THE RISE AND FALL OF MOTORISED SURFING
The idea of slinging into a big wave has been around for a long time, but it wasn't until Laird and the boys devoted themselves to the task in '92 that the most significant breakthrough in big wave surfing was realised. Towing in with a PWC opened up a plethora of new big wave spots, most notably Jaws. The unridden realm suddenly had takers and big wave records dropped like flies. Cumbersome rhino-chasers were replaced by weighted shortboards with foot straps meaning huge waves could be carved apart like they were triple black runs. Slab surfing got a massive jump-start in Tasmania, WA and Ireland. It was a heady decade but then it all went a little stale. Jaws became packed with tow-teams – some of them complete novices. Surf audiences started to get bored by a perceived lack of skill and risk. When little known German surfer Sebastian Steudtner won the XXL in 2010 for slinging into the biggest wave of the year some questioned its value. Tow surfing had had its critics from the start – some saw it as cheating, others considered the PWC a noisy, polluting and dangerous blight. Most big wave riders embraced the power ski but the best of them eventually found it a bit too easy and the emphasis shifted back to huge boards, late drops and arm power. It was an amazing feat of self-correction in a digital age where technology is replacing human skill in so many fields. The latest motorised device to challenge paddle power is the jet board – a battery powered surfboard that chugs along all by itself. WaveJet team rider Garrett McNamara enthused to Tracks about it last year. "Until you try it don't think anything except: cool idea. The lifeguards can use them, beginners can use them, disabled people can use them, and I've tested them in the most extreme conditions. There's so many different applications. You move as fast as you could sprint on a race board. It's not that fast but it helps you get around and catch waves." But even G-Mac has his concerns. "If it was any faster it would be dangerous. People who didn't know what they were doing on something a little faster would be really dangerous," he told Tracks. Panel discussion: Will surfers of the future even know how to paddle?