We Need to Talk … BIG! · Surfing BIG Waves

Tom Lowe [GR] with a Chris Christenson Gun at Nazaré a few years back

BIG …, enormous, gigantic, huge, hefty, immense, massive, tremendous, Xl, XXL … You name it, but all of them depict a colossal amount of water that you need to not only surf but conquer. Become the master of it in order to ride it.


| What does BIG mean to you?

However, there is a key question here: What does BIG mean for YOU? And really can vary enormously depending on the surfer’s skills. One and a half meters can be a challenge for a lot of intermediate surfers and yet we still have a lot of meters to go until we get to talk about 8,9,10 meters of pure mass of water. So, size is important but there’s not only that variable that can characterize a wave as “BIG”. It is not an easy task to determine a wave as such.

In order to formalize height measurement standards, WSL worked alongside researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California in La Jolla and the University of Southern California, Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering in Los Angeles. Their aim was to help WSL identify 2020 WSL Big Wave Awards’ Women’s XXL event. For you to have a general idea, we have numbered the variables to take into account in order to formalize wave height measurements; this is just an edited tiny bit of a 16 pages long analysis.


· Environmental Conditions | Such as tidal wave progression. Sunlight that affects video and image data contrast due to sun position to evaluate the size. Wave set-up influenced by the nature of the coast, be it cliff or beach. Methodology in order to analyze image and video data, including surfer’s height, length and estimate surfer’s crouching height.

So, as you can see, even WSL needs a lot of variables when it comes to measuring what “BIG” means.

One thing is sure when talking about surfing BIG waves: love it, fear it, know your limits and play it smart.  Your life can depend on it. Get ready!


| Before Choking On a BIG One

In this case we are talking about big, really big waves … Humongous beasts that only mean running aways as fast as you can if you are a merely human. A big wave rider isn’t something that becomes fashionable or something you can just go and have a taste. It can actually take years of time in the ocean and still isn’t easy. Natural surfing talent, unbelievable courage and a hell of a  lot of passion. 

So please, if you are thinking about having a taste of what does becoming a big wave surfer mean, let’s first take a close look to those water gods that have subdued the waves under their feet. Sure that we can learn more than one lesson from them in order to start the lifetime adventure of riding big slabs and, actually, enjoy the exhilarating rush of adrenaline. And let’s not forget, repeat the experience of going back in those Neptune’s jaws.


 Love it. Fear it. Know Your Limits & Play it Smart


| BIG Guns ... Here?

If you think about BIG waves in the 90's, your mind travels fast to places like Waimea in Hawaii or Mavericks in California. There was nothing else. Shaping guns in the Basque Country at the time, sounded bananas but hey, you need to bit a little crazy for that too, right?

At the time, bringing here, under the International Pukas Shapers Project, Hawaiian shapers like Reno Abellira or Pat Rawson was mind blowing. This, right here, was the starting point for the European BIG-wave culture community. Ibon Amatriain, Axi Muniain and lot more are good examples of that.


 Pat Rawson Gun at Pukas Surf Shop Blog Reni Abellina Gun at Pukas Surf Shop
Pat Rawson's Early 00's Gun Shaped at Pukas Surf in the Basque Country
9'0" x 19 1/2" x 2 7/8"  
Reno Abellira's Late 90's Gun Shaped at Pukas Surf in the Basque Country
8'7" x 18 1/8" x 2 1/2" 



| Gear Up! Hear The Waves' Call

We’ve talked about personal and physical attributes that would be key becoming a big wave rider but we need to talk further about the equipment needed. And this is really important because any failure in the equipment, it can lead to a life threatening situation. We really want to avoid those, so if you want to ride BIG, let’s do it meticulously right.


Ian Walsh [HAW] at Nazaré’s harbor

Ian Walsh [HAW] at Nazaré’s harbor with his Guns.


· Impact Suit ·


Patagonia Impact Wetsuit at Pukas Surf Shop

Be safe. Not only for you, but mostly for those that you put in risk if you don’t take care of your safety. That is the most important thing. If you are in a life threatening situation and you need assistance, you are not only risking your life, but the life of another that takes the risk to safe you.

This little reflection to let you know about a must-have suit if you have decided to ride BIG waves: an impact suit. The main reason to get one you just read it: safety for you and others. Why? This under wetsuit, this impact wetsuit, is for body protection in heavy surf. It has foam sewn into the upper chest, around your ribs sides, back, lower back and glutes that provides static flotation to a surfer without the need to manually deploy CO2 cartridges like and inflation vest, for example. The front under chest area is free so you can paddle your gun comfortably when catching the wave. If you were to pass out under the water or you got knocked unconscious with this suit on, you would still float to the surface where someone could see you and you could get rescued.

But let’s get serious, there is a danger of impact suit giving a false sense of security. So first things first, before attempting BIG wave surfing, make sure you gain ocean safety knowledge: advanced surfing skills, mental and physical and breathing techniques training. The suit is just a back up for all this, just in case it all fails.


· Step-Up | Mini Gun / Semi Gun | Gun ·

When the calling of riding bigger waves starts to test your limits, don’t let the allure of it blind you and be aware of adjusting your board choice accordingly to your skills., those you have and those that can be improved by testing your abilities.


· Step-Up | This board is perfect for hollow waves. Its design gives you a little extra paddle power thanks to its thickness under your chest and also expands its lifetime spectrum. This will help for safer and earlier take offs. A Step-Up will offer balance, stability and maneuverability for surfing forceful faces.

