Stab Magazine | Julian Wilson And The World's First* Surfable Rail

Julian Wilson And The World’s First* Surfable Rail

And what Julian plans to do while quarantined from the World Tour. 

cinema // Mar 18, 2020
Words by stab
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Two weeks ago, we were contacted by Red Bull about interviewing Julian Wilson on his new rail project. For years surfers have been trying to emulate skating in the ocean: big spins, kickflips, and a whole bunch of skate-inspired airs. The one crossover that eluded us “watermen”, however, was the grind.

The surf rail has been tried before—most notably by Chris Cote and the crew at Transworld Surf (RIP)—but it’s never truly been pulled off. Julian Wilson has finally changed that.

“Growing up on the Sunshine Coast in Coolum with a skatepark next to the beach, I pretty much skated as much as I surfed, maybe even more.” Julian told Stab. “My view of surfing has always been influenced by skating.”

For the last three years, Julian has been determined to surf a rail. It started with a number of PVC pipes taped together and a jetski, and ended in a wavepool in Melbourne with an epoxy resin rail. There were several times both Julian and those involved thought it mightn’t come off, but perseverance and an eight-hour window at URBNSURF in Melbourne eventually resulted in a surfable rail.

Above, you can watch the clip. Below, you can read our interview with Julian Wilson which took place over the phone yesterday a couple of hours after the WSL announced the postponement of Bells, Margaret River, and the cancellation of G-Land. 



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Stab: Jules, you locked up inside under quarantine?
Julian Wilson: It’s like that, but nah, at the beach with the family at the moment. Had to get out of the house.

Up in Newcastle?

Yep, at home in Newy.

How are things there? A bit of a ghost town or are things mellow [compared to Sydney]?
It’s pretty normal really. Went out to the shops before and it wasn’t weird, we’ll see how long that lasts.

So, the WSL just made the call to postpone Bells, Margaret River, and potentially G-Land this morning. What does that do to the rest of your year?
Well I won’t be surfing any comps [laughs]. It’s strange though, I’ve been training and preparing for this year for a few months so for it to be cancelled is understandable [given the circumstances] but hard. 

And the Olympics… what’s the latest the surfers have heard about that?
At this stage they’re planning on going ahead, but it’s hard to see how that’s possible with how things are heading.

I guess they’ve spoken about running events without spectators, but who knows if that’s even possible… surfing in particular, you can’t really close off the beach
That’s actually something I thought they might have done with Bells. They already control the amount of people who enter the beach (note: you have to pay to spectate), so I thought they could’ve potentially just had no spectators. You would still, however, have a large number of people in one area.

So assuming they’re all cancelled and not just ‘postponed’, what are your plans, you just going to hang around home?
Yeah, we’ve just had our second child and I don’t plan on taking any flights until this is all over. Just surf around home and places close to Newcastle really. At least it’s not a bad time to be surfing around Newcastle coming into autumn

Although it might be a little more crowded with people off work…

[laughs], Yeah, I don’t think people will quarantine from surfing. Anyway, let’s talk about this rail. How long have you been trying to do this?
The last three years I’ve been really keen. 

The first one we tried was really just a bunch of PVC pipe taped together that I was going Mach 10 at off a jetski and it was super sketchy. It was 50/50 as to whether you would slide or just stop dead. From there we worked on a new rail with JS which was an epoxy foam with a resin on it which worked a lot better.

It’s a complicated construction, but initially I had some success. 

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Was this around Newcastle somewhere?
Yeah just some quieter beaches a bit further south of Newcastle. We had a few attempts at lining this up, and I got a few waves where I hopped onto it and back onto the wave but it was all with a ski. We tried to line it up on a bank so I could take off, line it up, and land back on the wave but it wouldn’t work. There were too many variables at play. 

This was all around November last year, and at this point I was losing motivation. We had a new rail but it just couldn’t work anchoring it down on a beachie.

I sort of realised it wasn’t possible unless it was in a pool. And then the pool in Melbourne opened up.

A little bit of an easier platform to control variables [laughs].
Yeah we could control the waves, how many there were, the positioning of the rail and everything. In saying that it only really lined up for the last 45 minutes of eight hours of surfing in the pool. A big problem is that you can’t anchor it to the bottom of the pool so we had to weigh it down with 400kg weights on each side, so each time it wasn’t lined up properly we had to move it. 

Once we got it into position though it was sweet. Just had to hop on and it was easy to slide on, you actually sort of gained speed. 

It came to life exactly how I imagined. 

Did it need any improvements?
Well, if it’s in a pool it needs anchor to hold it to the bottom. Like if I had my own pool that’s what I’d do [laughs]. Maybe someone else would make a curved rail or something or a rainbow rail. 

And I definitely think it’s possible in the ocean in the right conditions. I initially pictured it for those days when you have a great bank, one- to two-foot waves and offshore winds. It would be perfect for that—something similar to wavepool—but it just has an added aspect.

And your boards? Surely they’re not just standard PU’s or epoxy?

Nah they wouldn’t last. I rode a few different boards over trying it; at the start a few epoxy hi-fi’s and ended up riding a board with a carbon wrap which made it a lot more rigid, it would flex less. They’d only last a few attempts each time over a session, but a standard board would just crease straight away. 

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Did you get hammered at all? Or if you fall is it just like hitting a surfboard?
I got smoked on one at the start [in the pool]. It wasn’t lining up and I just got frustrated and went straight at it. It tipped over when I went to ollie on and I corked my leg on the side. It’s glassed with the same resin as a board but it isn’t a light glass job, it’s heavy, and hitting it hurts. 

If it rolls over the underside of it hurts a lot more. 

So how many makes did you actually have after all this?
Well, a few with the first attempt in the ocean, but probably half a dozen when we lined it up for those last 45 minutes in the pool. It made me realise it was possible though. It works, it feels like skating and there are opportunities for it that haven’t been tapped.

Surfing a two- to three-foot wave which repeats itself gets dry after a while, but adding something in like a rail is somewhat equivalent to an air section. It gives you a challenge, and for surfing, it’s something new. Obviously it’s not for everyone though—you’re not just going to add one to a normal pool session. For like-minded people though, it keeps wavepools new and exciting. Now that I’ve got some time off I might try something else; although it’ll have to be in the ocean or I’ll be driving from Newcastle to Melbourne—I’m not flying [laughs]. 

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