Bigger and Better

Advancements in big-wave technology that are putting surfers steeper and deeper in monster waves

Joao Marco Photo: Noyle
Joao Marco deserves the praise for paddling into this beast, but credit the board and paddle vest as well. Photo: Noyle

Not all progress takes place in the lineup. With the big-wave surfer’s incessant desire for “bigger,” the hunt for giant surf, through paddle or tow, has bred a parallel market for technology and design that aids in the pursuit. Big-wave surfing in itself has seen many of its longstanding milestones destroyed recently, with new records erected immediately from the rubble. It’s innovations like the ones below that are making it all possible.

gc1

INFLATION TECHNOLOGY
Shane Dorian worked with Billabong to create the first big-wave inflation wetsuit, the V1. Patagonia has taken it a step further, ading extra CO2 canisters and other innovations. "It's kind of a catch-22 though," says Kohl Christensen, who helped develop the vest with Patagonia, "the inflation makes it safer to enter that next realm, but that next realm is that much more dangerous." The technology is currently limited to the big-wave elite and aren't available to the mass market.

gc2

SHAPED BY WAVES
According to Chris Christenson, shaper to the big-wave elite, there is no greater influence on gun design than the waves themselves. "With each spot, you've got a new set of factors that the equipment needs to compensate for," says Christenson. "You have to take everything into account, because at the end of the day you're basically building parachutes—they just have to work."

Mavericks
In Northern California's most daunting lineup, Christenson says a typical board for the best big-wave surfers is about 9’8″ x 20¼” x 3¼”. While you might find similar dimensions on a board built for Todos Santos, adjustments are made in the nose and tail rocker to compensate for the notoriously hollow bowl. Quads are often preferred here, unless the face becomes very textured by wind, in which case thrusters offer more stability.

Waimea Bay
For Oahu's big-wave proving ground, boards need a little more paddle power to compensate for the higher speed of unimpeded northwest swells. Adding thickness and lowering the nose rocker helps surfers match the speed of the wave while paddling and makes for easier entry.

Jaws
Christenson makes much longer, thicker boards for the lineup at Jaws and many surfers prefer dimensions no smaller than 10’6″ x 21″ x 4″. Today, the top guys are taking off deep and angling early in search of barrels, as opposed to drawing out long bottom turns. For this, quads have become the standard, as the four-fin setup
is unmatched for speed in a straight line.

Cortes Bank
As an open-ocean wave, Cortes is exposed to the elements and highly temperamental. Depending on the conditions and the size of the swell, surfers will ride anything from 10’6″ to 11’6″ with similar width and thickness to a Jaws board. At this size, your ability to turn decreases as the weight of the board increases. It's important to choose your line wisely, because you'll be stuck with it.

gc3

DYE-ING TO BE SAVED
"The dye pack is a brand new system," says Ian Walsh, who worked with Rob Falken at Tecniq, a product development company in Oceanside, CA. "We're in the early stages of testing, but eventually it will be a sleek, sealed pocket in the side of the wetsuit. In a bad situation out in the middle of nowhere, you can pop it open and it will be a lot easier for the guys running your safety to find you if you're injured. It creates a neon-green circle immediately around you, and the dye is fully certified and clean for the ocean. There's nothing in it that pollutes or damages any part of the sea life."


RELATED:
The Inventor: Meet Rob Falken, surfing’s rad scientist
Three Fins to Rule Them All: Simon Anderson’s thruster changed everything
Paradigm Shifts: Three of the most influential rides in the history of surfing
Building House: Nine events that shaped modern competitive surfing