Longboard Champ Harley Ingleby: "Don't Let Someone Else Tell You How to Have Fun"

Matt Rode

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Updated 36d ago

Australia loves surfing, and it loves its surfing champions. Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, and Mark Occhilupo are national heroes, and household names throughout the country. Harley Ingleby, on the other hand, doesn’t get quite as much press time—largely because he decided to focus his competitive career on longboarding rather than shortboarding.

But the two-time world champ isn’t too concerned. Hailing from the blue-collar town of Coffs Harbour, he has always surfed for the right reasons, doing what makes him happy rather than worrying about what will bring him the most attention.

Spot guide: Welcome to Coffs Harbour

That isn’t to say that he isn’t deserving of fame. Those who know Ingleby know that he is as genuine as they come—and that he’s as talented on a shorty as he is a high-pro longboard. Whether its packing barrels, lofting air reverses or riding the nose, Ingleby has always been a standout talent, far ahead of his time—just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up.

We sat down with Ingleby recently to discuss his competitive journey, longboarding versus shortboarding, and the futuristic boards he’s been designing and riding over the past few years. Here’s what he had to say.

Most people know you for your longboarding accomplishments, but you are actually quite talented on any length of board. Tell us a bit about your quiver, your average surf session, and what led you to focus your competitive energy on longboarding.
I feel like I've been asked this question my whole career, but it was just a direction that happened naturally in my early 20s due to the general enjoyment and friends I made in the longboard community internationally.

Longboarding was so special in those days. A lot of the top guys were making careers out of it, and there was a healthy world tour, with Oxbow behind it. More than that was the fact that there was no bullshit politics or opinions—just a big group of legends from around the world on tour together having a good time. It didn't even cross my mind once to chase shortboard events once I did my first WLT event.

What about if the waves are pumping and there are no contests going on or cameras around—what are you most likely to paddle out on?
It depends. If it’s pretty perfect, hollow peaks, I'll often take a longy or both longy and shorty down to the beach. There’s something about knifing a longboard through a keg that's pretty special. Having all that rail! And I've also just started getting into mid-lengths more, where it’s kind of a compromise and the best of both worlds in good waves

Also, you can get to waves you would normally miss. Or, where you'd normally be taking the drop on a shortboard, you're already parked and enjoying the view on a longboard.

If the surf is a bit straighter and you need to change direction more in the tube, I'll mostly shortboard. And I've also just started getting into mid-lengths more, where it’s kind of a compromise and the best of both worlds in good waves. 

Region guide: New South Wales

You seem to have translated the high-performance aspects of your shortboarding into world-class ripping on a longboard, but what about a more traditional approach to longboards? Are you a fan of logging, and what role do you see it holding in surfing?
I was very fortunate to have grown up on old mals, and everything else, all the way through to shortboards. I love all of it. I always have. I only had soft-railed single fins from 4-12 years old. That’s what I learned on.

If you're speaking in freesurfing terms, then logging is only as important as any other form of surfing, like bodysurfing or shortboarding. It’s a personal thing. I think you should just surf how you get the most enjoyment in the conditions you have. Don't let someone else tell you how to have fun. 

With regard to competitive longboarding, traditional longboarding is definitely important. In my opinion the sport went to far in one direction with performance longboarding. Flow, control, footwork, and quality of nose rides were often lost or not rewarded. Now, in some rare instances, it feels like it's almost going too far the other way, and under-committed, easy surfing is being over-rewarded. I hope it'll balance out eventually, to where good surfing is rewarded based on just that—being good surfing.

If the conditions call for it, you should be able to performance surf or log your way to an excellent score, as long as you're in control, have flow, and surf the whole board to a high degree of difficulty.  

To me, it is like watching Toledo or Parko take apart Lowers. Some will like Filipe's approach more than Parko's, and vice versa, which is healthy. But most will agree that they both went huge in their respective ways. Good surfing! 

How do you think growing up in Coffs Harbour (with the influences that you had) impacted your approach to surfing and the style of riding you gravitated towards?

I am the surfer I am because of growing up on the Coffs coast, and what surfing was in the mid to late ’90s (longboarding and shortboarding). I would say my biggest influence was from Taylor Steele’s Momentum Generation movies and Justin Gain's Pulse movies (which to me were the Australian equivalent). Punk tunes and high-energy surfing—short, fast, loud. The waves in Coffs suit that. There are lots of short, punchy waves that lend themselves to that style of surfing most of the time.

