"I started riding Alaia’s about 4 years back when a friend from Italy brought his own one over here with him. It took me a while to pluck up the courage to actually paddle out on it, but once I did, the feeling I got riding it in that very first session was enough to get me hooked.
Most of my experience has been on an Alaia, but I have also had the honour of surfing Derek Hynd’s Personal Friction Free boards, Tom Wegner’s Albacore/Tuna from the Seaglass Project and more recently, another finless board (sorry for using that term Derek!) shaped by one of the local French shapers.
Currently I have 6 Alaia’s - of which 2 are snapped, 2 have been fixed, and 2 haven’t broken yet. I've been lucky enough to have a good relationship with some Italian surfers, which has allowed me to refine the shape of my boards and over time I have had the opportunity to ride Alaia’s from around the world in all types of conditions. From a Tom Wegener in 4-6 foot Bali, to the Hidden Wood boards in small French beach breaks. So although I might not be the oldest and most experienced Free Friction rider, I do know a bit about them.
Catching the wave is slightly easier, as long as you put yourself in the right position! As soon as you pick up a bit of speed the lack of any additional drag due to things such as fins, leashes or rockers, results in the board being lifted above the water and starting to glide.
I reckon it's essential to start out at a spot that is frontside for you, and with just enough power to let you get onto the wave. Even then, keep the pace slow or even directed towards the shore - as at first turning may seem impossible!
This is where Derek and Tom (in their respective ways) have really made it a more user friendly activity. Their thicker foam boards allow one to paddle out into the line up and catch waves with ease. Personally, I prefer the feeling of riding Alaia's the most out of all the other boards, because the thin rails cut in sharply to the wall of the wave. Also, when riding, you that little bit closer and more in touch with the wave. One downside however, is because they are so thin and flat, there is a greater chance of pearling or catching rail. But here again, riding a foam board helps overcome that issue.
Foam boards are still pretty flat compared to a normal board, but because they are thicker, you can shape a bunch more rocker into it, preventing the board from nose diving when taking a steep drop out at Supers or some other hollow wave.
There is a lot more politics involved in this type of surfing than I previously thought, so without taking sides or getting involved at all, I will just explain the difference between the two boards:
Tom has designed a board through his SeaGlass Project that is available to the public and made by machine as a mass production.
(*Far Field Friction Free or just ffffffff - as that's the sound the boards make!)
Shot to wave-slider extraordinaire Remi Petersen for giving us a bit of an insight about going Friction Free. Sounds like a blast!