All of the people who walk through the big blue workshop doors here are multifaceted; everybody has more than one interest, and the same goes for us here. We all surf, but we all also pursue other passions and projects. James runs, and at the end of last year, having never run a marathon before, he signed up to run three in three days. A little more actually. Along a particularly steep and unforgiving stretch of the Dorset coast path. Some of us here nicknamed it "Jimmy's Jurassic Marathon of Pain", expecting it to be exactly the sort of "Type Two" fun that has been so well classified by the climbing community. For those of you unfamiliar with these different classifications of fun, they run something like this:-
- Type One fun is actually fun, both whilst you're doing it and looking back upon it. Riding a longboard in clean knee-high waves on a summer's day is Type One fun, for example.
- Type Two fun isn't necessarily fun whilst you're doing the activity, but you remember the experience fondly. Some winter surfs, with ice cream headache duck-dives, clean-up sets and frozen fingers punctuated by some great waves or a memorable turn, are Type Two fun.
- Type Three fun isn't fun, at all. Neither when you're doing it, nor in hindsight. Think terrifying winter storm surf, with a horrific paddle out and a current that rips you off down the coast before you can even catch a monstrous wave and you have to get out another bay down, climb the cliff and walk back to the car in the dark.
Some of the team here expected the Jurassic Coast Challenge, a 130km trail run in three sections, to be Type Two fun for James, but it turns out that even a week on he's still claiming that the entire experience was fun. He admits that there were definitely challenging and painful moments, but a simple understanding that the only constant in life is change gave him the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other. As much as the bad times don't last forever, it is also true that those high moments don't either, so his plan was to capture as many of those high points as possible along the whole course and simply hold onto them. Until the first day the furthest distance that James had run previously was 17 miles. He did a lot of training over the winter, running with his old friend Ally all around Cornwall ramping up their distances every week, but stopped short of hitting full marathon distance in the weeks leading up to the event. He also surfed a little less as a result, partially because of needing to devote time to training and partly to minimise the risk of picking up an injury. James ran with Ben, the husband of one of Liz's oldest friends; he's run events like this before and they stuck together across the full three days, supporting and pacing each other. The Jurassic Coast is not a stretch of coast that James was particularly familiar with. There are some surf spots along this stretch, some very notable ones, that James and Ben ran past, and James carried a camera with him to document their challenge. Keep scrolling down to see a snapshot of the weekend; some beautiful coastline and the checkpoint and finish line smiles that come with achieving such a significant challenge.
James admits that his biggest take-away from the weekend was the true understanding and belief in the simplicity of running. It's not always easy, but it is always simple. One foot in front of the other and sooner or later you'll get to where you're aiming for.
Above image courtesy of Charles Whitton
Above image courtesy of Charles Whitton
Above image courtesy of Charles Whitton
We’ve written before at the close of a workshop week about how, over the course of these five-days, the learning flows both ways. It’s rare that this isn’t the case; almost without fail the people who join us to spend a week learning to make a wooden surfboard have knowledge and skills that they share with us in return. There’s a lovely balance to the exchange of information here.
Last week we were joined by Robbie, who travelled down from Edinburgh, and Matt and Mark who are two friends and work associates from just outside London (Matt runs Locker 27, a very successful gym, and Mark is a physiotherapist who used to work with Chelsea FC but now has a clinic at Matt’s gym). At the end of the week we asked them what they would be taking away from the week (apart from a wooden surfboard and clothes covered in sawdust), and we’re going to balance those by sharing what we learnt from them.
“When things didn’t always exactly go to plan, I learnt to accept that I’m working with wood; it’s never the same and it’s infinitely fallible due to its organic nature. Whenever I thought something had gone wrong, James assured me that we’d find a way around it. So I learned a lot about acceptance this week.”
On the Thursday, over a cup of coffee, Robbie told Mat about his lifelong journey in learning. He’s a successful orthodontist, and as well as being a partner in a practice he also delivers lectures to recently qualified dentists who are looking to specialise into orthodontics. At one of these lectures he asked the attendees to rate how satisfied they were with their career choice and current professional situation out of ten with a show of hands, and was shocked at how low they scored their level of enjoyment in their work. “I told them that I enjoy my work – some days I may say that I’m a seven, and on others as high as a nine – and that’s because I strive to learn something every day. That may be a new technique or a way to improve a technique that I already use, so professional development in my clinical practice, or it may be that I learn a new way to deal with an administrative or interpersonal situation. Learning something everyday keeps me engaged, sharp, and excited for the next day.” It was this conversation that led to this article, and reminded us of the amazing opportunities for learning and development that are open to all of us during a workshop week when surrounded by such a range of interesting human beings.
