IMG_2725Chris Christenson. Photo: Taras

If surfing had a constitution, the right to bear arms would be included no more than two amendments deep. It's a sacred art, wrangling big waves, but it's an art that requires the right equipment. And while most people have a general idea of what they want in a shortboard, very few have a deep understanding of what makes a big-wave board tick — especially if it's your first time looking to buy one. Chris Christenson, who shapes for Greg Long, Ian Walsh, Brad Gerlach and others, is no stranger to waves that induce a thumping heartbeat, and no stranger to the art of buying (and shaping) guns.

ian_jaws0007Ian Walsh. Photo: Brent Bielmann

Paddling is the most important performance element of a big-wave board. It needs to be a good paddler so you can get into the wave earlier, take off where you want to take off and get out the back as fast as you can if a set is looking to clean you up. Make sure your shaper knows your height and weight, so they know how to make a board paddle well for you.

Quads are the way to go. Ian and Greg run them 95 percent of the time. They draw higher and faster lines, and are easier to perform on. There used to be some stability issues with quads, but we've found ways to alter the rocker in order to get the stability and drive you find in a thruster.

dkwalsh-jaws-shige20Dk Walsh. Photo: Shige

It’s an advantage to know the shaper, but a skilled shaper can build the perfect board for somebody they've never met. It's always best to go with an experienced shaper. Getting a board from some backyard bobby can be fun when it's waist-high — not so much when it's 18-foot and the stakes are high.

If you’re looking to buy a used gun, I'd recommend going straight to the source. Think of a professional surfer with a similar body type to you and figure out what he rides, then get in touch with his shaper and see if he has any trade-ins. That's a whole lot better than buying something off Craigslist.