Known by many as the “Father of the Modern Longboard,” Steve Walden shaped his first surfboard in 1961, at age 13, and never looked back. Eight years later, the native Southern Californian opened his first board factory and store in Huntington Beach, then moved to the North Shore of Oahu in 1972, where he made a name for himself as a prolific longboard shaper. While the rest of the surfing world was fixated on short single-fins, Walden continued to faithfully hone his longboard designs. Over the years he shaped for prestigious labels like Lightning Bolt, Local Motion, HIC, and Channel Islands, but it was always his own boards that set him apart. By the early 80s, Walden returned to California where he unveiled his wildly successful Magic Model with its radical rocker, down-turned rails, and super-fast Turbo Hull bottom contour.
With arguably the most advanced and high performance longboard on the market, Walden was uniquely positioned to capitalize on the resurgence of longboarding in the late 80s and 90s. To date, Walden estimates he’s personally shaped more than 20,000 boards, and in 2004, he teamed up with Global Surf Industries to distribute his shapes and expand the Walden Surfboards brand worldwide. These days, when he’s not mowing foam, Walden is surfing. Though he competed some as a teenager, he returned to contest surfing at the age of 30 and has been a regular on the winner’s podium ever since. In fact, Walden still holds the record for the longest noseride in competition history with an epic 25.5-second ride.
INTERVIEW BY LONGBOARD MAGAZINE
Who Sired the Modern Longboard?
May we submit for consideration a man who started shaping for Greek Surfboards in the '60s. Most surfers active in the early 80s will remember the foam work of Steve Walden, one of the real innovators in the longboard resurrection. The Turbo Hull, the Magic Model, aluminum-rod stringer strips, chines, popped rocker, Mylar bottoms, reverse wings -- Walden was all over the place in a quest for modern longboard performance. At the extreme minimum, he was one of the two or three architects of the modern longboard. Did he just disappear? Not quite. Always a top-notch surfer (he holds the all-time clocked noseride record of 25 seconds), Steve is still a consistent stand-out in the longboard contest scene. He's up in Ventura, shaping madly, and has a new retail operation. We apprehended him and laid down a Pop Quiz.
LM: We've been talking to surfers and shapers in an attempt to figure out who fathered modern longboard design, and most of the people we talked to mentioned your name. Do you agree or disagree?
SW: Well, in early 1974 I was living at Rocky Point on the North Shore, riding an old Hobie that I'd stuck back together. I found it interesting, so I shaped a longboard of my own. In '78, I started building them with increased rocker, thinned-out foil, and down rails. I guess 1978. Rusty and Al Merrick were trying to trace back the modern, high-performance longboard recently, and they both came up with my name, so... (laughs). It's nice to be recognized for something after 30 years of shaping.
LM: As one of the forces in the scene 15 years ago, does the current popularity of longboard surfing surprise you?
SW: I'm more stoked than surprised. One of the fatal errors in the surfboard industry was the advent of the paper-thin chip board. That sent more surfers down the wrong path than anything I can remember. Now we all choose boards that work. It's a freedom thing. I just saw a junior's event at Malibu, and five surfers in a six-man heat were knee paddling. They were on the right boards for the conditions. So many kids weren't around for the '60s, but they're still finding the benefits of the better things from that era.
LM: Having sort of peaked in the mid-'80s, do you find yourself feeling a bit sidelined during this resurgence?
SW: Well, that's one of the reasons I'm here talking with you. My immediate plans are to take advantage of my nearly 30 years of non-stop longboard design and shaping. As far as mass production goes, I've been there. In '69-'70, I had four shops at various stages in Huntington Beach, and I was mowing out 40 boards a week. Right now, I like what I see. I like the direction things are going. I think that while a lot of the faddish elements of the longboard scene will fall away naturally, a healthy longboard scene will always remain part of Surfing.
WANT NOSERIDING MAGIC?
Here’s what Steve Walden advises
The competition rankings tell a lot about Steve Walden. Since the mid-1960s, he has placed 1st , 2nd , or 3rd in most Southern California noseriding events, whether amateur or professional. In just the last 20 years he's probably surfed 150 contests. Go deeper and find that Walden has surfed, lived and made surfboards in both Hawaii and California since 1981--up and down the coast from San Diego to Ventura. He learned to noseride at Doheny , which he says is still a good noseriding wave. Walden has shaped paddle boards, sail boards and surfboards and uses well the knowledge and experience gained. As one of the sport's truly consistent innovators, he makes one of the most complex longboards available today--with high performance rockers, multiple concaves and rail chines . He also produces, perhaps, the sport’s most innovative, high-performance noserider. This is how Steve Walden explained secrets to superior noseriding, when noseriding.com found him recently at "C Street" his home break in Ventura, Calif. Secrets that some call magic.
NR: What is most important in learning to noseride better?
