Whether he’s packing enormous tubes at Jaws, or chucking dizzying spins above the lip, Albee Layer is perpetually at the forefront of progressive surfing. But on land, not so much.
“I thought I was a lot better than I actually was,” said Layer about his early days as an armchair mountain biker. “In the beginning I thought I was getting good at it, but it turned out I was doing everything wrong. Then I hit a big jump and broke my collarbone.”
Eventually his collarbone recovered — his ego did, too — and Albee returned to the dirt. This time, however, he did so with a renewed respect for the sport and a more calculated approach. And as it turned out, there were things he could bring to the track from his surfing life, and vice versa.
Compared to, say, skateboarding, the similarities between mountain biking and surfing may seem a tad abstract. But they’re there. And, in another edition of our ongoing cross-training series, we caught up with Albee to hear about ’em.
Surfline: How’d you first get into mountain biking?
Albee Layer: I got into it after watching a mountain biking movie called Life Cycles. It’s considered one of the best action sports movies ever made. And after that, that was it. It just looked like the most fun thing in the world. Also, I always knew that there were trails on Maui. I had gone and seen them and tried it a little bit, but I never had a good bike. After I watched that movie, I wanted to get a good bike however I could and figure out how to do this.
I never rode with anyone that was good, so I had very little to compare myself to aside from watching videos. That’s one thing I definitely recommend – go with someone who knows what they’re doing.
“In Maui it’s muddy so much. It’s almost harder to get the trails good, than a good day of surf.” Photo: Dan Norkunas/Take Shelter Productions
I was starting to hit bigger jumps and at higher speeds. Pretty quickly, I started hitting the bigger jumps that we have on our trails on Maui. And then I broke my collarbone after hitting one of the big ones. After that, it took me a good year or two to get back. Basically, I got way too ahead of myself without having the proper training or someone to show me what I was doing wrong.
Physically, how has mountain biking complemented your surfing?
The funny thing about surfing is, you exercise your arms while paddling but you use your legs to do everything when you’re actually on the wave. A lot of surfers have these, like, prison bodies – huge upper bodies and skinny little legs. [Laughs.] So, in that sense, mountain biking can help surfers a lot, since it’s almost the exact opposite. It’s a complete leg workout.
Also, I think it’s such a benefit to watch other sports and to pick out certain things you can take from them. For instance, with biking, the way they hit jumps, there’s a technique that you can mimic and bring to your surfing. The way they’re able to whip the bike all the way sideways then go all the way back, I always thought: ‘They’re doing that standing forward. We’re standing parallel with a much wider stance. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to do that.’ The way bikers tweak their jumps has really influenced how I approach my airs.
Another aspect is the flow required in biking. You do what the trail allows you to do, but with your own added flair. That’s something that I’ve tried to translate to my surfing as well. A lot of times I’ll try the wrong trick for the section. But biking taught me that this jump is made for this trick, and that jump is made for that one. It’s taught me to think two steps ahead – you’re always looking to the next obstacle.
How about mentally? Confidence booster?
Anything you do that’s scary, even out of the water, will help you feel more comfortable in a lot of those uncomfortable situations in the ocean. The more time you spend in that uncomfortable zone, the easier it is to be there.
And biking is especially scary. Look at skating or surfing – you can try a trick over and over, and you’ll be bailing, but you can keep trying. Whereas with biking, bailing is gnarly. It’s so hard to get away from the bike when you bail. So, in that sense, biking has really helped me with committing in my surfing. In biking, you have to be confident in what you’re doing, and when you are confident, you commit. That’s helped me to actually go out and try and land tricks surfing, versus just bailing.
“Biking taught me that this jump is made for this trick, and that jump is made for that one. It’s taught me to think two steps ahead – you’re always looking to the next obstacle.” Photo: Dan Norkunas/Take Shelter Productions
Obviously, mountain biking must be great for when there’s no waves. But are there certain conditions to look out for on the trails?
In Maui it’s muddy so much. It’s almost harder to get the trails good, than a good day of surf. [Laughs.] But in the summertime it’s nice. The conditions basically depend on the dirt. You want it to be dry, but recently wet. ‘Tacky,’ is what they call that. It’s when the dirt is nice and hard but not dusty yet.
What advice would you give someone looking to get into mountain biking?
Make friends with someone who runs a bike shop, because it’s really expensive. [Laughs.] No, actually, once you start biking you realize that there’s so many trails out there. It’s important to find someone who knows what they’re doing, and knows where all the trails are. Oh, and stay off of rocks for your first couple times. Rocky trails suck.