With their workshop week taking place just two weeks before James tackles three marathons in three days along the Dorset coast-path (also being referred to here as “Jimmy’s Jurassic Marathon of Pain”), Matt and Mark were both very helpful in helping him to fine tune the final stages of his training.
“I talked with James about lower back pain, which can be a common complaint amongst regular surfers. It's called hyper-lordosis, and it is basically where the back is in an extended position for a prolonged period – in the case of surfing caused by paddling. The muscles on either side of the spine get very developed and hold the back into this position, which is seen as an increased inwards curve from a side-on view. Most surfers tend to struggle with flexion - bending forwards in the lower back - as a result and they often experience pain or tightness.”
James happened to injure his back during the workshop week and was lucky enough to get some great advice (as well as a couple of small treatments) from Mark. "It was incredible to see the level of understanding that Mark had in the human anatomy and the way he was able to manipulate my spine to free it from pain over the course of two or three days. Absolutely key for my run preparation. But the biggest take-away was probably the stretches to help release the stiffness in my lower back caused by surfing. When we first tested it, even as I tried to hunch my back into a smooth curve, it still arched outwards at the bottom, giving an 'S' shape from side-on. So this is something I'm really keen to work on to decrease my risk of future injuries."
“This last year or so for me has been a dedicated period devoted to formal “learning”. I have done my MSc in Sport Psychology, a bushcraft week, and finally this workshop. My dissertation was on effective coaching behaviours of elite experienced Strength & Conditioning Coaches. One of the reflections of the week was James’s natural ability to teach/coach. He created an autonomous and supportive environment for us to work in which led to a relaxed, enjoyable and creative setting to produce something amazing. Many of the attributes displayed by elite coaches are mirrored by James, for example passion, an ability to build relationships, and trust and credibility to name a few.
The major epiphany for me was that I had a finished piece of work in front of me; a tangible, beautiful, piece of functional art. This does not happen in my line of work and was another reason why this was such a special week. As a coach, we are constantly looking to develop and improve performance in people and therefore the final aim can be seemingly unattainable. In swapping information with James, he was able to pass on tangible skills that had immediate and obvious impact - but when reciprocating the coaching advice for James’ preparations for the Jurassic Marathon, I felt at best fraudulent!
Overall I can’t recommend this week enough to anyone, be they an experienced surfer or a beginner like myself. For me this week was not about surfing; it was about the process, about community, about the environment and about good people who are passionate about what they do.”
James spent half the week bending Matt’s ear about his run preparation. “Having a strength coach who used to work for the national cricket team, before setting up his own successful coaching facility gave me such a great opportunity to really understand how important strength training is for any physical endeavour, especially running. The typical running guides simply say that distance running is about getting 'miles in your legs', but then after four or five years of serious running, most people are bags of skin and bone and fraught with injury after injury. Luckily, the view on this is changing and more focused skills work paired with strength training is understood to get your body a long way towards being able to run marathon distances without actually having to run them. Matt took a look at my strength training plans and although they weren't strictly 'strength training' because I only had my body weight to play with, he seemed happy that I was doing the right things; working on my core, back and legs. To have such a high level coach reassure me, when I was only a couple of weeks away from the start line was brilliant. Even if the gain was only psychological, it all helps!"
We love how the learning truly ran both ways this week and we don't think James could quite believe his luck on the timing of it all either.
Riding a wave on a longboard is far from a passive activity; the size and weight of the surfboard means that the surfer must be dynamic and move their weight around in order to make the most of the wave. Whereas on a shortboard acceleration or stalling and turning can be achieved simply by moving your weight over your front or back foot accordingly, to do so on a longboard requires you to actually move your feet. The best way (by far) to shift your weight whilst surfing on a longboard is to cross-step, and we’re going to take a look at how best to do this.
The cross-stepping technique happens to be the most aesthetically pleasing option, but that’s purely coincidental and for many surfers it’s also the most daunting. The temptation to keep your feet in contact with the deck and shuffle your way along the board is strong, as is the temptation to try to make it all the way to the front of the board for a nose-ride. The aim of cross-stepping is to transition your weight smoothly up and down the length of the board in order to achieve and maintain trim. Noseriding is a whole other lesson! Shuffling along your board can work, but despite feeling more secure you are far more likely to jar the rail out of trim. And finally, before we dig deeper into the technique, cross-stepping is a two-way street; it is a way of moving your weight forwards and backwards along your longboard. The aim is not to blindly walk straight off the front.
There are many different sizes and shape of longboard, as well as many different sizes and shape of surfer, so we are simply going to cover the underlying principles of cross-stepping technique here.
