Big-wave surfers are typically reluctant to test out radically new board designs in life-threatening surf. Perfectly understandable, I’m sure you’d agree. Bouncing head-over-heels into the trough of a 35-foot wave is the last place on earth you’d want to be second-guessing that decision to ride an assymetrical flextail in huge surf.
Which is why it seemed curious that Shane Dorian decided to ride his John Carper-shaped, 9’6″ Varial foam gun for the very first time during the recent mega-paddle sessions at Jaws. Lighter and stronger than PU foam, and made into stringerless blanks, Varial foam is typically found in small-wave, ultra-high performance boards. Dorian has been riding Varial foam boards for quite some time, so it’s not totally shocking that he chose to give one a go at massive, massive Jaws. What is shocking is that, since Varial foam doesn’t make a blank bigger than an 8’0″, they had to stick two halves of two blanks together to make a board long enough. Which Dorian rode—with no test surfs—at giant, enormous, huge, holy lord it’s big Jaws.
Safe to say, the man trusts the Varial foam.
“I’ve had really good luck with the Varial boards,” Dorian told me a few days after his Jaws experiment. “I spent a lot of time looking at it when it was finished, and you couldn’t tell it was two pieces put together at all. It just looked bright white and super clean. It looked absolutely perfect.”
“Shane actually wanted to ride a Varial board in the Eddie event, so we were scrambling to find a way to make a board that big really quickly,” said Varial’s Edison Conner. “We only had a few days to do it before we headed to Hawaii ourselves, so we had to figure out a way to put two blanks together, and those were actually the only longer blanks we had available at the time. It was a serious engineering challenge.”
They decided to cut an interlocking joint into the blanks and then to—literally—hammer the blanks together. No screws, no glues. Just the tension of the foam joint and the sweat of their own brows held the board together. It took some tinkering to retool their shaping machine to be able to cut the joint, but they were confident that the joint would hold once they’d figured out how it was going to work.
“It surprised us that Shane wanted to try this, since Jaws is so critical, and it made us a little nervous for him, too,” said Parker Borneman of Varial. “We trusted our foam, but you’re never really sure what the outcome will be in waves like that.”
The outcome, it turns out, was a board that performed flawlessly.
“It worked great,” Dorian said. “Had a really nice flex, too. But to be honest, you don’t really ever want to notice or think about the board out at Jaws. You don’t want anything at all in your head that makes you question or wonder what you’re doing. So much of it is mental out there, and I felt comfortable on the Varial board right away. I’ve had a big balsa gun lying around for a while, but I’ve never ridden it at Jaws because I’ve never ridden a balsa before, and I don’t want to do it for the first time at Jaws. But I had no issues at all with the Varial.”
Well, sure. If you consider piloting the board into huge, scary barrels with no hesitation to be “no issue at all.”