Let’s face it, most of us are more likely to find ourselves stood in the car park as part of a crowd of surfers mumbling excuses about being undergunned on a truly massive day, than sat out on our own with sufficient foam at our disposal catching unforgettable waves. We’ll rarely be outnumbered, and occasionally we’ll be undergunned.
Surfing is an unusual pursuit in the breadth of experiences that it offers. If you play soccer then you can be sure that you’ll always have to kick the ball in between the goal posts; you might have to play against opposition more skilled than you or on pitches ranging from a dirt lot to an enormous stadium, but it all boils down to kicking the ball between the goal posts. If you surf, however, then the experience can range from dancing along your longboard on a knee-high pointbreak in the tropics, through air-drops at heaving slabs in frigid water, right up to “challenging” (read: terrifying) waves in the double overhead plus range; all require different approaches, equipment and skills, and yet all are surfing. Some surfers will never really push that envelope for one reason or another, some will specialise, and others will take on the challenge of surfing whatever conditions they are faced with – within reason.
For a long time, the biggest and “pinniest” surfboard that I owned (that wasn’t a longboard) was a 6’8” semi-gun; the reason is because at the time that particular surfboard could handle as big and solid waves as I had any business being out in. I lived around Margret River, Western Australia for a year in my early twenties, and my housemate would often say to me as he left the house “Hey, North Point’s going to be firing – you should take my 7’6” and head up there”. I never took him up on his offer though; the thought of tackling large, thumping, North Point without an experienced friend to talk me through it was too intimidating. I did pull up at Mainbreak on a big day though, and was halfway into my wetsuit before I realized that there was a crowd of people stood at the top of the steps watching some big old waves break, and just how large the surf really was. I duly paddled out on my 6’8” (I conservatively reckoned that everybody else out there had at least a foot more surfboard than me) and tried to get into one of the “smaller” ones, learning first hand the consequences of not having a big enough board underneath me. I probably should have stayed in the car park, mumbling excuses about being undergunned. On truly large days it is likely that the only surfers who paddle out at a spot and take on the challenge are those with significant wave-riding experience, the right surfboard, and an eagerness to drop into a wave that they won’t easily forget. They’ll also be aware of the inherent risks and will have weighed them up beforehand, striking a balance against their own perceived ability. But on days that are just “bigger than normal”, when the vast majority of us “regular” surfers can test ourselves, it is really nice to have a surfboard suited to paddling out in, catching, and riding bigger waves, even if it’s been hung in the rafters gathering dust for most of the year.
Knowing your limitations is a good thing. Pushing them, from time to time, is even better. Not having the right equipment to hand when the moment presents itself? That’s a recipe for disappointment.