let's make a big wave.

Josh Clark: Right and it's called constructive interference as far as wave physics go, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: What's cool is if you look at a wave from the side, it looks like just - what's called a transverse wave, like, something you're looking at an EEG or something. It's the wave length, the trough and the crest are up and down but they're moving from left to right or whatever.

Chuck Bryant: Left to right.

Josh Clark: Yeah. But really what a wave is doing is actually an orbital wave where all of this motion is actually making a circle as it moves along.

Chuck Bryant: These are the molecules actually.

Josh Clark: Yeah, but you can make an animation where you could trace the movement of the waves and it'd be just this kind of big circle that goes from the back of the wave to the crest into the trough and then back down again, right?

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: So that's a wave and as it gets closer to the shore, it starts to slow down and when it hits land, the force of land or the immovability of land and the force of the wave combined to push the wave upward above the water's surface and then the front of the wave starts to slow before the back of the wave which means you have a wave breaking because the back crashes over the front. And if you have a really steep bit of land, you're going to have a really steep crash that's going to form a barrel or a hollow wave.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it's what happens when water meets land. So if you've ever seen a wave a 100 feet out in the ocean, it means that there is some sort of shallow reef right there making that happen.

Josh Clark: Yeah, because a wave is about 1.6 times its depth, the height of a wave is.

Chuck Bryant: Is that right?

Josh Clark: It's depth is 1.6 times it height. But yeah, if you're riding a six foot wave which has a lot of power to it, that's still only - what - less than 10 feet of water that you're dealing with out there.

Chuck Bryant: That's a lot of water.

Josh Clark: Yeah, it is but that's still pretty shallow and you can hit the bottom when you're surfing I think is the point.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, absolutely. And the shape of the land under the ocean makes a big difference in what kind of waves you're going to get obviously so that's why the really good surfing spots in the world are super limited. You can't man make this stuff. They've tried.

Josh Clark: In Dubai.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. But come on, that's lame. It's all mother nature, dude, so the best surf spots in the world are few and far between, especially if you're looking for the big giant daddies. There's only a few spots on earth that you can encounter those.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: So wind obviously plays a big difference, not just in the formation of the wave but in how it blows on shore or off shore. What you're looking for ideally is a gentle off shore wind blowing toward the wave. If you're blowing - if' it's on shore wind coming from the ocean toward the beach, it can be a little rougher to deal with as a surfer.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: That's when the surfers hear that on the radio, they get up early and go out there at daybreak.

Josh Clark: Is that the best time to surf, daybreak?

Chuck Bryant: Well, I mean, there's all different times but - or maybe that has something to do too with -

Josh Clark: Tide?

Chuck Bryant: - work - well, no, people and what time they go to work.

Josh Clark: Oh, yeah.

Chuck Bryant: But I just see people all the time on the PCH all the time, like, super early morning and then in the evenings.

Josh Clark: That's pretty cool.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, but maybe it has something to do with the best waves, too, because surfers, they blow off work if the best waves are at noon, bra, that's when I'm going.

Josh Clark: Right. I've seen Summer School and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I'm familiar with surfing. So we're talking about -

Chuck Bryant: I don't think either one of those actually had any surfing, did they?

Josh Clark: Sure they did.

Chuck Bryant: Really?

Josh Clark: Sure.

Chuck Bryant: They talked, really?

Josh Clark: Summer School definitely had shots, like, establishing shots of people surfing. I don't know if they actually showed any at Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Chuck Bryant: Well, they're in the valley. There wasn't many waves.

Josh Clark: Oh, okay.

Chuck Bryant: But Spicoli of course was a surfer.

Josh Clark: Yeah, big time.

Chuck Bryant: And at the end, that was the great ending. He rescued Mick Jagger from drowning while surfing and the little interview with Stu and what did he do, he hired Van Halen to play his birthday party or something.

Josh Clark: Did he? I know he won some sort of competition.

Chuck Bryant: The competition was saving Mick Jaggers life.

Josh Clark: No, he has like a trophy or something.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, oh, in the dream sequence.

Josh Clark: Okay. So we were talking about the power of waves, right. Did you know that a cubic meter, a cubic yard basically, a cubic meter of water - that's not much, man. We're talking like this. That weighs a ton.

Chuck Bryant: What do you mean?

