Small boards for big waves

What combination of planshapes, rocker, rail shape, bottom configurations, fin setups would be suitable to build a short board for big waves - a “short gun”. I know such a design will be a “balancing act” as you have to trade off one aspect of performance for another. But how would you achieve the basic requirements of catching and riding big waves, almost as comfortably as you would with a traditional “gun”, with a board that would be not much longer than your regular shortboard.



Hey Oz:

They call them tow boards!

If your definition of big waves is 1.5 OH and your regular shortboard was a 7’er, you’re set to go.


I’m thinking more like double overhead on nothing over 6’8". How would you best adjust a board this length from regular shortboard dimensions/design to cope with bigger waves. I assume you would need to put more foam into it to help with paddling - would width or thickness be better? Or a little bit of both? Flatter rocker and concave would be better for padddling in but will this make it too fast/uncontrollable once you’re up and surfing, etc. Straighter rails in planshape to keep more rail in the water? Single, twin, thruster or widowmaker fin setup?

I’m after some basic guidelines I guess. Thanks for your help.



id still like to know more aout the bottom contours of brian conleys 5’3"… “Pocket Rocket” that he rides in double overhead puerto escondido…

I’d go flatter nose rocker, but keep mini gun tail rocker.

Thickness if that’s what you prefer. I hate wide boards, and will settle for 3.5" thick 19" wide on bigger wave boards.

Other’s detest thickness, need thin rails, so have no choice but to go wider, like up to 21".

Tail width is another rider preference deal. At 150 lbs., I never rode tails much bigger than 11" for miniguns. Even with size 10 feet, I hated wider tails, as late takeoffs, I like flat deck, boxy rails, and narrow for holding power.

But some guys I shaped for spec’d 12" tails and even 12.5 for board in the 7’ range for bigger surf.

Everyone has a different idea what works best. And everyone is correct.

the idea seems valid to me (that’s not saying much)…

assuming the larger waves are pretty clean, couldn’t a board with the right

characteristics for paddling be used? i’m a new student to the school of surfboard

design but, isn’t the main function of a gun to hold more volume for paddling?

i had a second hand board from Ross Williams a few years ago. i’m 175#

and the board was 5’11" and it paddled way better than my other shortboards

up to 6’4". it was one of those gems of a board that i didn’t fully realize until

after it was gone.

i’ve been thinking along these lines a little myself (mini-mini-gun) and i am looking forward

to reading other people’s input especially what some of the gurus who have been around for a

while have to say.

What’s up RDM,

a lot of the design approach depends upon the specific wave type. For example, DOH with really rough conditions (like typical Sunset w/trades) is a different approach than DOH sheet glass Hollow Trees. I would say there are advantages to going smaller in a given situation once the surfer is “up and running”

This advantage is weighed against catching the wave. A lot of fit surfers seem who seem to be going smaller are compensating for wave catching with different (aka: ‘Ballsy’/risky) techniques. For example seeing guys taking off more critical on smaller boards seems to be the trend. CJ or Cory at 'Chopes on 6’3" round tails is almost a proven approach. Critical skills allow an increased quality of ride such as more movement in the tube thus a better chance of making a deep-positioned ride.

It seems that this envelope has not fully been tested until recently. I am doing many more “step up” boards rather than full-blown guns. Almost all surfers are coming back from their trips with positive feedback. I should note that the travelling surfer I am talking about is expected to have decent skills as they are becoming more comfortable in the critical zones of the surf breaks they seek. I would never send a novice out to DOH HT’s on a step-up board, (I wouldn’t send them out there on any board, a big easy-paddling gun may even get them in trouble!)

The biggest gun I own is 9’3" but this winter I used smallish boards. The longest I used was 8’2" but the surface conditions dictated the length, I still wished it was smaller once the face stood up and became clean. I was stoked at how many days I got on my 6’5" round tail (usually surf a 6’1" shorty, I was 170 lbs at the time).

With That Said, this winter I witnessed guys surfing absolutely flawlessly and beautifully on large guns, getting in clean, early, and even doing a drop-in-fade (try that on a 6’3" at Teahupoo) setting 8 feet of rail for sustained powerful bottom turns. So I guess it depends upon what you are feeling on that day.

