Alaias are the most retro surfboards – that is, if planks used by ancient Polynesians thousands of years ago are still considered “retro.”
Today, these finless boards, often made of solid wood, have a following among purist surfers looking to recreate experiences the earliest surfers had. The alaia is popular for some of the same reasons people love fixed-gear bikes or free-solo rock climbing: it holds a back-to-basics allure, where the emphasis is on skill, not equipment or technology. The few who have mastered the alaia say the style and feeling are incomparable to modern surfboards.
Alaia riders talk of having closer contact with the water. They also point out something surfboard manufacturers probably don’t want you to know: thanks to its flat bottom and lack of fins, nothing is faster on the water. Watching a master surfer like Rob Machado show how smooth alaia surfing can be is mesmerizing, but don’t be fooled by how easy this surfing legend makes it look.