How To Order Your First Big-Wave Board
Jon Pyzel, shaper of our favorite gun, shares his wisdom and makes the whole process seem slightly less terrifying.
I’ve had more bad big-wave boards than I’ve had good ones.
This one was too big.
This one was too small. (No link, didn’t catch enough waves.)
This one was too…sticky.
This one was just right.
The Goldilocks board turned out to be a 9’8” Padillac from Jon Pyzel, which I’ve ridden for the past three seasons. It paddles fast, knifes steep drops and drives off the bottom as quickly as I ask it. I have smaller versions — a 7’6” and an 8’0” — that work equally well. The worst part of the board? It reminds me of the dozen seasons I wasted on subpar equipment.
As winter approaches in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s time to order some extra lumber. So I thought I’d help people avoid my mistakes by speaking to an expert on the topic. Whether you’re surfing Blacks or Ocean Beach, Todos Santos, Sunset or Maverick’s, here’s Jon Pyzel, molder of the Padillac, to tell you how to order your first big-wave board.
Stab: What’s the first thing people should consider when ordering a big-wave gun?
Jon Pyzel: You want to think about where you will be riding the board and what sort of conditions and wave size you will experience most often. Obviously, not everyone is getting a gun for a super specific place, but most people will have some sort of idea of how and where they’ll be using it. I think being realistic about your limits (or the opposite, setting your goals) is a good idea so that you don’t end up with either too much board or not enough!
This is assuming you’re getting a single board. If you are ordering a quiver of guns, then I would build them precisely to match certain size waves and spots.
How would a gun differ between places like Sunset Beach, Blacks in San Diego, Ocean Beach San Francisco, hollow tubes, etc.?
At the most basic level, there are deep water waves that typically allow you to get into them early, and there are shallow water waves that are hollower and require making a later, steeper drop.
The deep water waves usually have a bit more rugged conditions because of all the water moving around and are perhaps windier since they’re usually further from land. The boards for deep water waves can be wider and heavier to help stabilize them in chop and get them down the face after catching it from further outside. They have lower rocker to paddle faster and keep speed over long sections.
A shallow water (reefs and beach breaks) board could be a bit narrower and have more overall rocker, and the weight may be a touch lighter (but not by much). They can also be shorter to help them better fit the curve of the wave. Drive is not so much of an issue for these boards because hollow waves provide plenty of speed and you don’t want to outrun the barrel!
How should someone think about translating their shortboard volume to a gun?
Pretty much forget about volume because there is no simple formula there. For an 8’6” for example, I usually go anywhere from 1/2” to 1 1/2” wider and 1/2” to 3/4” thicker than the shortboard the surfer is riding. These are completely different beasts and it kind of freaks people out to hear those kinds of numbers, but if you can have faith in your shaper then you should be okay. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had customers get back to me after riding their boards and say that they had big doubts about it, but ended up super stoked they went with my suggestions.
How do you think about nose shape in big-wave boards?
I like a bit of width up front — almost old school, single-fin style, but have found that you need to be careful not to go too far. Too much nose width can make the outline catch as the board comes off the bottom, especially since you tend to ride a bigger board standing more in the middle, and not off the tail like a shortboard. The added width (and thickness) up front does really help carry momentum (both paddling and bottom turning) and also minimizes chatter in rough water, so it serves a purpose beyond just looking beautiful.
What about tail shape?
I make 99% of my big boards as quads so I leave the tails a little wider than a lot of other shapers, and I like the outline pretty round through the very tail. A pintail is nice, but pulling it too tight doesn’t leave much room for the quad trailers to be spaced out properly from the stringer. I think my tail shape preferences come from Pat Rawson’s tails that I’ve always loved the looks of (check the tail on Tom Carroll’s 7’8” that he did “the Snap” on at Pipeline in the ’90s).
I’ve been playing around with more swallowtails lately and had good feedback there as well. The boards I made for Billy Kemper last year were all swallows.
Why do you prefer quads in big surf?
Quads seem to make the most sense in really big waves because they give you so much speed yet remain very loose. You need to ride smaller fins, since big fins get too stiff and lifty at high speeds (think fighter plane wings). The quads let you cover way more ground faster than any tri-fin will for sure. The negative aspect of quads is that they surf less pivotal and kind of round out your turns, but that is exactly how you want to surf in bigger waves. You don’t see many snappy big-wave top turns going down.
Any other advice you’d give to someone ordering their first gun?
Don’t try to get a bigger version of your shortboard, because that’s not the kind of surfing you will be doing anyway.
Go wider and thicker than you think you should! It’s rare that I have someone come back to me a say “this board was way too much for me” unless they are riding it in too small of surf. You will never be bummed to get into a wave too easily!
Find a good shaper who has a lot of experience shaping for the kinds of waves you want to ride, take a look at some of his boards to guide your order and then trust him to help you ride the wave of your life!
P.S. Just wanna see some sample numbers? Here are the stock dims for the Pyzel Padillac.
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