Josh Clark: It weighs a ton. It weighs 2,200 pounds.

Chuck Bryant: So if you took a box that big and put water in it, it would weigh 2,000 pounds?

Josh Clark: Yes. At four degrees Celsius. It's very specific because as you remember from the metric episode, like, they calibrate like that. But yes, it weighs a metric ton. A cubic meter -

Chuck Bryant: How is that possible?

Josh Clark: - weighs a metric ton.

Chuck Bryant: When a gallon of milk only weighs a couple of pounds.

Josh Clark: I don't know. I looked it up though. I swear I looked it up and I actually double looked it up because I thought the same thing. It seemed like a lot. But yes, it weighs a lot of - a lot. So when that comes crashing down on you, it's kind of a thing and there's different kinds of wipeouts but apparently the worst kind of wipeout, which I think Tracey described as falling off of your surfboard, is called going over the falls and it's on one of those hallow barrel waves which are very, very powerful because they hit land really quick and break really quick and when you get caught in the lip, that part where it's breaking at the top, it trips you up and basically throws you right in front of the wave at the trough so you have the full force of the wave just doing this orbital wave right over you.

Chuck Bryant: You're like in a washing machine at that point.

Josh Clark: So falling in, falling off your board, wiping out is one danger. We should probably talk about surfing dangers. I want to alert people to these things because they're out there.

Chuck Bryant: Have you ever been caught up in a wave like that?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: It's scary, man.

Josh Clark: Yeah, because you don't know what way is up.

Chuck Bryant: Well, and you feel completely helpless. Like, mother nature has got me and is throwing me around like a little rag doll and I'm completely helpless to do anything about it.

Josh Clark: Yeah, it makes you feel like you're six.

Chuck Bryant: It does. No matter how old you are. And if you're six, boy, that's really scary. So rip tides are dangerous and that's one of the things that is at play there. That is the water returning to the sea and that retreating water can be a fast moving current to take you really far out to sea before you know it. So they advise you and you've always heard swim perpendicular -

Josh Clark: Parallel.

Chuck Bryant: - parallel to avoid the rip current.

Josh Clark: Swim perpendicular to the shore, away from the shore until you pass out.

Chuck Bryant: Exactly. So that can be kind of scary. The pull of the rip current.

Josh Clark: Oh, yeah, you can also hit stuff under water, like we said, if a waves out there, whatever its height is, I think times 1.6, that's how deep the water is. So you can very easily, especially in a heavy wave, get thrown to the bottom, you can get thrown on a coral reef -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, or hit by another board.

Josh Clark: Yeah, which brings us to etiquette. Surfing etiquette. There's - because it can be very dangerous to run into people and because really great surf spots are few and far between, that means there's often a lot of people out there. So there's kind of two informal rules of catching a wave of who gets precedent, right?

Chuck Bryant: I guess the first one up or first one - or closest to the break. That gives you the right away.

Josh Clark: And everybody else has to get out of your way.

Chuck Bryant: They should.

Josh Clark: And if they don't, what happens to them?

Chuck Bryant: Well, people - if you're in a nicer area, people might say hey, bra, that's not too cool. Here's how it's done. Or they might just drag you to the beach and kick the crap out of you and break your board and throw it in the back of your car and put you in that car. That happens.

Josh Clark: And regardless of what beach experience you have, they're probably going to call you a kook, too.

Chuck Bryant: A what, a kook?

Josh Clark: A kook. That's somebody who doesn't follow surfing etiquette.

Chuck Bryant: Really? I bet you'll hear other words, too.

Josh Clark: Sure, but I bet kook's in there.

Chuck Bryant: So are we at localism?

Josh Clark: Yeah, I think so.

Chuck Bryant: I wrote an article, why do surfers have gangs and it's a thing and it's been a thing for a long time. I know most people think of surfers as the zen spouting, easy-going philosophical beach duds and a lot of them are like that but a lot of them are not. Surfing has been tied to violence over territory for many, many years and that is because, like we said, there are only so many surf spots in the world and when duds like you and me get all excited to go try it out, we're taking the limited amount of space and waves that exist for them.

Josh Clark: That's why I'm going to try in Dubai first.

Chuck Bryant: In Dubai.

Josh Clark: At the wave machine.

