Are motorized surfboards the future or the end of surfing? "I was very skeptical at first," says Love Hodel, a former professional surfer and now stuntman from Oahu, Hawaii. "Being Hawaiian and a big-wave paddle guy, I didn't really see a place for them, but then I tried a WaveJet. And that's what I say now. Just give one a go and then make your mind up."
WaveJets use twin jet motors powered by lithium batteries and controlled by a simple on/off button worn on your arm like a watch. The engines are located in a removable pod that sits in the base of the board.
WaveJets can move up to a speed of 10 mph, or about five times a human's normal paddling speed. On the longboard and SUP versions, you can stand up on the boards in flat water.
"We advise to keep the jets on, even when you are on the wave," says Jordin Voloshin of WaveJet. "While you can ride the wave without the jets, they actually cause the surfboard to push down on the surface of the wave, making it easier to control the board. The paddling is one thing; the actual performance on the wave is as important."
The boards are much heavier than normal fiberglass surfboards, the pods themselves weighing 15 pounds, although top-flight surfers like Hodel, former top-10 professional Corey Lopez, and big-wave surfer Garrett McNamara are pushing the limits of the new designs in waves ranging from 2 to 50 feet, as seen below with McNamara surfing Nazaré in Portugal.
Also, increasingly alternative uses than just surfing are being found for the boards. Fishermen are finding them an amazing tool on the SUPs, surfers with disabilities who can't physically paddle have a new freedom, and recent rescue boards have been made. A trial period of the rescue boards in the thunderous waves of Sunset Beach in Hawaii this winter proved incredibly successful.
At the moment, the battery life of the boards is 35 minutes of continuous run time (WaveJet says this amounts to an equivalent of two hours of actual surfing), and you can recharge the batteries with a normal plug socket or car lighter. As for concerns about the board driving off into the distance when you wipe out, maybe dragging you along by the leg rope, as soon as you are separated from your board by more than 10 feet the remote-control system automatically kills the engine.
The jet engines are the brainchild of Californian Mike Railey, who, after trying his hand at tow surfing in the late 1990s, wondered if it was possible to miniaturize the jet-drive technology used in Jet Skis. "Powered boards had been around since the 1960s," says Voloshin, "but they had always been too heavy and often used petrol-fueled engines, which also had a negative environmental impact." Railey looked for a simpler jet-propelled version and after 10 years of prototypes applied for a patent that was registered in 2007.
Since then, WaveJet has released shortboard, longboard, SUP, and rescue models. There has been considerable backlash, however, against the idea of motorized surfboards, with many surfers claiming that by taking paddling out of the equation, the established order of the lineup will be broken. It’s difficult to think surfers, being greedy when it comes to waves, will use the advantage of faster paddling to take more waves.
Such is the efficiency of the technology and the feeling about the boards; however, it seems that WaveJets will become more and more popular. At the moment, the WaveJets' price tags are keeping them out of the lineup in big numbers, with the whole kit, including board, pod, remote, and charger, coming in at around $4,500. However, it's early days, and if they become popular, you'd think with economies of scale the price will come down in the future. If that happens and WaveJets become affordable to the normal surfer, expect to see a lot more surfers streaming past you, not paddling, in the very near future.
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