Have you tried mat surfing?

Ian Jermyn riding his Warpmats surf mat in Ireland/ Photo: Thomas Naschenweng

Have you tried mat surfing? A lot of people are getting into this alternative form of wave riding. Below, three mat surfers from three continents describe how and why they fell in love with the mat, and what it has added to their lives.

Mike Janich, from Temecula, California, USA

“For those yet to experience mat riding, it may appear that a barely inflated bag filled with your own breath is an impossible, utterly ridiculous craft for riding waves,” says Ian Jermyn, who lives in Ireland. “But it offers an experience that is completely unique.”


Mike Janich, from Temecula, California, USA, agrees: “I innocently started mat surfing as a 'substitute' for longboarding while recovering from shoulder surgery. My doctor told me I wouldn't be able to paddle for six to eight months, and, not wanting to be out of the water that long, I bought a surf mat and some fins. And the rest is history. I'm a mat surfer now!”

For Terry Wild from Australia, it was more a case of curiosity. “I started mat surfing with a friend of mine,” he remembers. “We usually rode a variety of ‘normal’ boards, but I saw some pictures of mat riders on the Internet and we decided to give it a go on crappy surf days, just for a laugh. Well, mat surfing soon became an addiction, to the point where I ride them nearly all the time.”

The speed is something that makes mat riding so attractive. Ian was impressed by a short video of George Greenough mat surfing on Maui in the late 1960's—he drops in and accelerates, and with a controlled, seemingly weightless drift, slips under the curtain of this huge wave before accelerating out again. 

Compared to what Greenough rode then, today's surf mats are a fraction of the weight, and the hydrodynamics are far more advanced. After riding waves on all sorts of craft since I was about five, these strange mats seemed completely baffling. It was alien technology that I had to experience for myself,” explains Ian. His passion for this kind of wave riding led him to collaborate with surf mat builder Matt Fedden to create Warpmats which focuses on producing custom surf mats.

What´s so good about it?

“Mat riding is just plain fun. There aren’t a lot of fancy moves, or turns that are needed. It is just the best feeling. It is like super charged body surfing, where you feel that you are part of the wave, and you can feel the water passing under the mat. It is amazing to have a surf craft where the rider can change the shape of the craft as it is being ridden, which is what mat riders do by altering hand pressure on the mat,” says Terry.


“Within a few sessions, a paradigm shift occurs and you understand how radically different this vehicle is,” explains Ian. “The sensation of becoming part of the wave (rather than planing on its surface), and the speed…it changes everything.”

Terry Wild mat surfing in Australia.

From the surf-o-plane to the modern surf mat

The history of mat surfing is almost as interesting as the ride itself. This style of surfing has been around for awhile, originating with the “surf-o-plane in 1932. Australian Ernest Smithers invented this first surf mat, and it quickly rose in popularity. By 1938, the Australian Surfing Titles included a surf mat division.


Surf mats became popular in the US in the 1950s. Many people used them to become comfortable in the ocean before moving on to surfboards.


Surf mats became even more popular in the 1960s, as many visitors to the beach began using them to ride small whitewater lines. The mat was user-friendly and accessible, so it effectively lowered the entry barrier that heavy surfboards brought with them.

Ironically, it was the invention of another prone wave riding tool that ended up stealing a lot of the surf mat’s thunder, and turned it into a fringe sport.


Tom Morey’s foam bodyboard dominated prone surfing for nearly 50 years, before the surf mat had a resurgence in popularity during the “Ride Anything” movement of the early 2000s. As people began to rediscover alaias, paipos, traditional logs, and other retro boards, surf mats started to work their way back into the lineup.

Ian Jerymn riding Warpmats with LeblonFins Flex.
Photo: Thomas Naschenweng

“It’s a slow renaissance. In the short few years I've been riding mats I've never happened on anyone else in the water riding one. I continue to offer them out on loan, and more often than not they return unridden.Wherever I've ridden my surf mat, I've either been invisible or met with bewildered stoke from other surfers who have no idea what I'm riding, and can’t believe the speed I can get on the same waves they are riding,” says Ian. 


Are you curious to see how surf mats go? Our advice is to give one a try! There are no wrong ways to enjoy the ocean. The more diverse your surfing experience is, the better a waterman or waterwoman you will become. 


And while you are at it, check out why Ian, Mike and Terry use LeblonFins for mat surfing:


 LeblonFins for mat surfing

“I tried many brands of fins in my search for power and comfort, until I discovered LeblonFins. It was a Goldilocks moment for me. These fins were so comfy, yet so powerful at the same time. My wave count went up enormously. My faves are the new Flex model, as they are, in my opinion, the perfect combination of comfort and power needed for mat riding.  Not only do LeblonFins get the rider into the wave early, the rails on the side of the fins also give perfect control, and can be easily lifted if side drift is needed.”


Terry Wild, Australia

Instagram: @terrywild

“Good mat surfing fins should be comfortable, powerful, and offer some sort of control for positioning, turning and cutbacks. With their foot pockets separate from the blade, LeblonFins put the side rails of the fins in a more parallel position to the rails of the mat, making my fins and mat work together more as a unit than with other fins. Also, with Leblon's unsurpassed power, I catch more waves. Even my wife can tell the difference from the beach that LeblonFins work better for me!”



Mike Janich, USA

Instagram:@tigerstriper62

“For me, the Leblon fins offer everything I'm looking for in a fin for surf matting:

• Soft comfortable foot pocket that accommodates wide feet or thick socks for cold climates

• Power that you can turn on quickly and sustain

• Long, sharp rails that can be engaged or easily released to control direction

• Strong projection for long paddle sessions without fatigue


What more can you ask for?”


