Traditional big wave surfboards have always been marked by size. They are longer, thicker, and heavier than standard boards (ranging as long as 10-11 feet). These qualities offer stability among the high speeds and turbulent bumps and humps that blow across the massive wave faces of big waves. In addition, the added length and thickness offer mortal surfers extra buoyancy and paddle power to get in and over the ledge of a mass of water that moves with inhuman power. The only problem is that these very same human enhancements hinder the surfer in terms of performance once he/she has secured the wave. Traditional big wave surfboards have earned hyperbolic names like “guns,” “rhino chasers,” and “blades” and have earned their place in the serious surfer’s quiver but make quick turns and detailed changes in trajectory impossible. And in waves of sometimes dire circumstances, this can mean disaster.
Once surfers figured out that PWC’s could take the physics issues out of big wave surfing, they also realized that once the paddle factor is subtracted, so too can the extra volume and length from big wave boards.
Today’s tow-in surfboards come in lengths from around 5’5” to 6’2”. Thickness can go as low as 2”. These dimensions have traditionally been consistent with small wave equipment. Again, at odds with the standard big wave blade which is marked by narrow tails and noses, tow-in boards can have much wider tails and noses. These outlines have all the intent to add control and maneuverability that were missing from big wave boards of the past.
However, speed is another focus of these boards. For one, fins can be much smaller and positioned with very little angle for minimal drag. With similar results, most of the world’s professional big wave riders have opted for a quad fin set up on their tow-in boards which offers less drag and added speed with great control in the pit.
To continue the focus on speed, shapers have added weight to tow-in boards. Weight? This has always been the proverbial kiss of death for a surfboard. But on a tow board, heavy weights built right into the board add an extra 10-15 pounds in an effort to give the board greater stability among the cross-chop and heavy winds of open ocean swells. Also, a board that weighs 20 pounds can more effectively utilize gravity to gain speed and keep the surfboard stabilized and firmly connected to the wave.
In effect, the tow-in board is a re-vision of the snow board complete with foot straps that enable the surfer to stay connected even after popping up into the air over cross-chops and buoyed by heavy off-shores. The foot straps are permanent and are thus most effective when positioned to a surfer’s stance.
Some of the most known tow-in board shapers include Gerry Lopez, Gary Linden, Jeff Clark, and Dick Brewer. However, as tow-in surfing has conquered waves as far flung as Tasmania and Portugal, research and development by throngs of innovative craftsmen is sure to take this design into realms we have yet to imagine.