During the years 1972-74, when Lance is losing his innocence, the sport of surfing is losing something too. The technical advances of the surf leash are about to revolutionize the sport more than surfboard design itself. At a time when swallowtails, fish, stingers and multiple fins are being experimented with, the surf leash is single handedly turning the sport over to the masses. For all of its obvious advantages, the device removed vulnerability. No more long cold swims. No more dings on the rocks. Now, anybody could surf the more rugged breaks that before only more experienced surfers would attempt.
The days of scratching over a set and looking back with a sympathetic grin at those swimming to shore were over. The learning process was accelerated. You fall off, you paddle right back out and try again. That meant more waves for everybody, which ratcheted up competition, pushing the sport’s development. Now guys could try stuff without fear of losing their board. Enter the highly maneuverable Thruster, and suddenly feats that had never been considered, were being mastered.
For better or for worse the leash was inevitable, and believe me I’m thankful for it every time I’m eyeball deep in foam and my board is snapping back to me. But, as I wrote Pier Rats, I felt a nostalgia for that time when your board was something you had to protect, hold onto with all your might. I’d forgotten how important it was to make the wave; every kick-out a victory.
Ironically, at the same time the leash was making surfing more competitive, it was also turning it into a leisure activity. As the water became more crowded with new surfers, the older generation was continuing to surf into middle age. What was happening? Wasn’t surfing incompatible with a responsible adult lifestyle? Doesn’t any devoted surfer worth his salt skip out on work, school or family at the mention of a clean swell (not that it doesn’t still happen). But, as the waves got more crowded guys weren’t as apt to be reckless. Ditching responsibility to ride perfect empty waves is one thing, wondering where the least crowded spot might be is another. Suddenly, surfing, family, and career could coexist in a disciplined manner. You surf when you’re able and happy for the waves you get.
I remember an early ’80’s L.A. Times Magazine article announcing the older surfer trend. On the cover was a fortyish guy in a suit and tie on the beach holding a surfboard. The article told of this new breed of middle-aged professional/family man/surfer. The stigma of surfing and irresponsibility was being removed.
About the same time the surf leash was becoming popular urethane skateboard wheels were introduced (urethane also became the preferred material for the surf leash). The smoother, faster, and more tractionable wheels allowed surfers to get vertical on land like they could in the water.
Unaware, Lance and his friends are doing their thing in the final days before the technological push of the surf and skateboard scenes into the mainstream.