It takes more effort to effect a change in direction when surfing a longboard due to their greater weight and length of the craft. Critical turns are made from the tail of the board with the surfer’s weight over the fin, and when the board is running down the line with a long section of rail engaged in the wave face applying pressure to the rails (which has to be done tentatively) will adjust trim. It is not as simple as applying weight to the front foot for speed or the back foot to turn (as with high performance short boards), and the further a surfer gets towards the nose of their longboard the more they are relying on the physical interaction between the surfboard and the wave to hold in and prevent the board from slipping and spinning out. This is why noseriders have relatively low entry rocker in the nose and quite a lot of tail lift so that the flow of water along the bottom of the board “sucks” the tail down to balance the weight of the surfer at the other end of the board. The rails are also softer and more rounded so that they hold into the wave face and water will actually flow around and across the tail and act as a counterweight.
But, let’s take a look at the cross-stepping technique that will get you to the nose (and back).
There are three scenarios or set-ups that precede a walk along the board. The first is that you have a found yourself taking a highline along a wave that is peeling away from you slightly faster than you are already travelling, necessitating moving your weight forward along the board to accelerate. The second is that you have stalled the board purposefully, stamping back on the tail to scrub off some speed so that you can cross step along the board to build it up again. This second option can facilitate a brief noseride before the surfer usually has to backpedal quickly to avoid nosediving as the surfboard drops to the bottom of the wave. The third, and most impressive, set-up maneuver is to come out of a bottom turn, ideally coming around a section of whitewater, and initiate a cross step as the board climbs the wave face as you exit the turn so that by the time you reach the top of the wave you are a way along the board which effects a sort of top turn and sets you off down the line in (hopefully) perfect trim.
The first step: Start with your weight centered over your back foot, so your head, chest and hips are all directly above your back foot. You need to keep your knees and hips loose. Shift your hips towards your front foot; your upper body will start to follow. You have now transitioned your weight to directly over your front foot. On a shortboard, this would be enough! You now won’t have any weight or pressure on your back foot.
The cross-step, part 1: With your weight over your front foot and your back foot unweighted, you can bring your back leg IN FRONT of your leading leg, keeping your back-leg knee towards the tail of the board. If your knee goes over the top or in front then you will loose control over the weight transfer process. Your back foot, which is now the closes to the nose, will probably land on the outstep rather than flat. As this feeling becomes familiar you can “lock” your knees into each other and surf in this cross-legged position without any problem. Because you haven’t yet transferred any weight to your new front foot you can easily step-back should you need to.
The cross-step, part 2: (the transition): In this cross-legged position, you can now shift your hips forward (again, your upper body will follow)so that they are over your new leading foot.
The cross-step, part 3: Now that your weight has transitioned and is planted over your new front foot, if required and/or desired you can now step your new back foot (which is the leg that you naturally lead with) through, behind, to return to an open (uncrossed) stance. This new leading foot doesn’t need to have any weight applied to it, if you’re up near the nose of your board, and can easily be returned to its original position if you need to move back to adjust trim or slow down. If there is still scope for moving further forwards, then you can again shift your hips forward to move your weight further along the board.
This cross-step process can be repeated if you are making your way along your longboard with the intention of getting to the nose. You may choose to pause part-way along the board if you have found trim. And, at some point, you will probably want to reverse it to get back towards the tail if you are dropping down the wave or want to turn. Cross-stepping along the board and then shuffling or ‘skipping” back seems like half a job. To return the way you came, simply reverse the steps outlined above of first shifting your hips, followed by your upper body and head, and then when the foot to be moved has unweighted you can carefully cross-step back.
Surfing is notorious for offering few opportunities to practice. A surfer responds to the wave, and doesn’t necessarily catch lots of waves in a session. It’s not like being a golfer and visiting the driving range to practice your drive, thankfully. If you want to practice the cross-stepping process on dry land though, so that when the opportunity arises on a wave you can attempt it with confidence, then a longboard skateboard and a gently sloping empty car park early on a Sunday morning are the best ingredients. Set your skateboard off going across the gradient (as you would ride a wave, not going straight down!) and first practice shifting your weight by moving your hips and upper body. When you are comfortable travelling along with all of your weight over one foot, you can attempt the cross step. Needless to say that concrete is less forgiving than water, so appropriate protective equipment such as a helmet and wrist guards would be a wise idea. If you can get comfortable skating along with your legs crossed, half way though a cross-step, then it’ll make the same situation when travelling down the line on a surfboard, much more comfortable.
But nothing compares to the real thing, so we strongly encourage you to log as much water time as possible in your pursuit of perfect trim. Rather that than the driving range.