Ian Jermyn

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2 comments

  • Yeah, I mat surf…for the second time in life. Originally started in 1958 then in ‘60 graduated to a surfboard. Rode those for life until a pair of broken ribs made things difficult. A friend suggested a mat and it worked so now I have 3. Did the crowd funding for Leblon XLs…can’t wait to put them on.

    Alan Whitsett
  • I couldn’t agree more! These fans are so much more precise and powerful than anything else on the market, not to mention comfortable. It takes the most exciting surf craft I have ever ridden , and makes it even better, more fun more capable etc. Fantastic Fins!

    Ryan Holmes

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Effortless thrust

My feet are slightly too large for size M, but size L is loose enough for fins to pop off when hit by a lip, so a tether is essential, and probably a bit of padding, socks, or booties. This will be worked out. For me, sizing is rather similar to DaFin, which also pop off and require tethers. I can fit a size M with DMC Repellor, L in MS Viper, and 10-11 in POD Fins 3-PF3 Evolution, all with less risk of fins popping off.

The Leblon Flex fins are comfortable and have caused almost no fatigue in the first few days of use, which follows a summer with a lot of inactivity, including a recent, bad cold or sinus infection.

I am impressed at how easy it is to swim around the beach with the Leblon flex model. Just kicking while being on my back with perhaps a bit of backstroke was faster and more efficient than I'd been accustomed to. The Leblon has distinctly more thrust than MSViper, DaFin, or POD (right in the photo) that I've been using.

Being a large and heavy fin, the Leblon is a bit harder to walk with than the others, but the it's completely at home once in the water. The Leblon has ridges on the bottom of the foot pocket to help with traction. The drain holes, unusually on the top side, quickly clear out sand, which at our beach has a lot of shell fragments. Fins with round drainage holes clear slowly,

Catching little waves, no more that 1 meter, took a bit of re-learning. Wait farther back: It's easy to accelerate like a board rather than try to push off from the bottom as the wave is breaking. We should have 2-meter waves in a few days.

My guessing is that learning to use the Flex model to full effect will take a while. It means faster, better beach swimming. I haven't yet tried them with a camera, handplanes, bodyboards, or surf mats.

Night and day level of thrust compared to what you've grown used to.

I've used my fair share of swim fins (Churchill Makapuus, Slashers, DaFins, Voit Duck Feet, Viper V-5s, etc.) and these definitely produced the biggest shock factor when first kicking around with them. While the level of ankle/leg fatigue from 15 minutes of use is definitely increased, the amount of propulsion generated from a few short kicks is incredible. I spent a day in 3-4' sets switching between my Leblons and DaFins and couldn't stop commenting on how the DaFins felt laughably flexible and weak after using Leblons for awhile. A strong dolphin kick with these was allowing me to enter a wave ~3-5 yards sooner than with the Dafins. creating for some special lines.

A quick warning - don't overestimate your leg strength or experience level when choosing these. I am rocking the Originals and could barely see myself moving up to the Pros (and quite honestly wonder if the Flex line would have been more appropriate). That being said, no regrets at all with my purchase. I will likely get another pair of these in a size up to accommodate for booties in the winter season.

Powerful

I have been ridding waves for 5 decades . I have owned and used the following fins .
Churchill’s , Duck Feet UDT ,Reedly , Viper V7, Force Fins ,
Toobs blunt cut , Dafin ,
Leblon soft and mid flex .

I ordered the Leblon fins because the long side rails caught my attention .

After rideing waves with these fins I can say from expirence that the Side rails really help in holding in on a step wave face . I use them for body surfing and mat rideing .

They are very powerful equaling my
Duck feet UDT s . Which are the most powerful fins I have used . And yet they are much more comfortable than the UDTs.

I wear a size 12 shoe . I ordered the large size . They were a bit lose but I wear a 2 mm fin sock with them and they work fine . I do the same thing with my duck feet and duck feet UDTs.

Tried The Rest... Now I Have The Best

Before deciding on my first pair of Voit Duck Feet, I read countless reviews and online articles. Not long after that, a pair of DaFins showed up in my surf bag. Thinking I was done buying fins, I quit looking. Well, intentionally, anyway. Then somehow I happened across Leblon Fins. I saw an ad on UKMatSurfers.com for a pair of the Leblon "Original" model and was intrigued by the design.The more I read about them the more I had to see for myself if they really worked as well as the reviews were saying. I had to have a pair. But couldn't decide between the Flex Model and the Originals. Leblon recommended the Flex Model for those "new to the Leblon experience" due to the Originals extra stiffness which they said required a getting used to period, also mentioning they could be just too stiff for some.

Now what do I do? I want the Originals but don't want to find out I can't handle them. Or do I take the recommendation of the Leblon folks and order a pair of the Flex Model. Oh....wait a minute. They have a 10 day return policy. There you go, that settles it. I order a pair of each in size large.

I am a size 10.5 with a super wide toe box. The large were a tiny bit loose on my feet until I put my fin socks on. Then they were PERFECT! The foot pocket on these Leblons is one of the most, if not THE most comfortable foot pockets I have ever worn.

So now for the real test. How do they work? Simply put, these are some powerful fins. I didn't have to think too hard if these fins felt different. With only a few kicks, the difference in propulsion between these and my other fins was obvious. Getting out into the lineup, and getting into the waves earlier was a new experience with my new Leblon Originals. And the kicker was that my wife, Kathy, watching from the beach, could tell how well the fins worked for me.

After two hours was I sore? Yes, a little, mostly on my ankles. But it was a good sore...

They run big

The fins are great but they definitely run bigger than I thought