In the early 1970s, I owned a big-wave gun. For about a week. I was visiting the North Shore at the time and, thinking I should try my hand at big surf, I bought a used board. It had no sticker, and I have no idea who made it.
I only recall that the beast was a pintail, around 9 feet long and 18 inches wide with a somewhat evil appearance, like it was waiting to lure me into massive surf and leave me in the ocean to drown.
Thankfully, it never got the chance.
After paddling out into 12-foot-plus Sunset Beach, I quickly spun around, realizing that even these massive waves were too small to get the gun going. The best of the crew that day were on boards about a foot shorter than mine.
For them, this was just another day. For me, it was like jumping off Niagara Falls in lead boots. I sold the gun that day to the highest bidder. I figured if I continued to own it, a big day would arrive, and I would have to ride it. I didn’t want any part of the waves this thing was made for.
It was made for waves in the 15-to-20-foot range when arenas like Waimea Bay, or then essentially unheard-of spots like Maui’s Jaws or Central California’s Maverick’s roar to life.
The surf in Southern California rarely tops 10 feet, but every five years or so, a swell will top out at around 15. At such times, most big-wave riders in our region head south of the border to Todos Santos, their big-wave guns in tow.
With El Nino on the horizon, this winter is reckoned to be among the biggest in years. For those who have never before witnessed a big California winter, this will be an eye-opener. For others it will be a life-changer.
Catching a big wave can make you feel that from then on, anything is possible. Regardless of your talent, however, you should be prepared. Weight training, swimming, breath work, diet and, of course, surfing each day are all recommended as part of the program. Equipment is also essential.
Now’s the time to contemplate what you will do when the surf report flashes red, and you have nothing bigger than a 7’2” in your quiver. Once a big north swell is in the window, you won’t be able to beg, borrow or buy a big-wave gun.
You probably won’t find one in any surf shop, and they simply don’t exist, and never have existed, in discount department stores. My suggestion is you contact your local shaper now and get them to build your big-wave gun for the days that may soon be upon us.
Keep in mind that a gun will not be like any board you have ever ridden. As such, you will need to test it out on smaller days, figuring out where to stand and how to turn such a device.
I’d sell you mine, but I got rid of it nearly a half-century ago, and I never plan on getting another. Until then, all the best in your big-wave dreams.