Age Means Nothing To Skimboarders
Last weekend, Hurricane Bill brought tremendous swell to the East Coast. With waves reaching heights of eight feet, it was perfect timing for the 16th Annual 2009 Florida Skimboarding Pro-Am at Vilano Beach.
At Vilano, it was the sixth contest on the eight-stop United Skim Tour (UST). Held every August before school starts, the Pro-Am brings skimboarders from as far as California and Mexico.
And, local professionals such as Jed Currington and Dave Scott dream of winning their home break competition.
Vilano Beach has gained notoriety as the perfect spot for skimboarding in Northeast Florida. Vilano’s sloping beach creates an ideal break for skimboarding waves.
Skimboarding has been around since the 1920s when boards were made of plywood. Lifeguards in Laguna Beach, California, have been credited with starting the sport.
Present-day skimboards are made out of fiberglass for increased speed and maneuverability.
The act of skimming is typically performed in shallow waves that have broken onshore. The more popular way is to run out to a breaking wave and ride it back to shore in a similar fashion to surfing.
With skimboarding becoming more popular all over the globe, the sport is gaining more respectability.
Other “extreme” board sports such as skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing receive much more media coverage. That doesn’t stop skimboarders from competing.
However, the Pro-Am has been one of the most enjoyable sporting events I’ve had the pleasure of covering.
The amateur and professional skimboarders are easily accessible. Agents, coaches and handlers hardly exist in this world. And, boy, is it a carefree world!
While the 187 heats were being held during the weekend, I spoke to numerous pros who attempt to make their living through skimboarding. In the tight-knit skimboarding community, the pros talk to the amateurs as if they are all old college friends.
Their respect for one another is shown when someone catches a nice wave. The skimmers on the beach bang on their boards signaling a “sick” ride.
While money is always a key component in sports, pro skimboarders do it primarily for the pure adrenaline rush and camaraderie.
As I conversed with skimboarding legend Bill Bryan over the weekend, he said there is no other sport where in between action you can talk to your buddies and chill.
The 36-year-old Bryan hears comparisons to surfing legend Kelly Slater and the face of skateboarding, Tony Hawk. Ironically, he is friends with both.
Bryan, who calls Laguna Beach home, said he learns something new every day he skims.
Bryan’s passion for skimming doesn’t dwindle because all the young guns are pushing him at every event. He laughed as he told me he has no choice but to improve daily.
Bryan stated that his main competition lately has been 24-year-old Paulo Prietto, who has captured UST titles from 2005-2007. Bryan won the 2008 title over Prietto.
For each competition, Bryan, who turned pro in 1990, travels with his wife and son in tow. Sometimes, if he’s lucky, his daughter and son from his first marriage travel with him, too.
While his family is close by, Bryan’s frequent trips to “The Wedge” in Newport Beach give him the perfect skimboarding playground.
Known as the best skimboarding wave in the world, “The Wedge” is as much fun as it is deadly. One month ago, a body surfer died there after being tossed into the jetties during a 20-foot swell.
With waves that large, Bryan, who sported a stylish Mohawk, told me he realizes his body isn’t as forgiving as it once was. Following daylong sessions in the water, his back can ache for days.
To combat the pain, Bryan occasionally will practice yoga for eight hours in a day. For skimboarders, pain is part of the game.
For example, as I walked to the judges’ table Sunday, pro Dave Armstrong had his right arm in a homemade sling.
Shocked, I asked, “Dave, what happened?”
He calmly replied, “I separated my shoulder on a head-high wave. Dave [Scott] and I put it back in on the beach.”
It’s just another day in the life of a skimboarder.
Separated shoulders are rare, but scratched backs and bloody knees are commonplace. Skimboarders’ backs look as if a feral cat was placed there and scratched away. For them, it’s well worth it.
In the end, the excitement achieved from riding a fun wave is all that matters. Bryan gushed as he told me about the 10-foot waves he rode last Friday with his friends.
He said those waves were the best he has ever ridden on the East Coast. His blue hat documents the East Coast surf he has encountered this year.
Even though Bryan finished fifth in the Vilano event, he was happy for his fellow skimboarders. During the awards ceremony, world No. 6 James Lovett was announced the winner over current No. 1 Brad Domke.
After a memorable weekend covering the Pro-Am, when someone tells me they skimboard, I’ll smile respectfully. It might resemble the same grin Bryan sported as he told me of his love for skimboarding.
For skimboarders like Bill Bryan, age is purely a number. An aging body and creaky bones hardly get in the way of fun. Catching that perfect wave is what skimboarders dream of obtaining.
Plus, it never hurts to have your best buddies around to see you do it.