Giorgio Gomez Talks About the ISA Games, Surfing, and Offers Advice for Aspiring SUP Surfers
Known simply as “Gio” by friends and teammates, Giorgio Gomez is playing a definitive role in defining the present and future of high performance SUP surfing. Widely known for his flashy, shortboard style and the ability to throw his board’s tail in the air, Gomez has a spiritual approach to surfing and is incredibly down to earth, well-spoken, and passionate about the sport and its future. In short, he is a sponsor’s dream. In the past year he teamed up with Infinity, an iconic brand with a surf heritage which pre-dates the contemporary inception of stand up paddling by several decades, and has had the opportunity to learn from and work with some of the best athletes and shapers in the business.
I spoke to Gomez via phone from his home in Jupiter, Florida recently about his experience representing Team USA at the ISA Games in Fiji where he won a bronze medal in SUP surfing. We also went around the horn and had a candid conversation covering a wide range of topics related to SUP surfing from choosing equipment and advice for beginners, to the importance of style.
Tell me about your experience at the ISA Games. What was it like to represent Team USA and how were the conditions during during the competition?
I was happy with what I did and had an amazing time out there. Fiji is one of my favorite places in the world and it is always a pleasure to go back. It is kind of like a second home for me, the people are so nice and the waves are just unbelievable.
This was my first time at the ISA and it was cool to represent the US with my friends and to be on a team with my sister, Izzi. The first few days we were surfing a lot of 5-8 ft rippable waves and then for the contest it got small, down to the 2-4 ft range…kind of waist to chest high. It was tough as I packed for the forecast and only had a quiver boards in the 7’4” range. Fortunately I made it through my heat and did not have to battle in the repêchage rounds.
The finals were held on a Saturday and the waves were building steadily throughout the day. It was solid and just epic. There was a lot of wind, but the waves still held their form. It was definitely the best waves I’ve ever surfed in a contest. We were all getting barrelled…you just couldn’t ask for anything better than that!
I was really happy to be able to surf my favorite wave and happy to make the finals, because I had never made the finals in a competition of that caliber. I was just over the moon. I accomplished one of my goals and it was just epic!
I believe the ISA was a huge thing for the sport because it allowed us to show people that we can do everything shortboarders do, just minus some air game. We can handle waves up to that size and that intense. We are able to get barreled, do turns in the pocket…we gain respect and it helps progress the sport.
You’ve been sponsored by Infinity for the past year and have had the opportunity to collaborate with Dave Boehne on your own board line. What has it been like to work with Dave and more broadly, to be a part of the Infinity family?
It’s been a dream! Dave and I get along so well, we are always cracking jokes and he has such great ideas. We are making some really cool stuff and we’re both open-minded to trying new ideas. I have the best boards I’ve ever had in my career. I certainly can’t complain, it has been simply unreal!
Just being on his boards has definitely taken my surfing to the next level. Dave is also doing a lot with board development and design to progress the sport as a whole, too. I think he makes the best boards and I couldn’t be any happier.
Let’s talk a bit about fins. How do different fin configurations affect board performance when you are riding a wave?
Fins actually really make a big difference and can completely change a board’s performance. If you think your board is not working, you’ve gotta change the fins. Try changing the fin setup too. It could work better as a quad, it could work better as a thruster. You always have to play with the fins because the fins make the board.
If you are surfing beach breaks, you’ll want to use straight up and down fins for more pivoting in the pocket. If you are surfing more point breaks, you’ll want to use a fin with more of a rake. This will enable you to draw your turns out more.
I’m sponsored by 3DFINS which uses a golf ball / dimple technology designed to reduce drag and add speed which allows for more drive. I’ve done tests using fins without the technology and I can definitely feel the difference.
I like to use a fin with more depth, more area for hold, and more base for drive. Basically, the more a fin has on base, the more drive it will have. Also, the more area on a fin, the more hold it has. I just came out with a signature fin set with 3DFINS based on my personal design preferences. It’s been really great!
Quads and thrusters are both great. I like to switch it up depending on traditions…fins are definitely the biggest thing that will change a board.
When selecting a paddle for SUP surfing, what should someone consider? Larger blade vs smaller blade? Stiff shaft vs one with flex?
I paddle with Quickblade and my personal paddle is a 91 sq/in V-Drive. It is cut at 71 inches, which is just a bit shorter than me. When you are SUP surfing, the shorter your paddle, the more turning radius you will have, so having a shorter paddle makes it a lot easier to handle.
In terms of shaft, I’m a bit in between. I prefer to use a shaft that is not stiff, but not to flexy either. The stiffer a shaft is, it can potentially be a bit hard on your joints. Conversely, if your shaft is too flexy, it can be tough when you put your weight on it to drop in or perform maneuvers.
