The Return of the Alaia Surfboard: Why should you ride one?

By in Surf


The Alaia or “Itaka” as it was known in Japan dates back thousands of years ago. There is archaeological evidence suggesting that the boards were in existence dating back then but their use seemed to decline in the early 1900s.

Hawaiian With An Alaia - Waikiki

Hawaiian With An Alaia – Waikiki

In Modern surfing, the boards made a comeback in the late 2005 when Tom Wegener tried out some prototypes on professional surfers. Perhaps the biggest selling point came after the film “The Present” which dramatically popularized the board and increased its acceptance amongst surfers.

The Alaia is basically a thin wooden surfboard that was first used by ancient Hawaiians. For years, it was the most popular type of surfboard but it has soon faded with time. The reason being its sheer design and size. It is very thing, not more than 2.5 cm thick, it is finless and this makes it difficult to angle across a wave.

A custom alaia board

A custom alaia board

Why should you even think of getting an Alaia?

Well, there are many reasons you should but this is why I would strongly recommend that you do get one:

  • Small waves friendly – Modern day surfing which is centred on multiple fin setup has grown to a point where surfers expect perfect waves. The Alaia are good to go even when the waves are feeling a bit shy. They are extremely manoeuvrable and fast in small surf.
  • They are incredibly fast – riding an alaia is like driving a floating car that slides through corners. Since it doesn’t have fins to cause drag, once you know how to do it right, you will be cruising at incredible speeds even during smaller waves. You will just keep moving until you fall off or the waves end, whichever comes first.
  • They are cheap – This will not make your surfing any more fun but it really means a lot if you are on a budget. This notwithstanding, it frees up a lot of funds if you want to design your own surfboard or if you want to have a branded surfboard. Most Alaia surfboards retail at less than half of what you will pay for a quad meaning that you have more money to invest on your custom surfboard designs.
  • New surfing experience – in the words of Kevin Cody, when riding an alaia “Every wave is exhilarating.” The dynamics of riding an alaia is completely different from any other board you might have ridden (read more:
    Why ride a shortboard? here are five top reasons) . It has no rocker, it has no fins and best of luck getting it on rail.

If you really want to enjoy an alaia let me get you started…

  • Start close to the beach – Until you are comfortable with the board start at a water level where you can set your foot down.
  • Belly riding – Riding an alaia is all about using the rail. The best way to perfect this is by riding on your belly first.
  • Paddle in at an angle – Alaia don’t have a rocker so you will want to paddle with the surfboard angling down the wave.
  • Start out in small surf – this will orient you to the board. Else you will not enjoy the surfing if the current is too big. So will be the wipe-outs.
  • Paddle, and stand far back on the board – if you are too forward on an alaia you will not be able to engage the rail. Stay farther back the board even when you paddle. It will help you stand farther back the board as well.

For a selected few, learning how to surf an alaia is fluid and natural. However, for the rest of the surfing community, it requires a lot of commitment and most importantly practice. But once you get a hang of it, it will be like re-inventing surfing. The thrill and rush that comes with the alaia is like no other. Don’t be surprised if your next custom surfboard is an alaia because they tend to be very addictive.

 


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