Big Wave Surfing Equipment
When you plan on paddling into really big waves, one of the first things that should come to mind is what kind of board you are going to ride. It’s going to be a gun of some sort, no doubt about that, but which kind? There are a few different types of paddle-in guns commonly used to surf big waves around the world.
The first type of paddle-in gun is meant for making huge drops in the biggest surf imaginable, and for the most part just going straight. Think of waves like Maverick’s, Waimea Bay, and Todos Santos. These waves are all about the drop. Waves like this move really fast and make it extremely hard to get over the ledge and into the wave. For this type of wave, you want a board that is really long and a little thicker than normal, but not very wide. These boards are normally in the 9- to 11-foot range, and will help you get into these monstrous waves as early as possible so you can make the drop and maintain enough speed to outrace the mountain that is coming down behind you.
The next type of paddle-in gun commonly used is a smaller version of the first. Think of waves like Sunset and Blacks, waves that can get huge but still allow for some opportunity to carve around the face. For these types of waves, there are guns that are specifically designed to be more maneuverable than the first type. These guns are similar in shape, but can have a variety of different tails and fin setups, and are usually in the seven- to nine-foot range.
The last type of paddle-in gun is meant for basically one thing: massive barrels. Think of waves like Pipeline and Teahupoo, where the only objective is to survive the drop and pull straight into the fastest tube of your life. These boards are very similar to the first type of gun mentioned, but smaller. They aren’t meant for doing many turns on the face of the wave; rather, they just get you into the wave early enough to make it, then hold their line in the barrel. Too much board in the barrel can cause problems, so these boards are usually in the seven-foot range.
Paddle-in guns like these are usually available from local shapers near any surf spots that may require them. Obviously they are less common in places like Southern California where giant waves are less consistent, and are made by almost every shaper on the North Shore of Oahu where the winter swells consistently provide massive surf.
Check out SurfboardBuilders.com for some examples of various types of guns by different shapers. But if you are serious about surfing a specific big wave, or in a specific region, it is definitely recommended that you buy a gun from a local shaper who knows the waves you are going to surf and has experience shaping boards specifically for those waves.
Tow boards have had some serious design changes over the short period that they have been in existence. When tow-in surfing started, everyone would just use the same old big wave guns they had always used as their tow boards. Quickly, surfers realized there was a better way to do this. From this early stage in tow-in surfing history, changes were made that brought about the modern tow boards we see being used today.
Tow boards are much smaller than regular paddle-in guns. They are usually in the five- to six-foot range, have foot straps, and weigh upwards of 15 pounds in some cases. Being towed into a wave, a surfer does not need the extra board necessary for paddling in, so the focus on board shape has moved to performance while surfing the wave. The heavier boards help surfers to hold their lines while moving at very high speeds over the face of the wave and cut through chop. The back foot is placed right over the fins so that the surfer can keep control on the wave. There are all kinds of different tail and fin setups being used today, and shapers have specific reasons for each of these different designs.
The same recommendations mentioned for paddle-in guns apply for purchasing tow boards: buy from a local shaper who knows the waves you are going to be surfing. Towing into serious waves requires a lot of skill and experience, from both the surfer and the person who shapes the surfer’s board. Check out some modern tow boards at stretchboards.com.
Big Wave Surfing Leashes
For surfing big waves, you really need to have a big wave surfing leash; otherwise you might find that your board is suddenly not with you anymore after your first wipeout. These leashes are generally longer and thicker than your normal leash. Usually in the eight-foot range, they are specifically designed to withstand the force of massive waves and not break. There are some downsides to this fact. A lot of surfers have had frightening moments of nearly drowning as their boards dragged them underwater with the wave because they couldn’t escape from their leashes. There are several leashes out there now that have a pull-pin where the leash attaches to your ankle, which allows you to quickly release the leash if you are being held down by it. These types of leashes are the safest and best to use in big surf.