SW: "When you're talking about how to noseride best, to me, better equipment is the most important part. I've always been surfing against guys that are better, so equipment is key . Second is knowledge and practice. In noseriding boards there is a whole variety, from classics all the way through modern performance longboards and all in between. It is a misconception, however, that all longboards noseride . You can noseride them, but with a lot of them the design doesn't allow you to stand on the tip and just stay there. Some designs are so much more helpful than others. Stability, when first learning to noseride , is just as important as in first learning to surf. It's the same process of learning. Equipment, length, and width of the nose, equals the difference right there.”
NR: What kind of wave works best?
SW: "Trying to learn at the San Clemente Pier or at a Beach Break like Huntington Beach, or in the South Bay where the wave picks you up quick and you have to get up and moving quick makes it difficult to get long noserides. A beach break is the hardest. You have to get up and things are over so quick, there’s not much time to get the feel of a noseride. So the spot you pick is important." "You really want a point break. Going front side is best. You are looking for a classic Malibu type wave that is long and lined up. Whether Malibu, Trestles, Churches, Doheny , Cardiff Reef, C-Street or Rincon. You want a nice wall that is not closing out, because you need some time to ride it a long ways. A beach break is not the best place to learn. At Malibu you can get going and get the feel of it all, rather than at a beach break where you get tense about not pearling, ahhhhhh!!!?, because things are going so fast.”
NR: So, you’re stable and at the right break…
SW: “The set-up, or positioning of the board, is 3/4 of the noseride ; riding the nose is only 1/4. Get the board trimming, not at the bottom, but in the top half of the wave. Start moving up to the nose. Aim for the sticker or the other side of the sticker. Not crashing and burning, but moving up there and getting use to that feeling. Spend time trimming, get your comfort level up. Trim a little farther up, then a little farther up, until you are at the nose. Have fun on the tip.”
NR: What are some of the finer points involved?
SW: “At the highest levels of Noseriding ability it has a lot to do with body English--with stretching or reaching, arching-in towards the wave to get lift. You weight or unweight that inside rail, climbing, dropping, stalling, steering. Too steep or hollow? Drop down so you won't slide out."
NR: Why noseride?
SW: “Me? I always want to noseride ! It’s such a gas. I make noseriders for myself, is what I do. Friends ride them and say, ‘Wow!!’ So I make more of them!! Mine is one of the top three noseriding shapes.”
NR: What are the other two?
SW: “ Welllll ...
NR: So--what makes a really good, helpful noseriding board?
SW: “First is a wide nose, a minimum of 18 inches. Most people don't need to go over 20. I prefer 19 inches for all around noseriding. I consider that the standard. Here is how the various boards work.”
NR: Traditional boards
SW: “The approach in the wave is down the line, in the pocket. For these straight rocker boards, riding in the pocket is the best.”
NR: Performance Longboards
SW: “The approach is a little different. They ride a little higher up in the wave, pointing a little more toward the shore than down the line. You might say that performance longboards ride a little better in the flatter parts of waves, where the traditional longboards will only ride in the pocket.”
NR: Traditional vs. Performance Longboards
SW: “Classic single fin is better at Malibu , or C-Street, or Doheny. A modern longboard (tri-fin setup) is better for a beach break like Huntington Beach , where you have to get up and turn quickly. At Malibu you don't have to adjust much. Also, with a straight board, without the proper nose rocker, you have to backpedal, because you can't turn well from the nose. For that you need nose rocker, concave, bevels. These allow you to stay up there and maneuver from the nose. There are different styles of noseriding , and I'm not advocating one over the other. That's just the way it works.”
NR: What about tail rocker?
SW: “I don't think so. You're up on the tip and trying to turn, and tail rocker can't help you much then. The one that's easier to turn is the one that's wider in the tail (did you say this?), with a certain amount of nose rocker (because straight rocker speeds up). So a main factor in noseriding is a steer-able board." "I also found that rocker was always a factor when the waves got a little choppy. Nose rocker makes it easier to handle the chop, to turn. Straighter nose rocker worked great in the morning, when everything was glassy. But it didn't work well in the afternoon in the finals.”
NR: What about actual equipment selection?
SW: “A narrow nose, without rocker and no concave is going to work against you. It will be extremely difficult to learn. Just getting the right equipment will help. Stability is very important. Think of it as learning to surf on a 6’2 or 6'10 or 10'0. Which would be quicker, easier? A lot of noseriding has to do with stability. Length is also really important." "Design and length are also important relative to age and weight. For a guy at 175 lbs., who is 30-35 + years old, I would say a 9'6 would be the minimum length. 9'0 would be a challenge. But at 9'6 or 10'0 he's going to learn much faster. So if you think 7'8 vs. 9'8, the 9'8 is better. You can think of it as training wheels to learn faster. Or you can think of it as learning easier, quicker so you can have more fun. You want to learn? You want to learn fast? Equipment makes all the difference!!!" "Then you practice, practice, practice. You can’t practice too much.”