Following the exceptional Malibu Classic Longboard World Title decider, we decided to pay homage to the most stylish longboard surfers to have graced a surfboard over 9 feet in length.
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I’ve Always Ridden a Longboard. But am I Really a Longboarder?
I have a confession to make. I’ve been riding a longboard for over twenty years, but I’ve only recently discovered the true essence of longboarding.
For years I was focused on the performance aspect of longboard surfing. Super lightweight boards thrown around in typically short-board style moves, tube rides, and aerials. Thrusters, quads, 2+1 set-ups, basically anything but old-school single fins. I was always seeking comments like “how do you do that on a longboard?”.
The Transition of Longboarding
Originally there was no such thing as longboards, just surfboards. It wasn’t until the late 1960’s that surfers began differentiating between long and short boards. This went a whole lot further than just surf craft type and became an ideological, and cultural divide.
Joel Tudor sums up the difference between long boarding and short boarding perfectly.
Longboarding is dance. Shortboarding is athletics.
Through the 1990’s and 00’s longboarding reached an interesting place, and ultimately a crossroads. It had become a competitive sport, with points being scored for radical, progressive surfing. Short board-esque moves replaced the nose rides and drop knee turns of the previous generation. It wasn’t unusual to see longboarders hitting the lip with vertical turns, and even boosting airs. Longboard manufacturers embraced ultra-lightweight EPS and carbon fibre technology, a far cry from the boards surfers would struggle to carry down the beach in the early days.
Unfortunately, this progression often came at the expense of a primary element of longboarding. Style. As such it was frowned upon and derided by many surfers, despite the obvious talent required.
Traditional longboarding primarilly focuses on nose riding single fin boards. The surfer flows with the breaking wave rather than attacking it.
During the “progressive” period, crews of longboarders around the world remained true to the old school approach. Most notably, surfers in California and the Australian town of Noosa kept the original style of longboard surfing alive.
Modern longboarding is very much following a traditional approach. The old school single fin has returned as the staple of longboard shapes and hanging ten is the pinnacle of performance.
The World Surf League has reinvented the world longboard tour. The performance criteria is more akin to that of the early 60’s than the 90’s and 00’s. Traditional surfboards and surfing are rewarded and a surfer has to be a student of history to succeed at the highest level.
Longboard surfers have reached a new level of cool and we are seeing the recent crop taking the approach of surfing legends, while applying their own unique twist.
Style has to be a major factor, as much as performance.
Chris Guts Griffiths (Former World Tour Competitor)
Don’t get me wrong, I still believe that wrapping a big round-house cutback or smashing an off the lip feels great. I stand by the statement that getting tubed on a longboard is a genuine art form. But I openly admit that I am very much leaning towards the glide element of surfing a big board.
During a flat spell a few years ago, I laid my hands on a 10-foot single fin longboard from 1968. I have to admit I struggled for my first few sessions in the tiny knee to waist high waves. Hands, feet and body positioning felt like they had to be learned all over again. Turns, although way more subtle than I was used to, had to be timed differently to generate the required glide. I locked into nose rides that traveled around, through, and sometimes over whitewater sections effortlessly. The thrill, albeit very different, was at least equal to any of the progressive surfing I mentioned earlier.
In my opinion, there is a cross-over between riding a modern performance board and an old-school log. The fundamentals are essentially the same, however, the subtleties make them two completely different pursuits.
I am spending more time on the traditional boards now. Riding the single fin helps me iron out a few of the issues I have in the other aspects of my surfing. Most noticeably style. The only way you can tame a giant, heavy surfboard is by relaxing, flowing, and working with the wave.
Surely that can only be a good thing for our surfing?
The 18 Most Stylish Longboard Surfers
Born in 1943, Lance Carson established himself as one of the top surfers at Malibu during the late 1950s and 1960s. Lances stylish, relaxed nose rides, and powerful cutbacks set him apart from the majority of surfers at the Californian point break.
Lance was an ambassador for the revival of longboarding in the 1980’s, helping the sport regain the popularity it has enjoyed for the past thirty plus years. His greatest accomplishments came through his passionate environmentalism, at a time when eco causes weren’t anywhere near as popular as they are now. Carson co-founded the Surfrider Foundation and remains a staunch campaigner to this day.
