HANG FIVE. Hang ten. Hang it all - how does a land-locked Londoner come to terms with the arcane world of surfing? There's absolutely no swell on the Thames!
In Britain, surfing - and we re talking boards that ride the waves, not windsurfing - is such a minority sport as to be almost invisible. It isn't even easy to learn how unless you're lucky enough to live in one or two select spots.
Now along comes a new company called New Concepts with, believe it or not, a new concept - a seven and a half inch long keyboard overlay in the shape of a surfboard for the rubber keyed Spectrum, with a Spectrum Plus version to follow.
At last everyone has the opportunity to ride the wild surf as it rolls in on their television screens. First though, it's worth going through the tutorial side of the tape to learn a little of the history of surfing, the nature of boards and some of the jargon. What is a three fin thruster?
It's worth taking notice because you'll need some of the information when you load the other side of the tape which starts with a report on the day's conditions; air and water temperature, and wind speed and direction. Those will affect your choice of equipment, as will your age, sex and weight. In fact, you'll be learning a fair amount about surfing as you choose the best combination for the conditions.
Now is the time to stow the board on your van and with a cry of 'Surf's up!' its down to the beach, a rocky break to the left, a small island in the distance. This is where the preview copy of the game is most disappointing. While the graphics suffice they are hardly state of the art. However, that is compensated for by what comes next.
The surfboard sits over the keyboard, centred on the letter G. Your hand lies flat upon it with fingers on Caps Shift and 1 for left and right. Walk your stick figure along the beach and press gently on the nose of the board and you're in the water. Next, it s out to where the waves start, paddling left and right and dipping the board's nose to porpoise under the waves. It is at that stage you will learn whether your suit choice was right because if you are just wearing pods - shorts - in the chilly North Sea your energy will drain away.
Found the place? Good, because you are now waiting for the perfect wave to roll by. Choose the optimum moment to press 2 and ride it. Suddenly the screen changes, a much larger sprite surfer silhouetted against a wall of water. Quickly move your hand to the back of the board, apply pressure and you're surfing.
At first you will do well to glide down the face of the water but with time you will learn to manoeuvre and that is when the multi-fin boards come into their own. While those are more difficult to handle you will find they are capable of amazing stunts. Practice is aided by a mode which allows you to switch into slow motion.
While that dinky little surf board could so easily have been no more than a gimmick, destined to decorate the mantlepiece, a lot of thought has gone into simulating reality. No way could mere keys capture the control possible from walking the board. The sharpness of each turn is controlled by careful placing of pressure - New Concepts boasts that no fewer than 20 keys are read. You can even trail your hands in the water.
The gamut of surf stunts is open to you. Start with a gentle turn to ride the length of the wave. Then a 360, turning the board right round. Up the wave again and off the lip, going just over the edge, or most spectacularly of all, an aerial cutback where you shoot off into the air then wrench the six foot board back into the soup.
Did I say six foot? Once you get into this it is easy to forget that it is just a computer game, control becoming almost as instinctive as the real thing. I found myself aiming for longer rides, more difficult manoeuvres. Don't get too absorbed though, because rocks present a nasty hazard for the unwary. Providing you avoid them you can surf till your energy runs out.
A clever system of scoring gives you points as awarded in championships, though out of 100,000 rather than 10. New Concepts is promising a competition for those who can beat the previous best score, which is fun, but even if you can't get as high, I think Surfchamp provides an almost unique challenge thanks to that little board which turns Spectrum surfing into something satisfyingly physical.
New Concepts Ltd, Carlow, Ireland.