Big-wave guns are designed for one thing: for lunatics to paddle into and shoot down the face of the world's biggest waves. “It's designed to make a takeoff,” says gun-shaping guru Pat Rawson. “It has a well-designed sweet spot that comes from a real constant rocker with no big tail flips. Generally speaking, the curves are longer and more continuous.” Like surfboard design in general, guns go through changes as well, and one thing Rawson's noticed this year is a development toward beefing up.
“As far as the evolution (of guns), a lot of it comes out of Hawai'i,” says Rawson. “But now, there's a lot more big-wave riding in California–Mavericks and Todos Santos in Baja California .” Rawson thinks the evolution's pretty clear-cut–it's gone from big, thick, huge bombers in the 70s, to thinner boards in the 80s, to the current return in thickness seen today. “I'm finding a lot of the shapers and surfers are going back to that proven design where we're getting a flatter deck and a lot thicker up in the nose,” says Rawson.
In other words, guns are regressing to past dimensions and easier-to-ride boards. “My guns before weren't really working all that great for me,” says Mark Healy. “I don't think they were wide enough or thick enough to catch any big waves.”
At Pipeline, there's a clean face with a severe takeoff, so a lighter, more sensitive gun is needed. In more open-ocean places like Waimea and Mavericks, there's a little more wind, wave, and surface chop requiring surfers to use as much of a blank as possible. “A little weight is a good thing. You have to get the thing moving,” says fellow gun-shaper Rusty Preisendorfer.
Depending on the shape of a wave, a longer object doesn't work well in a compressed curve. If paddling's more important, many big-wave surfers will add more length and use as much of the width as possible to keep some kind of curve in the shape's outline. “It's like trying to turn a sidewalk when you catch a twenty-foot wave at Waimea and want to bottom turn. Everything's got to be right to move the thing,” says Healy.
“Waimea's kind of a different deal than Mavericks,” says Rawson. “The Waimea boards I make are usually between 9'6″ and 10'6″. You don't need a huge board at Waimea. It's a big takeoff, but it's pretty ledgy, so you need a board that fits the wedge. Mavericks guns tend to run a foot longer. I've shaped a couple boards for he guys out there and nobody wants thin (boards). They may not want the big, boaty rails we used to make back in the 70s, but guys are definitely thickening boards.”