Is Nat Young the greatest longboard surfer of all time? It’s tough to argue against a guy who was named World Surfing Champion in 1966 on a 9’4″ and went on to win four Longboard World Championships in 1986, 88, 89 and 90.
Born in 1947, Nat grew up in the Sydney suburb of Collaroy and became a dominant competitive force by his mid teens, winning multiple regional and national titles.
Nicknamed “The Animal”, Nat’s style is a blend of power and grace which many have tried to emulate over the years. His flawless nose riding and aggressive turns set the blueprint for stylish longboard to this very day.
David was born in Honolulu in 1948. You could say he was genetically predisposed to the agility and grace of longboarding. His father was a Waikiki Beachboy and martial arts instructor.
Nuuhiwa’s style has been described as graceful and soulful and his nose riding remains on a different level. His number one rating as the Best Nose Rider in the World by Surfer magazine in 1965 shows how highly regarded he was, even as a teenager.
David Nuuhiwa continued to excel in the shortboard era and starred in the 1972 movie 5 Summer Stories.
Herbie Fletcher is not just famous for being Christian and Nathan’s dad! He is one of the best longboard surfers of his era.
The Astrodeck founder grew up surfing and skating around Huntington Beach in the early 60’s where he developed a unique long boarding style. Specialising in super long nose rides and his fins free “side slip boogie”, Herbie was, and still is, fascinating to watch.
Herbie pushed the limit in surfing powerful Hawaiian waves on his self made longboards. It is insane to see him nose-riding in the barrel.
Robert “Wingnut” Weaver
Robert Wingnut Weaver exudes style. He is one of the smoothest longboard surfers on the planet and has wave-riding absolutely dialled in.
Wingnut starred alongside Pat O’Connell in Bruce Brown’s Endless Summer 2. He raised many an eyebrow with his nose riding and swooping drop knee turns. He even impressed shortboarders with his performances at Elands Bay and Cloudbreak.
Any aspiring longboard surfers could do a lot worse than study Wingnut’s style.
Joel Tudor won his first Longboard World Championship in 1998, his second in 2004, and most recently the longtime VANs ambassador grabbed his third title in October 2021, at the age of 45.
Take the world titles away and Joel would still be one of the most recognisable surfers on the planet. His style is honed from an abundance of natural talent, and the tutelage of legends such as Donald Takayama and Nat Young.
If someone presented me with the statement that Joel Tudor is the most stylish surfer in the world, I wouldn’t argue.
Beau Young isn’t just famous for being Nat’s son! He is one of the best longboard surfers on the planet, and a multiple world champion.
Under his fathers supervision Beau was riding waves long before he could even swim. You can see elements of “The Animal”, not just physically, but in Beau’s body language on a surfboard.
Beau Young won the Longboard World Championship in 2000 and again in 2003, defeating Joel Tudor in both finals.
Beau is one of those surfers who could ride a door and make it look good. However, it just so happens that he has his beautiful Beau Young Surfboards under his feet
Harrison Roach could be the most well rounded surfer of this generation. He looks at home on any surfboard, from the longest of logs to the shortest of fishes.
His style ranges from ultra smooth to insanely radical and he is able to amalgamate this blend like very few longboarders. Harrison perches on the nose for an eternity before ripping into a drop knee cutback like you’ve never seen.
It is going to be exciting to see where Harrison Roach can take longboard surfing in the next few years. No doubt en-route to a World Title.
Tyler Warren is perhaps as close to an expressionist artist, or freeform jazz musician as any surfer out there. His style, lines and surfboard designs are unique, all combining to make one of the most aesthetically pleasing longboarder surfers.
Tyler surfs his longboard on the tail as well as he rides it on the nose. His surfing looks reminiscent of the 1960’s Malibu crew, with a purely traditional nod of the head. He then throws his 10′ nose rider off the bottom, off the top in a progressive way that defies the size of his Tyler Warren Shapes surfboard.
A message to everyone who automatically calls Steph Gilmore the style queen of women’s surfing. Go and watch Honolua Blomfield surf!
Winning her first Longboard World Championship in 2017 was the announcement that Honolua had arrived on the scene. Her surfing personifies style and grace and she moves her tall frame in a way that very few surfers can.
Riding the nose is second nature to Honolua, hang tens are effortless and stylish.