The design of the step-up boards are usually a rounded/closed tail, about the same width as a shortboard, and the tail about 1/2 to 3/4 inch narrower than normal. Thickness might be a little more (like 1/8) but sometimes it is the same. Length is about 2 to 4 inches longer than your daily shortboard.

Here’s a shot of at the end of winter riding a 5’7" x 19-1/4 x 2-1/8",twinnie.

I’m 5’10’ tall.

The surf was fast but NOT critical, the board has a displacement v-hull with

doubles and rode very smoothly given the texture.

Just some food for reflection…

Thanks PlusOne and LeeDD. All great information and much appreciated.

i still personally like to keep width…

You should compensate decrease in board’s size by increased paddling power:

…is that a wax comb for roy’s 20’ board ?

no, that’s the one for the tiny 11’er

…hey RDM, big waves start in 2 X OH…

…may be Im wrong but 6´waves are = 2 mts waves = 2 OH OR NOT?

…you re a bigger guy, but Im riding OH and 2 OH in a bonzer 5 10 but floats like a 6 2…and with that board I ride everything between…

I agree with LeeD you need the tail rocker for control on the drop, you need a minigun planshape, you can go a little wider, and you will need minigun fins…I’d use whatever thruster fins you prefer and reduce the base width by 3/8" to 1/2" and toe at 3/16" and cant at 4. Single foiled fins. I prefer more and more rail-fin oriented boards on bigger waves to maximize turning power.

To get the most wave out of the board use reverse vee bottom to make the board faster planing (you will lose a little turning power, generally a good tradeoff in bigger surf).

This is a 6’6" single fin, and I’ve ridden it a lot bigger, love the board, but I especially miss the rail fins in bigger surf.

btw I made that wave :slight_smile:

my friend rode DOH newjersey in winter on a 6’2" sunset singlefin.

Howzit RDM, Here in Hi dbl O.H. is not considered a big wave, only about 5’-6’. It’s not considered big until it gets 15 to 20 foot faces which would be considered a 10’ wave. I have seen the Irons brothers ride BIG hanalei on boards about 7’8" and they were ripping it apart.Aloha,Kokua

Hi Reverb,

This wave measurement thing always confuses me. I would consider what Blakestah is surfing in his picture a few post above to be a little overhead (around 6’). So what I’m talking about is a short board that would cope with waves of nearly double the size of what is shown in that photo (I guess that means around 10’).

Thanks Blakestah (nice wave mate-very impressive on a 6’6" single fin), Kokua and everyone else for your contributions. Anyone else have some ideas/opinions on shortboard design modifications to cope with larger surf (apart from going longer that is)?



not a big wave?

unless you cop it on the head, and are draged across a reef

that wave looks heavy to me

good one blakestah

waves sizes are like fish sizes

even a photo doesnt say much

cuz it doesnt show the death closeout at the end

or the water temp


Howzit RDM, Here in Hi dbl O.H. is not considered a big wave, only about 5’-6’. It’s not considered big until it gets 15 to 20 foot faces which would be considered a 10’ wave. I have seen the Irons brothers ride BIG hanalei on boards about 7’8" and they were ripping it apart.Aloha,Kokua

Hey Kokua,

Back in March 97 the wife and I had our second honeymoon over in your neck of the woods…we were there about 9 days. So in Honolulu I pick up a semigunny 6’10…much thinnner than what Im used to but it had some length so I was ok with it.

A few days while in Hanalei a front came thru overnight and the waves were expected to rise. Next morning I look out there (very far away) and it looked doable for me…overhead to DOH…so I paddle out.

As I make it further out I start seeing these sets come in up the point…I swear it looked like Waimea…it was 15+ faces…I start to question this session then I noticed all the local guys paddling out on their 8-9ft guns…oh shit…then more big sets…OH SHIT! Full on panic.

Long story short, that was one of the worst hours’ of my life…the only thing that saved me was I was able to hold on to my board the whole time but I was flipped around like a rag doll. I literally kissed the beach when I made it to shore.

Lessons learned:

  1. dont paddle out on a rising swell

  2. its real challenging making the transition from FL to big NShore

I’ll never forget that.