4th Gear Flyer Rider’s Guide
 
 
Mat surfing takes a bit of time to master, even if you’re a talented surfer with years of experience. You can manipulate the air pressure as you ride, and that, combined with your swim fins, gives you a lot of control.  
 
 
 
This is an example of ideal positioning on a mat.

The rider’s head is at the front of the mat, his left hand has a firm grip on the side of the outer rail, his weight is focused on the inside rail, and his fins are up...with the inside fin poised to drop into the water when called for.
 
The inflation setting is an important part of a 4th Gear Flyer’s performance capability…but there is no answer as to what inflation level is best.
 
A firmer mat will hold in while turning.
 
 
A softer mat will break loose and fly over flat spots.
 
 
In the beginning, you can ride your mat almost completely inflated, to get the feel of the full, round rail holding into the wave. Then, as you gain experience, you can release some air and get the feeling of skimming over the water. You’ll eventually learn to combine both experiences – and hard mat and a soft mat -- with one inflation setting. By squeezing the mat as you ride, you can skim part of the time, and track into the pocket other times…all on the same wave!
 
An easy way to judge the level of your mat’s inflation is to blow it up on the beach fairly firm, but not rock hard. Then paddle out to the lineup, roll off the mat, and fold it in the middle, length-wise.
 
 
 
 
A typical “fold angle” for an experienced mat rider in moderate sized point surf is a 90 degree bend. However, a more conservative 45 degree bend is a good place to start.
 
Wave size is an issue when learning (or re-learning) how to ride a mat. It’s difficult to get them going in waves under 3 feet until you get a feel for skimming in low power situations. Ideally, your first few go outs should be in waves over 3 feet. Often times, mat riding is a complete puzzle in the beginning…until one day you’re on a 4 or 5 foot wave,  section stands up in front of you, and the mat is drawn into the pocket and jumps into high gear. That’s the moment every serious mat surfer remembers…the first time they felt speed and freedom only a nylon mat could give them!
 
4th Gear Flyers work in a widest variety of conditions of any surf craft. They’re fast, they feel great, and they’re unbelievably easy to travel with. And no matter how many years you ride one, there’s always something new to experience!
 
 
 
 
 
Some Advanced Riding Techniques
 
 
Banked Bottom Turns
 
Great bottom turning technique: Outer hand compressing the mat's inflation level, inner elbow almost but not quite touching the water, inside flipper dipping in.

Nice, moderate turn, bank-wise.

George Greenough, late 60's. He’s riding a full canvas Hodgman mat. The offshore texture provides enough tension so he can bank all the way over, and hold in without his fins touching the water.
 
Un-Banked Bottom Turns
A mat's trim speed can be increased with a “yaw” turn off the bottom. Rather than banking the mat off the bottom, the rider eases the nose back up the face just a few degrees, and he can take a natural track back up the face and into the power.
 
Photo: Wardie
 
 
 

Both photos show textbook "flat" bottom turns. Notice how the water is undisturbed as the mat changes direction.
 


Controlling Your Mat With Swim Fins.
 
 
Remember, back in the day, when you tried to fly a stick-and-paper kite without a cloth tail, and the kite would violently swing back and forth? In many ways, the mat rider's legs (and fins) function like the tail on a kite. Even when your legs are out of the water, they counterbalance the mat's tendency to drift laterally.
Controlling lateral drift with one fin...
Photo sequence from Greg Huglin's Fantasea
Using the inside fin for directional stability.


Lifting the inside fin to allow the tail to slide out.
 
Both fins are out of the water... and the mat is in full side slip.
 
The inside fin is lowered back into the water to check the tail slide.
 
 
A subtle but critical adjustment, mid-trim...

A speed run into a building section. Both fins are clear of the water.
 
A quick dip of the right flipper tightens the rider's line into the face.
 
Both fins are released for maximum speed. The adjustments for wave altitude and angle of attack have already been made before the wave crests. All that's left is to sit back and enjoy the ride!
 
 
Cut Backs

Four different styles of cutbacks...


A carving cutback with fins in the water, and left hand dragging and providing a pivot point.


A flat, drifting cutback with both fins out of the water.
 
A carving cutback with both fins out of the water.
 
 
A carving cutback while dragging one fin to control the arc.
 
 
 
Unweighting
 
 
 
Even under full power, there's a huge benefit to unweighting just as you reach terminal drop-in speed...and letting the mat fly before burning off a bottom turn.
 
 
 
Riding in 3rd Gear
 
"3rd Gear" is a term George Greenough uses to describe high speed mat surfing. In simple terms, riding straight-off is 1st gear, while trimming across the wave at curl speed is 2nd gear. 3rd gear is moving beyond simple trim speed and running past one section, over a flat area, and through the next section.
 
Jumping from 2nd to 3rd coming off the bottom...
 
...and running across the wall in 3rd gear. Notice how far forward the rider's body is, and how little of the mat is touching the water at this point.
 
Using the 3rd gear speed to come off the bottom again...
 
...and redirecting the energy into a lip bounce.
George talks about running in 3rd gear, and being able to surf through a single section of a wave three times. If enough speed is in hand, he can glide over the top of a section as it's forming, cut back across it as it crests, then run through the same section again (heading down the line) as it breaks. The photo below is a perfect example of third gear mat surfing.
 
 
 
 
 
Head First” Tube Riding
 
Here’s a simple technique to pull yourself into a tube while riding a mat...
 
Keep your head low and forward, and move it out over the inside rail. The mat will follow, and take the right line every time!
 
 
 
 
 
 
Making A Tube Ride
 
The best way to get through a tube on a mat is to spot a point on the wave well ahead of you and keep focused on it. Your body and mat will take the natural line to that point.
 
Photos: Wardie