Vans Duct Tape Festival Keeps Longboarding Alive

Two-time ASP Longboard World Champion Joel Tudor spearheads the annual Hawaiian event

In the longboard community, the money’s not the primary concern. This is according to someone who should know better than just about anyone else: Joel Tudor, a two-time ASP Longboard World Champion. “There’s not a lot of opportunity and a lot of the kids that you see will be riding the same board for a year or two years and it’ll be beaten to shit and often covered in duct tape, so that was where the name came from,” he explains, when asked about the impulse to create the Vans Duct Tape Festival in 2010.

What is the duct festival? “Eh, we kinda started as a tag-along event,” Tudor says, referencing the Duct Tape Invitational, which has contestants competing to create the best longboard. “So many of the guys and girls are making their own boards because if you want a surfboard and you don’t have sponsors, it’s cheaper to make it yourself—especially longboards because they’re so big and so costly.” According to Tudor, they can run from a couple of hundred bucks up to $1,200. “So you ask yourself, ‘Okay, pay all of this money or pay $250 and do it all myself?”

The Festival itself, held in O’ahu’s North Shore on the Pua’ena Point Beach Park, features internationally renowned surfers/shapers like Michael February and Nathan Fletcher who were on site to present their own-hand shaped, custom surfboards that will live on—and be available to rent—at the local surf shop. The event, which is open to the public, invites attendees to take these boards out on the water in an effort to remove the barriers between athlete and spectator. Iterations of the event have sprung up in other nations, including Portugal, France, Japan and more.

“To me, the Duct Tape Festival is the grassroots of grassroots, the heart of surfing, because Joel Tudor is to me a surf God,” says Steve Van Doren, whose father co-founded Vans in 1966. “He molded himself after the forefathers. It was put together to give a platform to longboard surfing,” a sport that faces “near extinction” according to the Vans website. The idea, according to Van Doren is simple: Pop up some tents, get a barbecue going, and get people to try out boards. What better way to fall in love with longboarding than to try it out on some of the best boards out there, crafted by those those who know the waves best.

For Tudor, who’s pleasantly interrupted for handshakes and high fives every few sentences, surfing is not a sport, but rather a lifestyle, an ethos he feels strongly about instilling in others. “There’s a million different sports, but none of them are quite like this. There’s something nomadic about having a life that chases the waves and the ocean and the wind. Snow is close to it, right, but snow’s a pretty snooty, rich thing. You gotta have all this shit like lift tickets just to get you up. Surfing you can kinda come from nothing and find your way to it and get your first board at a thrift store and start toward that infectious lifestyle. It’s an attraction beyond athletic.”

Another key feature of the festival is the presence of grommets, commonly referred to as groms, which are surfers under the age of 16—most of them with more surfing experience than many of the attendees twice their age. If you don’t have that younger group, then there’s no future for what you’re doing, says Tudor. “All of these guys are worth celebrating. They’re cool as shit. And within the world of surfing, there’s not a lot of people original like that. And they’ve inspired the kids underneath them. They’ve put a lot of legwork in and it’s nice to see that that work will carry on. It’s not a monetary thing, you see. Money’s not the goal at all. It’s the inspiration of a next generation that’s picking it up. That’s the goal.”

Images courtesy of Vans