HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Surfboards have come a long way since Duke Kahanamoku surfed Waikiki with wooden boards that weighed about 100 pounds.
These days, surfers chasing the biggest waves on the planet on boards shaped specifically to harness the speed and power of the massive swells.
John Carper should know. He’s a North Shore surfer who has spent years designing boards that have caught some of the biggest waves around the world.
He said the evolution of the most important piece of equipment for every surfer ― the surfboard itself ― has been astounding to watch.
“We were making longer versions. Little bit by little bit, pipe boards. Then Waimea boards,” he said. “Right about the time we were getting good at the Waimea boards, we didn’t even know about Jaws.”
Jaws, of course, is one of the premier big waves spots in the world today.
In the beginning, thanks to surfer Laird Hamilton, Jaws was dominated by tow-in surfers with Jet Skis.
But after a few years of towing in, a handful of surfers ― led by Carper’s team rider Shane Dorian ― thought paddling into the waves was a challenge they needed to take on.
At that time, though, the technology wasn’t there.
Tow-in became the way to do it at Jaws, and at other big-wave spots.
But, Carper said, “Shane ... always thought tow-in was cheating, felt it was too easy.”
Granted, there’s nothing easy about riding giant surf ― tow-in or not. But for Dorian, paddling into the wave was the correct way of surfing big waves.
To get there, the equipment needed refinement.
And this is where the collaboration between a surfer and a shaper is vital.
“We’ve spent hundreds, maybe thousands of hours together,” Carper said. “We’ve spent a lot of time over the years talking about this. We have our own language. He’s very untechnical."
That feedback was essential because in the beginning, the boards weren’t working.
“We can’t paddle into these waves. We can’t do it. We catch 'em. We blow off at the top,” Carper said.
They needed a board with enough weight to help propel the surfer down the wave and cut through the wind chop. But it was a slow process, especially figuring out the correct length of the boards.
The final product measured 10 feet, 6 inches and weighed 27 pounds.
Most high-performance shortboards weight less than 6 pounds.
It took a day and a half for Carper to shape, and was glassed twice. He called it the “P.B.U. board” ― pray before use.
And Dorian loved it.
“Once you get momentum on the board he says they feel like a shortboard to him,” Carper said. “He says it feels just like a shortboard.”
The pair are now working on shorter, lighter boards. If you’re interested in getting one, first make sure you can afford it. They run about $2,000.
“Pushing the Limits” is an ongoing series that explores how surfers are taking on bigger and bigger waves ― while still living to tell the story.