What balanced me out was having my dad’s old board collection and going to longboard events back in the ’80s. Also, it has really become apparent to me recently how big of an influence Bill Tolhurst has had on my surfing.

Not just because he's been my shaper, but because he's always surfed everything (short/long) incredibly well in Coffs Harbour waves. He could always do the deepest bottom turns and blow four fins out the back on a fish, and hang 10 tight in the pocket on a longboard in the same punchy waves. 

When did you start designing boards, and how did that come about?
With 100 surfboards hanging above my head since I was a toddler, how could I not have a fascination with surfboard design?

Some of my earliest memories are from being in the backyard watching dad making boards in our shaping bay under the verandah. Right back to when I got my first surfboards from Billy, I can remember sitting in the corner on a stool watching him go to work.

And over time, after all those conversations and surf experiences, I love working on new and better designs now more than ever. Well, I guess I shouldn't say “better” designs. I think most shapers/designers are forever chasing some kind of feeling or improvement in their surfing. And once they've done that for a while or chased it far enough, they go on another path for a bit.

Being involved with my surfboard designs is an extension of what keeps my surfing fresh, and keeps me so excited to paddle out. 

It's kind of weird that I've never really gotten into shaping myself, but then again, when you can just chat and discuss the most minute details and have a master craftsmen like Bill translate it into a board, why would I pick up a planer? 

Tell us a bit more about your relationship with Billy Tolhurst
That’s all about tough love [laughs]. He really challenges me with everything, and that’s a good thing. An example is that I often go in there to try to refine a board, and he just says "No." Then, after a slight pause, he continues, "Why do you want to do that? What are you wanting it to do better?" And usually he leads me down a different path to get the result I am looking for, because he sees a better way to get that result without having as much of an adverse effect on another attribute of the board’s design. I have such a better understanding of design because of Bill being like this. 

You and Tolhurst have teamed up with Yu Sumitomo to make some pretty space-age boards. How did that come about, and what do you see as the advantages of the technology you are using?
I’m very thankful for that whole collaboration. Bill and I were just on our path doing our thing, and one day Yu San reached out through a mutual friend and said he'd like to make me some boards.

Bill and I had already been at it for years working with epoxy and different stringers, and already knew what worked best in our boards. But it was always a compromise with strength.

We had worked with production companies in the past, but it was always a rigid relationship (a “you get what we make” sort of thing). When Yu San reached out, he wanted us to work with him to develop what felt best from a performance standpoint, which immediately excited me.

Being involved with my surfboard designs is an extension of what keeps my surfing fresh, and keeps me so excited to paddle out

I knew that the basic fundamentals of his sandwich-style constructions were going to be lighter and stronger than we could produce, so to be able to breathe true performance into that construction process would be great—if we could make it happen.

It didn't take long to realise he was well ahead of the curve with his designs, even before we started working together. The advantage is that you can basically have your favourite, desired weight and flex surfboard, but it isn't going to dent horribly or snap on the first head-high tube you blow.

I should clarify that we never set out to make indestructible boards. We wanted to make boards that surf well, and that I would choose to ride in world title events. So the main focus was on the performance aspects of his construction process. The fact that the boards are naturally pretty damn strong is a great bonus.  

These boards you have been refining have probably opened up a few new waves to you, in terms of how longboards can be surfed in heavier barrels. What waves have you been chasing lately in your travels, and where are some zones you have yet to get to, but would like to visit?
It’s not so much that they've opened up new waves, exactly. I have always loved barrel riding on my longboard, but it was just too expensive to do regularly. I would snap way to many custom longboards, or be forced to have them glassed up so much that they didn't do anything else very well. Traveling with Yu San’s boards, I can take boards I'm stoked to have a regular surf on, and still pull in with confidence.

I haven't had the chance to chase waves internationally as much as I'd like, but fortunately I’m all over it locally if there's swell. We do alright here at home! That being said, I've been lucky to score a few good Indo runs to Telo Lodge and Bali over the past few years. But I'd really like to go to Cloudbreak, J-Bay, and some other lesser-known spots that I know are amazing, hollow waves. 

Well I’m sure wherever you go, you’ll end up shredding a wide variety of boards. Get after it!