Chuck Bryant: No, you should - if you're taking a class or something they know to go to a place where you teach classes and everyone knows, don't go anywhere near the classes. So that's a good thing to do. But surf gangs have been around for decades and localism since the 70s has gotten kind of bad in some areas and the boogie board is a big reason why because all of a sudden this thing was invented for all these little kids to go out there and they can ride waves without any experience or technique and skill whatsoever and they don't know the rules and they don't care and their parents don't care as long as they're not in their hair on the beach. So thanks to the boogie board the violence picked up in the 70s and there are well established surf gangs even though you won't hear them called that.

Josh Clark: No, they call themselves families.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, the Wolf Pack in Hawaii on the north shore of Oahu, they're just a family but they can also be pretty violent. Russell Crow did a - narrated a documentary called Bra Boys, Blood is Thicker than Water about Australia's bra boys and they were some tough duds since the 1960s, who have - some of which that have spent time in and out of jail. The Abberton Brothers, in fact, I think one of the Abberton Brothers made the documentary, but if you ask them, you know, they're just protecting their area and something sacred to them.

Josh Clark: Yeah, don't be a kook.

Chuck Bryant: Don't be a kook.

Josh Clark: Southern California, I know San Diego has long been noted for localism.

Chuck Bryant: Is that right?

Josh Clark: I didn't know that.

Chuck Bryant: The Silver Strand locals, the SSO and the Oxnard Shore locals.

Josh Clark: Oh, they're from San Diego?

Chuck Bryant: No, those aren't.

Josh Clark: Okay.

Chuck Bryant: The Peerpoint Rats in the 80s and 90s. These are just some of the notorious surf gangs that, you know, they have run-ins with cops, some people have been beaten to death in 2007 in La Hoya, a surfer was beaten to death. Hawaiian surfer was killed in a fight in 2008. So this stuff happens and if you go out to surf, just - don't be scared, like, these people are going to hurt me but it's definitely cool to try and ingratiate yourself somewhat.

Josh Clark: Right, bring them some home baked cookies or something out to the lineup.

Chuck Bryant: Right, ask questions. There's probably some nice guys that would be, like, hey, you should probably do this.

Josh Clark: And steer clear of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, if you ever run across them in a lineup, you want to get away because they are bad duds as far as surf gangs go.

Chuck Bryant: Is that a real surf gang?

Josh Clark: No, don't you remember in Point Break?

Chuck Bryant: What were they?

Josh Clark: They were like a surf gang. They were the rival surf gang that Patrick Swayze and -

Chuck Bryant: They were in the movie?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: I don't think I knew that.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Boy, that was early on for them. That must have been their formative days because that was in the 80s. Or early 90s, was that early 90s?

Josh Clark: It was maybe like '90, '91.

Chuck Bryant: And who directed that was Kathryn Bigelow. That was one of her first movies.

Josh Clark: I didn't know that.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: That was a great movie.

Chuck Bryant: So we should point out, Tracey points out that surfing, it's pretty cool. Not many sports have spawned a musical genre and a film genre like surfing has. There's not a lot of songs about basketball outside of - I guess Grand Master Flash and maybe Run DMC but people aren't writing songs about football -

Josh Clark: Or crocket.

Chuck Bryant: No, there's no crocket songs.

Josh Clark: But if there are, they're from the 1890s and they're not good.

Chuck Bryant: Surf music was a huge thing and still is in a lot of circles. And then of course the movies Point Break, what's your favorite? Have you ever seen Big Wednesday?

Josh Clark: No.

Chuck Bryant: Good movie.

Josh Clark: Have you seen Surf Nazi's Must Die?

Chuck Bryant: I have not.

Josh Clark: That was a good one.

Chuck Bryant: Is it?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Is there actually surfing in it or is it -

Josh Clark: Oh, yeah, there's a lot of fights on surfboards and - yeah, people shooting one another on surfboards.

Chuck Bryant: Big Wednesday is a classic, Blue Crush is a more recent one that covers the ladies. And Emily loves that movie, by the way. And then there's some great documentaries, the old Endless Summer movie was really great and then Endless Summer 2 was not bad and then there's - more recently, Stacy Peralta made one called Riding Giants which was awesome and another one called Step Into Liquid which is really cool, too.

