Although motorised surfboards have been around for a number of years, they haven’t established much of a foothold in surfing lineups, remaining largely confined to lakes and wealthy people’s garages.
However, last Friday two enthusiastic British proponents of Jetboard surfing took to the Cribbar for an afternoon of petrol-powered pocket rides, leading us to wonder if we might be about to see more of them at big wave spots around the world.
The boards themselves look like girthier wakeboards, with footstraps and a thick section through the middle where the engine is housed. The speed is controlled by a handheld throttle that extends on a wire out from the front. They were initially invented to eradicate the need for waves, allowing users to zip about doing cutties on flat water lakes and rivers. However, recently a small crew has been using them at various big wave spots. Among them is Jeff Scott who after returning from Nazare last week, decided to have a crack at the Cribbar with mate Louis Allen.
When used in big waves, Jetboarding is pretty much tow surfing, but where the ski and your board are one. You can get onto waves with ease and outrun any cascading sections or closeouts without even getting your hair wet. And, if you do get caught inside, there’s no waving your arm listlessly in the hope of a rescue, you just pull on the throttle and whizz straight out of there. Basically, it’s big wave surfing without any of the hard bits!
There’s an often repeated argument among the world’s premiere chargers that safety features are actually making big wave lineups more dangerous. Each time a bit of tech comes along and makes the whole thing easier and safer, the argument goes, the proficiency level of those surfers willing and able to surf dangerous waves drops a notch.
“I wish they never existed,” Albee Layer told us of the invention of inflation safety vests in an interview with last year. “I surfed Jaws the first three or five years, as big as I’ve ever surfed it pretty much, with just a little paddle vest, and that’s all you should need. I’m less prepared because of those things, I took it way more seriously when all I had was a paddle vest, and I caught better waves and was more selective, and I fell a lot less”
When it comes to making big wave surfing easier and less risky, Jetboards leave safety vests in the dust. In fact, you barely need to be able to surf at all to whizz off into a lineup and put yourself on the peak when you’ve got a 90cc engine strapped to your feet.
Now, as it happens, Jeff Scott is an experienced waterman, with many years of windsurfing and a few solid sessions at Nazare under his belt. However, unlike with big wave vests, there’s no vetting process for buying one of these things and if the Nazare tow circus has taught us anything, it’s that when you offer people a short cut to getting shots on huge waves, they take it.
I don’t want to sound mean-spirited, but I’m instantly dubious of any device that undermines big wave surfing’s inherent meritocracy. And while the between 2 and 10k price tag of a Jetboard will no doubt keep the numbers in check, any increase in unexperienced folk zipping about big wave lineups on motorised craft doesn’t sound like a recipe for success. Of course, that is what they said about jet skis, inflation vests and even the leash and most people concede now that none of them have actually ruined surfing but, rather allowed boundaries to be pushed.
Maybe I’m a Luddite. Or a high-horse purist and Jetboards will actually transform big wave surfing for the better. Have your say in the comments below.
Cover photo @lugarts