Winning her second world title in 2021 was inevitable and Honolua Blomfield is destined to dominate longboarding for a long, long time.
Alex Knost is the figurehead of the crew who ignored the progressive stage of longboarding and rather focused on the “throwback” era.
Knost studied the 1960’s style with a laser focus and applied it to his surfing. The result was a unique, quirky, but beautiful approach that makes the exceptionally difficult look like a walk in the park.
Alex has always zagged while others zigged, he is different and proud to be so.
Santa Cruz surfer CJ Nelson is living proof that modern longboarding doesn’t have to live just in the distant past. He embraced the high performance orientated late 90’s and early 00’s with reckless abandon.
CJ adapted a style that tipped a hat to the likes of Carson, Young and Nuuhiwa, while clearly bringing his skateboard skills to the table. His switch stance nose riding was insane. Even Joel Tudor was moved to say that Nelson’s nose riding was on a different level to everyone else.
Nowadays CJ’s style is polished to a point that is just incredible to watch. His surfing is smooth, powerful and agile.
Growing up in Byron Bay is a pretty good start in the pursuit of longboard style. The groomed sandbars create waves that are made for longboard surfing and there’s usually a few legends in the lineup to learn form.
While Josie’s footwork is clearly excellent, I am most impressed with her upper body positioning and “quiet arms”. Josie looks calm and poised, even during the most critical of nose rides.
Taylor Jensen is an insanely good surfer. His three World Longboard Championship titles go some way to indicating his prowess, but you really need to watch TJ surf in all conditions to appreciate what he does on a longboard.
Jensen is the perfect blend of power and grace. While his nose rides are extraordinary, his turns are a level above pretty much every other longboard surfer on the planet. Just watch the spray generated by his surfboard on every carve, while he maintains perfect poise and effortless style.
Taylor keeps one foot firmly in progressive longboarding, he’s the guy boosting superman airs at the wave pool. On a 9’1″. Yet he surfs a single fin better than 99% of people to have ever done it.
Kelia is part of the famous and talented Moniz family, including legendary father Tony, pro surfer brothers Seth and Josh, and surf coach brothers Micah and Isaiah. You could say surfing is in Kelia’s blood.
Kelia secured back to back world titles in 2012 and 2013, demonstrating style and flow that no other surfer on tour could match.
Kelia is a perfect example of longboarding being a form of dance, her movements are graceful and precise. The fact that she rides every wave with a beaming smile only enhances the aesthetics of Kelia’s surfing.
Nieblas has style. From the front zip wetsuit jackets to the Magnum PI-esque moustache, everything about Andy oozes style. Oh, and he absolutely rips.
Andy’s slight frame looks made for nose riding, but his powerful turns on heavy single fins defies his stature.
Andy Nieblas epitomises the modern day longboard surfer. He will blow one side of your brain with his nose riding, and then explode the other side with a turn unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Although the longboard community knew about Jimmy Gamboa from an early age, his profile was raised by his role in the classic surfing move One California Day.
Jimmy’s focus is riding the nose, in the most stylish way possible, for as long as he can. When Jimmy Gamboa surfs, if you squint a little, you could be watching footage of the Malibu legends of the 1960’s.
Gamboa was firmly embedded in the crew of Californian surfers who shunned the 90’s progressive phase, choosing to ride surfboards straight out of the golden age of longboarding.
Jimmy’s surfing is a textbook example of footwork and timing, just watch how he sets up his nose rides with impeccable style.
Chris “Guts” Griffiths
There are several things that fascinate me about Chris “Guts” Griffiths style. You’d think that he grew up surfing the sand bottom point breaks of North New South Wales, honing his cross step cutbacks and nose rides at waves like The Pass and Broken Head.
Chris actually grew up in the South of Wales (the country), a far cry from the turquoise hued perfection of Australia’s east coast. He developed his own style some forty years ago with very limited influences.
Winning two European titles, Chris displayed impressive competitive talents. Further highlighted with a Longboard World ranking of 5th, and Griffiths handing a defeat to Joel Tudor during Tudors first reign of dominance.
I love the fact that Chris has surfed his way through changing mindsets in longboarding, always remaining true to his foundation of style.
Gut’s competed on his self shaped surfboards and continues shaping to this day. Beau Young is part of a long list of Guts Surfboards fans.