Josh Clark: Yeah, I think that's like number two or something like that on the best surf movies after Endless Summer.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, well, Endless Summer, that stuff was cool but that was like old school and today they have the technology to get inside the tube and go under water and the footage they get is pretty amazing.

Josh Clark: It's very neat.

Chuck Bryant: Thank you [inaudible].

Josh Clark: You got anything else?

Chuck Bryant: Nope.

Josh Clark: Cool.

Chuck Bryant: I can't wait for you to try it. That's the next thing in this podcast is for you to report back on your experience.

Josh Clark: Okay. I will go do that.

Chuck Bryant: I think you'll be good. If you spend a day or two, you'll be able to get up and go, like, hey, I'm surfing, look at me. I'm Frankie and Annette but I mean -

Josh Clark: [Inaudible] surfboard.

Chuck Bryant: It's crazy what you're doing though. You are standing on top of a plank of fiberglass and riding water. It ain't easy.

Josh Clark: No, I'm sure it's not.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: And I already can feel my ankles getting banged up on the surfboard.

Chuck Bryant: Do you have good balance? Are you good at things like skateboarding and -

Josh Clark: I'm not so bad with balance. Yeah, surprisingly for my size I'm - I can stand up on, like, one leg. That's balance.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, you'll be okay. You'll be able to surf a little bit.

Josh Clark: It'll be fine. I'm not - I'm going to go in there with an attitude suggested by the surf guide.

Chuck Bryant: Have fun.

Josh Clark: Yeah, it's going to be fun.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I'm not one of those people that gets all aggravated if I can't do something like that.

Josh Clark: You don't get agro, bra.

Chuck Bryant: No, man. What's the point? I'd quit doing it before I got aggravated.

Josh Clark: Well, that's good. That's very healthy.

Chuck Bryant: I'm more quitter than I am agro.

Josh Clark: If you want to learn about surfing and I mean a pretty decent amount about surfing, you can type that word into the search bar at and I said search bar so it's time for listener mail.

Chuck Bryant: I'm going to call this Black Museum. Remember we talked about that?

Josh Clark: Mm hm.

Chuck Bryant: In the Death Mask episode.

Josh Clark: I still want to go. I was really hoping somebody would write in and be like I can actually get you in there. No one did.

Chuck Bryant: No. But I bet if we really pushed for it we could.

Josh Clark: Well, let's start pushing.

Chuck Bryant: We have lots of fans and everything. All right. Guys, just got done listening to your show on Death Mask. Heard you mention the Black Museum and you said they should make a movie about it. I instantly had a flashback of listening to a radio show by the same name when I was a teen. Although it was in the early 90s, my local AM radio news station would air old radio dramas in the late evening and I would tune in occasionally.

One of my favorites was the Black Museum. I went and looked it up, the Black Museum was a 1951 Radio Crime drama based on real life cases from the files of Scotland Yard's Black Museum. Orson Wells was both host and narrator for stories of horrors and mystery. So the show would open with Orson Wells speaking from London, Big Ben chimes and then the Black Museum, a repository of Death, Here in the Grim stone structure on the tims which houses Scotland Yard in a warehouse of homicide where everyday objects, a woman's shoe, a tiny white box, a quilted robe, all are touched by murder. That sounds pretty cool.

Josh Clark: I mean, and Orson Wells, too, I like, him saying things like that really gets to you.

Chuck Bryant: Sure, Chuck Bryant saying something, it doesn't have the impact of an Orson Wells.

Josh Clark: It's not bad, but what does, Chuck?

Chuck Bryant: So there you go, guys. Maybe someday, somebody will make a TV show about it or a movie and for now, you can go on the internet and listen to the old episodes, 51 of them in all. So that's awesome. Big fan, looking forward to seeing your TV show soon. That is Dan from San Diego, which I believe means Whales - no, it doesn't. What does San Diego mean?

Josh Clark: It means Saint Diego.

Chuck Bryant: That's right.

Josh Clark: In Spanish.

Chuck Bryant: I would not quote anchor man in [inaudible] in this G-rated podcast.

Josh Clark: If you have some additional information for something that we talked about or if you can get us into the Black Museum, we want you to get in contact with us. You can tweet to us at SYSKpodcast, you can join us on You can send us an email to Or you can hang out with us online at our house,

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[End of Audio]

Duration: 50 minutes