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Breaking down the longboard criteria with Shannon Hughes

by Jesse Starling

If you haven’t heard Shannon commentating on the world longboard tour, World Surf League Championship events, Challenger Series events, qualifying series events, 2021 Olympic Games or the ISA world juniors then you’ve probably been living under a rock. Shannon Hughes is one of the most hardworking and talented women in surf media and production. Her knowledge of both longboard and shortboard surfing is second to none, Shannon has the ability to break down all kinds of surfing and goes above and beyond to get to know each competitor personally to help provide us, as the audience, all the information we need. With the previous world longboard series event done and dusted we wanted to pick Shannons brain on all things longboarding. 

Shannon on set with the wsl. Pic. @WSL

Before we start on the criteria give us some background into your history with long boarding?  

I grew up in a longboarding family. My dad didn’t let us ride shortboards because he believed the more waves we caught, the more fun we would have. More board equaled easier paddling, equaled more waves caught haha, it worked for me! I’ve been riding mostly only longboards for my whole life, and I love them! In my early twenties I started competing a bit in longboard events, which led to me eventually joining the commentary team for the Longboard World Tour, where I became a student of two great longboarders, Sam Bleakley and Wingnut.

Shannon Hughes

Typically in any type of surfing there are two forms, Traditional and New Era, the World LongBoard Tour base their criteria off Traditional longboard surfing, explain to us the concept of traditional longboarding and why do you think the WLT base their criteria off this style of surfing? 

Originally all surfing was longboarding, with much of the classic style of surfing coming from the iconic scenes of the 50’s and 60’s. That style

of surfing emphasised elements like trim, noseriding, rail surfing, footwork, as well as style, flow and grace (as opposed to the shortboard criteria of speed, power flow). After the shortboard revolution came in 1967, longboarding was mostly set aside for around 15 years. When it returned in the 80’s there was a mix of the traditional style, as well as high performance, which is largely characterised by longboards that are thrusters (or 2+1’s), rather than single-fins. That form of longboarding focuses more on tail surfing, essentially making it more like shortboarding.

I think the decision to base their criteria more in line with traditional longboarding is that it shows a difference between the shortboard and longboard tours and keeps it from being ‘shortboarding on longboards’.

Shannon Hughes

The LongBoard criteria is broken down into 3 major categories Style, Flow, and Grace. Talk us through why each of these components is so important when trying to achieve scoring rides in long boarding? 

Style, flow and grace are best taken in the most simple, straightforward way. Essentially the three categories together are reflective of making the difficult look easy with control and flow. Style is hard because it is subjective, but most of the time we can identify style in any surfer who shows control and flow in their surfing, shortboarding or longboarding. Flow focuses on how individual manoeuvres are connected together; seamlessly is the best word I can think of to describe a surfer who connects combinations of manoeuvres together with flow. Grace is the final category which ensures that Style and Flow are being fulfilled. Grace sort of takes it all into account, an overall picture of riding a big board with style and flow.

Shannon Hughes

As spectators of the sport we constantly hear the importance of using the entire length of the board and wave, and do so in the most critical part of the wave. Could you elaborate on the importance of using the entire length of the board and give us insight into which variety of manoeuvres generally bring in the biggest scores?

Using the entire length of the board is super important in the WLT criteria! The reason is that it keeps the WLT from mimicking the CT by forcing more than turns, but it also keeps the WLT from being a noseriding contest.

Nose riding, rail surfing and footwork are the variety the judges are looking for. Nose Rides and rail surfing (turns) need to be performed with control in the most critical section of the wave. When surfers can link those individual manoeuvres together with clean footwork and demonstrate control, they will receive the highest scores. It is also about reading what the wave has to offer, without forcing manoeuvres into sections that are not asking for it; noseriding in the flats instead of in the pocket, or turning when the section would offer a critical noseride.

Shannon Hughes

Longboarding is such a unique style of surfing, it is graceful and more thought out than short boarding. This being said, the term “clean footwork” is used quite frequently. How does one perform clean footwork and how does this tie back to the criteria of style, flow and grace? 

I feel like the most important thing to note in clean footwork is that shuffling is never clean. Cross-stepping is clean and actually easier to perform. When a surfer is cross-stepping with control and flow it makes everything look easy, which is one of the main goals of traditional longboarding: to make the difficult look easy.

Shannon Hughes
Shannon on set with the wsl. Pic. @WSL

We also wanted to talk about nose riding, the degree of difficulty of this manoeuvre is like no other. Could you explain to us the difference between a good and bad nose ride and how this will display through scores. 

Good, critical nose rides can easily be as difficult as massive air reverses. The interesting thing about them is that often the best ones are made to look so easy that it’s harder to tell how difficult they are to pull off. Good nose rides could also be compared to good barrels. The deeper the noseride is in the pocket, the more critical the noseride will be viewed.

Depending on what a longboarder is riding they can easily nose ride far out on the face, which often pushes water and tends to not be critical at all. This can fool people at times, but more and more the judges are being harsh on nose rides that aren’t actually in the pocket.

A good nose ride is most notable when the surfer is actually levitating above the water and you can see a decent gap between the board and the face of the wave. If that is happening the noseride is guaranteed to be critical.

Shannon Hughes
Shannon on set with the wsl. Pic. @WSL

Lastly, What we’ve noticed is that longboarding judges are more focused on the detail of what the surfer is performing whilst analysing what the board is doing on the wave. Do you think it would be beneficial for a short board judge, to learn how to judge longboarding, to increase their eye for detail and style?  

Yes! Good longboarders perform extremely difficult manoeuvres in the most critical sections of the wave while making it all look easy. Some shortboarders have that too, but in shortboarding surfers can more easily get away with sloppy surfing. In longboarding, all those flaws are really easy to see, so it forces surfers to smooth everything out.

Shannon Hughes

With longboarding rapidly making a comeback we knew it was super important to gain some insight on all things longboarding. After our chat with Shannon we cannot wait for the next longboarding event and are excited to bring a little bit of longboarding into our short boarding world. Thank you so much Shannon for your ongoing work in the surfing word and for sharing your expertise with all of us. We look forward to seeing what amazing things you do in the back half of the year! Thank you again. 

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