The 2017 Pe’ahi Challenge was a monumental two days of surfing. Simply put, the bar has been raised. Since the shift from tow-in surfing to paddle-in, the best big-wave surfers have elevated their ability to take off steeper, deeper, and — in the case of Pe’ahi Challenge winner Ian Walsh — grab what is being called the best barrel ever ridden in competition. Shaper Chris Christenson has worked with the likes of Walsh, Greg Long, and more for decades, refining the nuanced design elements that allow them to push the limits at Jaws.
We wanted to know more about the board Ian navigated his insane barrel on, as well as his ongoing work with Chris Christenson, so we reached out to the two for more details.
First off, congrats on the epic win you had at Jaws. Tell us more about the board you rode on Finals Day.
I rode a Chris Christensen 10'4" swallowtail, and I rode a quad with Future Fins. I had an almost identical 10'4" board in my quiver that actually had slightly thicker and fuller rails. The board that I ended up riding for the entirety of the event was the version that had a thinner rail on it. That just gives me more ability to really bite the edge into the wave if I have to knife it into a late drop or if I need to make sudden adjustments in the barrel. That gives me a little bit more maneuverability and control over what's under my feet.
The other boards I had on deck out there were an 8'10", a 9'4", and a 9'8". Then I had the thicker 10'4" and the thinner 10'4" that I ended up riding. On the first day of the competition, there really wasn't any doubt to stick with the thicker 10'4", given the conditions. On the second day, the Finals Day, I was almost entertaining riding a shorter board, but some of the sets really started to stand up and come in more consistently. So I stuck with the board that felt really good the day prior. That board specifically, that 10'4", has been through a few years of development. We kind of refined these boards that I rode out there in 2012 and 2013 and kind of took a chance on this one template that, in my head, I thought might work really well, and Chris did a really good job of taking all of my sporadic thoughts and condensing them into a board.
The board that came of that refining process with Chris was actually the board I rode the entire El Niño winter, the monumental season we had the winter before last. Each swell, on the back end of that winter, we were refining that template and that board. The final ones I got from that season were those two versions, the thicker rail and the thin rail. There was definitely a lot of feedback, and a lot of work between me and Chris, and his entire team there at Christenson Surfboards.
That's a testament to Chris and his team. That winter, the waves were so frequent that they were able to get on the phone with me while I was still basically wet from a big day of surf, give them all this feedback on what I felt, what I didn't feel, what I liked, what I didn’t like, and they were able to take all that information and put it into another board and rush it out so I could actually try it and see if I felt any differences on the next run of waves. There were so many waves that winter and so many monumental swells that I had a lot of opportunities to try it.
What kind of benefits does the swallow-tail provide for riding waves of that size?
I had the idea that it might give me a touch more looseness in the ability to adjust in the minute places and also in the critical places. I thought it might just give me a little freer tail.
To dig a bit deeper into the design elements of the board, we caught up with Christenson.
What more can you tell us about that thinner-railed 10'4", with the swallowtail?
That’s just more or less the Jaws gun. It's kind of Ian's board. It's a 10’4″ that’s about 4 inches thick, and I took the rails down a little bit. It's a 4 fin with the swallowtail on it. There's a lot going on with the swallowtail bottom, it's not just a straight, simple V. I've got V's, concaves, and tri-planes in all sorts of different places.
Is there a particular background on this shape? Have you been working on it with Ian for a while?
I've worked with Ian for over 10 years now, so there's a lot of background. We're all at the forefront of paddle-in surfing at Jaws. I'm not saying we're the first, but when it really shifted gears from when people were towing in and when people paddled in, we were on it. With every board we shape, we try to progress from the last one we made. It's a blend of 10 years of work, really, and obviously what we've learned from the people who came before us — both the shapers and the surfers.