When it comes to blades, I think it is all personal perspective. I use a somewhat larger blade which works well with my shorter paddle and I’m able to generate a lot of torque with it. In my opinion, using a bit of a larger blade than you normally would doesn’t hurt if your paddle is shorter.
We hear a lot about the importance of style when it comes to surfing. Why is style so important?
Style is important because it makes surfing so much more appealing to the eye for someone watching you surf. For me, style is everything. It is how I look at surfing and is something I always take into account.
There are certain people I love to watch because they are smooth and just fun to watch. Eventually, style will become a huge thing in the sport. It isn’t quite there now, but I think in the next couple of years it will start to make a difference in SUP surfing. When you have style, people want to watch you. It is what makes the sport fun. I find a smooth transition is so nice to watch, when a surfer doesn’t force anything and uses what the wave allows them to do. When you force something, it just takes away from the beauty of surfing.
To be able to let the wave guide you, that is what style is to me.
Which surfers have inspired you the most?
I really look up to Craig Anderson, because he is super smooth…Rob Machado, Kelly, Dane, and John John. I don’t want to surf just like them, but I’ve always wanted to be as smooth as those guys. I try to take a bit from everyone and build my own style. I’m always watching to try to learn from them, how they read the waves, where they put themselves in the waves. I’ll watch videos 1,000 times analyzing every part.
What types of waves are your favorite?
I love the classic beach break, close to shore barrels. Just paddle in, get barreled and come right out. Also waves like Cloudbreak which allow you to do just about everything, or nice rippable waves. I’m always up to surf anything.
Tell me about the different types of surf breaks. How do you identify what type of break it is and why is this important?
It all starts with looking at the charts to assess the wind and swell direction. I always like to look at the water before I paddle out to determine where it is breaking the best and study everything before I jump in. You have to study the break and look to see where it is breaking to know if it is a beach break, a reef break, or a point break.
Depending on how the wind is blowing, you can position yourself to do aerials, so knowing which way the wind is blowing is useful and you can use it to your advantage. If the wind is blowing to the right and you want to do airs, you go to the right for aerials and then practice your turns to the left.
And I’m still learning today. I’m always learning how to read waves. It’s why I love surfing, you are always learning. You’ll never master surfing, that’s the fun part. You learn every time you paddle out, it doesn’t matter how bad the waves are. You’re always learning something.
Let’s talk about paddling out, particularly if there is a beach break. What are some strategies for making it past the impact zone?
It all depends, for example, if you are surfing a pier you almost want to go up next to the pier because there is a current that will take you out on one side of the pier or the other. You can use this to your advantage since the current will kind of shoot you out.
Otherwise, you have to time the sets so you can get out. For example, if it is a 10 wave set, you might want to jump in the water on the seventh wave. This way you are at a mid-point, so when the set is finished you are a half-way there and you should be able to make it out. You always have to have a strategy for getting out and determining what you need to do. It can be a bit of a mission too, because you can’t duck dive a SUP. It is really all about timing.
What are your thoughts about having separate areas for SUP surfing as opposed to an open line up?
I feel like the problem is that some of the people who can surf well, not just the Average Joe, don’t have the right surfing etiquette. Also, some people come out, they are on a bigger board, and they think they can just catch all these waves. What they don’t realize is when they do that they are making a bad rep for the entire sport of SUP surfing. That’s why people call you out and don’t want to deal with you. You have to wait on your board and let a few waves go by, it is a cycle. If you allow a wave or two to go by, it will make a huge difference in how you are perceived as opposed to just taking every wave. If SUP surfers start to do that, it will help the sport because it will demonstrate that we have respect for the line up. It’s just the way it goes, that is how surfing is.
That is my perspective on it, because I come from short boarding and it’s how I grew up learning to surf.
What advice do you have for someone who is just getting into SUP surfing?
Get a board that you are able to stand on comfortably and you are able to catch waves with easily. The problem a lot of people have is they think they can go smaller than they actually can and they have a hard time because they don’t have the balance and muscle memory. This makes it difficult and then it is really discouraging when they go out the next time. You have to build your way down [in board size] slowly, because at the end of the day, you want to enjoy it. You want to have fun, you want to be catching waves. That’s the whole point of surfing.
Try not to let your board go. If you are just starting out, you should probably not be in a line up. I recommend going down the beach where there aren’t very many people. That way you don’t have to worry as much about hitting someone. As a beginner, you are going to be losing your board a lot and this can be a problem if you are in a line up because you become a hazard to everyone around you, including other stand up paddlers.
Start off at a beach with mellow waves, but still fun. This way you will be able to learn peacefully and you won’t hurt anyone.
Most importantly, get an Infinity and a Quickblade!