Interview: Steen Barnes

Kneeboarding?? Isn’t that a thing of the past? Well, we say no. Kneeboarding may be underground in mainstream surf culture but it’s still alive and well in various parts of the surfing world. Leading the path is Steen Barnes and his crew at Legless.tv. They are taking an unorthodox way of riding a wave, pulling off Dane Reynolds style maneuvers and getting more pitted then you can imagine. The latest issue of The Surfer’s Journal features an aritcle by Ted Endo with photos by Cyrus taken from their trip down to the forgotten land of legless where surfers punt on their knees and stoke grows on trees..

In honor of that trip, we are dedicating this week as Kneeboard Week on Korduroy. The following 5 days will feature an exclusive clip by Greenough, an Inner-view clip with the Legless crew and other cool knee-centric stuff that’s worth checking out. Be sure to stay tuned…

What is the history behind kneeboarding in Wollongong?

Wollongong kneeboard history goes back the same as most areas in OZ and the rest of world, where there is a slabby reef wave, kneeriders tended to have located/developed, it was a definitely a late 50s to early 60’s start. From guys like Lance Fairley (surfing balsa kneeboards, single and twins in Woonona in 1958 and on) Paul Satchell, Phil Hall, Richard “Nat” Palmer, Adam Williams, Ed Sinnott, Steve Wilson, it’s a big list in any area.

Why do you think it has survived in the area?

Kneeriding has always been a part of the Australian surfing culture, from dedicated kneeriding clubs to its own competitive circuit. Kneeriders developed their own world here in Oz without the backing of a corporate surfing business. You could say it was developed by families and friends, the love of kneeriding and great mateship, and that’s why it never stopped and it has taken its own path.

What are the differences between stand up surfing and kneeboarding?

We are all riding waves so that part is universal. I guess the sensation of being so close to the water at high speed, as well as the worldwide aloha that prevails with all kneeriders is quite unique. Foot boarding comes from your thighs, kneeriding comes from your lower back. The stoke is the same.

There are always those that prefer to take the road less travelled, to stick out from the rest. Those that do often find they are not alone, that there is a commonality with others expressed in these off-the-beaten-path pursuits. Kneeboarders are no different. Every kneeboarder has a reason or two why they don’t ride a stand-up, body board, or any other wave riding craft. More often than not it’s a need to be different and to find those with the same rare trait are the right kind of people in their eyes. It is probably related to the reason why tribes form, it’s human nature to have those that do not belong in certain tribes and seek others with which they share those common waters. Sometimes those tribes are a little off from centre and that’s appealing.

What is it that would convince you to catch waves on your knees rather than standing?

Waves that barrel with power is what convinced me. To be able to drop super late, and pull in tight on anything over 2ft, really means I am maximizing my tube time and my fun, and that’s what it is all about for me.

Besides the occasional large deck pad on most kneeboards, what are the main differences between a kneeboard and your standard surfboard?

Kneeboards are manufactured the same way as footboards with the use foam blanks, glass resin, epoxy, balsa whatever! Today’s kneeboard outlines have a much greater rail curve, its continual from nose to tail compared to a footboard. Fin placement is more forward and the way you ride them is dramatically different. Footboards are turned off the back foot (tail of the board) whilst the continual curve and the forward fin placement means when you ride a kneeboard, you lean forward and surf 90% on your rails, fins make up the 10% Awesome for late drops, you throw yourself over the ledge and total lean forward, engage the rail in front of your knees, keep leaning forward and drive. You don’t turn a kneeboard, you become one and you drive it.

You said you are trying to show kneeboarding in a more contemporary fashion via Legless.tv. It seems as though most kneeboarders don’t care about the hype and getting noticed. How do you make it relevant in the midst of the mainstream surf culture?

I guess kneeriding has never had any real marketing of any sorts, even back in the days of George Greenough, Neil Luke, Peter Crawford, Rex Huffman, Ross Bullard and Steve Lis and the list goes on. So the footboard community was responsible for most media regarding kneeriding, so nearly all media about kneeriding for 40 years has been quite negative. In that 40 years there has been some incredible kneeboarders, and no one would know about these guys, except the kneeboard world. Kneeboarding has never been large enough to have a magazine and corporate companies to promote its great surfers, but with today’s technology other kneeriders around the world can access the best videos, imagery, history, stories etc on Legless.tv. and see what’s happening NOW in kneeriding internationally just by getting on the internet. I don’t believe there is any intention to make us relative amongst the mainstream surf culture, its more about giving back to kneeboarders who have loved and supported kneeriding for over 5 decades, and to present today’s younger crop of kneeriders in a way that their surfing deserves. Pretty simple really.

Your right, most kneeriders don’t care about the hype and getting noticed, but kneeriders will always love to see imagery, videos, stories etc of fellow kneeriders doing their thing, and Legless.tv is our opportunity to do that.

Was kneeboarding just a temporary deviation during surfing’s transition from longer to shorter boards?

Well that depends on whose history of surfing that you follow, I firmly believe that kneeboarding was developed from Paipo early board riders needs to go faster in the tube, they started making bigger boards and kneeling up and getting tubed, which in turn they then started standing up on kneeboards and getting tubed, hence kneeboards being the first real shortboard. The deviation was long boarders watching paipo and kneeriders getting barrelled and then taking their equipment and analysing it and adapting it to foot boarding. Bob McTavish’s storeys of Greenough’s contributions to the advancement of his designs is very well documented in his own autobiography.

At legless we call kneeriding “the legitimate unorthodox way to ride a wave” we don’t really take things that seriously, be we do have a lot of fun.

With legends like Greenough and Steve Lis paving the way as far as equipment and technology, what kind of changes do you see happening in the sport now, some 20-odd years later?

Not sure if we are looking for changes. We like kneeriding the way it is. It’s unique, it’s eccentric, it’s niche.

It’s us…..

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