IRVINE, CA — (August 25, 2004) — Surfwear maker Billabong today announced a new era in global surfing adventure with the unveiling of the “Billabong Clipper,” the first military-scale seaplane specifically outfitted to chase waves.
Developed over many years under tight secrecy, the project combines Billabong’s long-standing reputation for documenting exotic surf travel with rapid-swell-response capabilities. The result is a specially-modified Flying Boat, capable of reaching any area of any ocean in the world with incomparable speed and capacity.
Soon to be deployed as a mobile base for Billabong’s Adventure Division surf expeditions, this particular Grumman HU-16B “Albatross” served a long career as an air/sea rescue workhorse for the US Air Force. The aircraft is in the final stages of a complete nose-to-tail refurbishment and will be taking off on the first of a series of aerial adventures this fall.
A true “amphibian” with retractable landing gear and watertight hull, the Albatross can land on runways or in water, and was designed to operate in considerable seas. Based around these unique capabilities, a full circumnavigation of the Pacific Ocean and an extended around-the-world journey of surf discovery are on the Clipper itinerary. The Albatross can accommodate its adventure team of surfers and documentarians for extended periods in the wild, serving as a mobile platform for fishing, diving, and experiencing exotic cultures.
The aircraft has a cruising speed of 170 knots, and can cover up to 3,300 nautical miles without refueling. With a load capacity of 10,000 lbs., the plane’s interior has been configured for two pilots and another nine seated passengers, along with surfboards, camping gear and camera equipment. The HU-16B is 62 feet, 9 inches in length and has a wingspan of 96 feet, 8 inches.
Getting Billabong’s Albatross airworthy has been a lengthy labor of love for Paul Naude, Billabong USA’s President. “This is a project I’ve been working on for some time,” said Naude. “I’ve been fascinated by seaplanes since I was a kid, and always dreamed of using one to discover unknown surf spots. But once I was committed to actually doing this, it was still a long process to get out there in the field and fully research which model was right for the job, and then to find the exact aircraft. More than 50 years since they came off the assembly line, there aren’t many Albatrosses still around and in good shape, and you want to make sure that it’s up to the task. This isn’t something you just jump into blindly.”
For the first time ever, a band of surf adventurers will have at their disposal a way to move faster than the weather, unrestricted by scheduled airline flights, paved runways or even paved roads. Understandably, the passenger list is filling rapidly with surfing’s biggest names. Two-time ASP World Champion Andy Irons is first in line.
“This is the ultimate surf vehicle,” said Irons. “I’ve been on a lot of boat trips, but you spend too much time at sea trying to get from one surf break to another. Now we’ll be able to check dozens of surf spots from the air and then just land at the best one. It’s the best possible way to go surfing!”
In addition to the World Champ, upcoming trips on the Billabong Clipper will feature WCT mainstays Taj Burrow, Luke Egan, Joel Parkinson and Mark Occhilupo on the passenger manifest, along with big wave legends like Shane Dorian and Mike Parsons.
Lead pilot for the Billabong Clipper is Mike Castillo, who has probably flown more surf-related sorties than any man alive, having logged thousands of hours aloft running surfers, photographers, friends and self up and down the Baja California peninsula on missions which have long been legend in hardcore surfing circles. Accurate storm monitoring and surf forecasting will be a key ingredient for the project, and will be provided by Sean Collins and his team of forecasters at Surfline.com.
The Billaboong Clipper project will be a fascinating fusion of the classic and the futuristic, explains Billabong Marketing VP Graham Stapelberg.
“There are some high-tech components, such as the surf forecasting,” said Stapelberg. “But I think this project is more reminiscent of the golden era of aviation when the Pan Am Clippers were pioneering air travel across the oceans, hopping from island to island. And that’s the key to our expedition routes as seaplane bases dot the remote archipelagos of the world, with landing areas having been established on innumerable atoll lagoons during the 1930s right through the 1940s war effort.
“There’s an amazing heritage in the Flying Boat adventures of that era,” said Stapelberg. “We intend to keep that spirit of discovery very much alive for years to come.