However, we are not talking about humongous waves; those XL-XXL waves, for which you would need a gun or even a mini gun. The added length of this board is key to help you match the wave power with your paddle power. A Step-Up is perfect for those heavier or littler bigger days than the average conditions your are used to and you need a bit of help to get into the waves and still be able to perform.

* Usually 2-4 inches longer than a shortboard.


· Mini Gun / Semi Gun | This is a board designed for a considerable wave size and it will still work pretty much as a shortboard, when talking about maneuverability, and as a gun if we are talking about stability and control. This board is the one to go for steep hollow waves, powerful reef breaks …

* Usually 4-12 inches longer than your everyday shortboard.


· Gun | This is not a kids toy, this is for seriously big waves, the ones that need an experienced surfer to ride on. They are pretty thick up to your chest and less towards the tail; long, from 7’6” and up.

BIG waves demand fast paddling to match its speed and be able to catch it, so longer boards help in that quest. The volume and pin tail are key to build momentum and push over the ledge. The narrow shape will help you hold better thanks to putting the rails fully into the wave. Once the surfer is going down the face of the wave, the speed is considerable and any small ripple can kick you off the board.

As you can see, these features are looking for survival instead of performance: Speed to enter with ease to the wave, and control whilst dropping. These decide its design: catch and drop, once you got that covered, you have the firs step into riding a big wave. The rest, well, that’s on each surfer particular story to tell.


* Insider’s tip  | Most people getting a gun for the first time jump into the range from a 7’6” to 8’6”. However, when you get to that point, acquire one bigger than the one you are thinking about, because then, you will be ready to jump into serious wave business.


 Step Up at Pukas Surf Shop Semi Gun at Pukas Surf Shop
 Christenson Sicario Gun at Pukas Surf Shop Pyzel Padillac Gun at Pukas Surf Shop Pukas Twigg Baker Gun at Pukas Surf Shop


· Fin Set Up ·

The fin set up for a gun is the combo (5 fins). This set up allows you to surf the board as a thruster (3 fins), or a quad (4 fins), depending on what you are looking for: more maneuverability or more control to drop down the line and be sure your tail stays in course. 


 Twigg Fin Set at Pukas Surf Shop Futures Padillac Twin Set at Pukas Surf Shop

· Leash ·

The leash has no big secret behind it if we are talking about guns: we need it long, strong and with a safety-net, which in this case would be a leash-release mechanism in order to get rid of it if the situation required it to get afloat and avoid the suction that can be experienced.

 Gun Leash at Pukas Surf Shop Creatures Gun Leash at Pukas Surf Shop


· Gun Boardbag ·

 CI Gun Boardbag at Pukas Surf Shop

We've been talking about safety all along. For you but most for those around you on the BIG-wave surfing quest. So, take care of your equipment as well so there are no last minute surprises that can through away your plans of catching a BIG one.

Therefor, one of the things that can also be considered indispensable for a BIG-wave kit is a boardbag. BIG waves are not something that come along everyday and we are sure you may like to go and travel looking for wave of yours so, keep your boards safe!

| Looking Up To ...

In these lines you will find just some of the amazing big waves surfing out there that we feel inspired by.


· Natxo González [ESP] | From Plentzia (Basque Country, Spain), he is the firs big wave surfer to score a 10 in Nazaré (Portugal) and the youngest international surfer to enter the Big Wave Tour, worldwide big wave circuit with 24 years old. Rides for Pukas and you will recognize him for the black stripes on his boards.

"In big waves 80% is in the head and the remaining 20% is physical.” - Natxo González.

Natxo Gonzalez Gun at Pukas Surf Shop Natxo Gonzalez at PE-AHI (Maui-Hawaii) at his first BIG wave during the comp. Pic Jason Cohn.


· Tom Lowe [GB] | From Cornwall, England, he charges gigantic waves like no other. He rides BIG waves for himself trying not to compare himself with others in the water, he says. Looking for “the wave”, the one he has been working for his whole life is his dream. The thing about surfing is that you never know what’s coming and the wave can be around the corner. Rides for Chris Christenson.

It’s a beast, a monster. It’s always a fight when I’m out there, because my body knows that there’s huge waves out there rolling in, but I just have to go back to my breathing and stay calm.! “ - Tom Lowe.

 Tom Lowe

Tom Lowe just feeling the exhilarating moment before paddling out in Nazaré (Portugal). This picture was taken by Aitor Molina minutes before the opening picture of this blog's post.


· Ian Walsh [HAW] | The surfer who likes to keep things interesting in the sea. Maui native, Ian Walsh is an experienced surfer tackling BIG waves around the globe. He’s considered one of the most passionate and dedicated big-wave surfer and is also a seeker for “the perfect wave”. Rides for Chris Christenson.

Iim just stoked to be doing what I’m doing” - Ian Walsh

 Ian Walsh at Nazaré

Physical training is key and Ian Walsh knows it very well. Here a pic of him at winter in Nazaré (Portugal).


· Grant Twig Baker [SA] | From Durban, South Africa, Big-wave legendary and pioneer surfer, Grant Twiggy Baker is one to have in the spotlight as a world reference for riding, BIG waves. Big-Wave World champion twice, Baker lives for big waves and his passion is to travel the world in search of them. And we love watching the journey. Rides for Pukas Surfboards with his own designs.

“I love surfing and my favorite part about surfing is when the waves get challenging.”- Grant Twiggy Baker.

 Grant Twig Baker

Grant Twig Baker at Nazaré (Portugal)


There are many more surfers that are adding lots of value to the big-wave surfing community that we also admire and get wait to see in action. Would you tell us who are your favourites?

Older post Newer post

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published