This small band of brothers, an extremist group who arm themselves with the heaviest artillery, are notoriously quiet about their very personal pursuit. We decided it was time to conduct a full weapons inspection.
9’6 x 19½ x 31/8
10 years ago, walking down the beach to take this board out for its first surf at Waimea, some total random guy walked past, took one look at it and gave me a nod. It made me laugh. There I was, a full Haole with a proper Geordie tan, and some Hawaiian was giving me a nod because I had a Dick Brewer!
I had got my first 9’6 some years before. Oceanographer and friend Tony Butt had persuaded me that we should get Adrian Phillips from Fluid Juice to shape us both guns so we could go and surf Pico Alto in Peru.
It was a good board, but it doesn’t make sense to take a British board over to Hawaii, so I ordered this before I went. I didn’t just decide I wanted to ride big boards, it was a steady progression.
To ride big waves you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time, and that takes a lot of expense
When I was younger we used to surf reefs all around the UK, and (Nigel) Veitch would push me into bigger and bigger waves. I started spending the winters in Spain with Tony, surfing big spots, then eventually went to Hawaii, by which point I could hold my breath for three minutes.
It was a long process from surfing a shortboard to surfing a gun. That’s what worries me about tow surfing, there doesn’t always seem to be the same natural development, which takes years.
It used to be that just a few people surfed big waves and nobody really knew why they bothered. It was a strange outsider sport that didn’t get pursued.
To ride big waves you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time, and that takes a lot of expense. Tony and I used to spend whole months checking out breaks, checking it every tide, every condition, we’d watch it for hours.
One thing that spun me out recently was the death of Sion Milosky. In a way, he was pursuing big wave riding as a full time career, flying straight out to Mavericks on the back of winning $25,000 as Underground Charger of the Year.
Obviously that’s what he wanted to do, but I’m sure he didn’t want to die, not matter how much he loved surfing. If it keeps going like that, with financial incentives, I think we’ll see people in Europe dying in big waves as well.
It would take a mate that I trusted to persuade me to ride this board somewhere big now. Years ago, I saw Mullaghmore massive, and I had my 9’6, but some of the boys talked me out of it, which I kind of regret now. If this board gets ridden again, it will probably be out there.
9’1 x 20½ x 3¼
I got this board shaped eight years ago. I had ambitions of surfing big waves, but got sidetracked and for years, I’m ashamed to say, this beautiful board stood like an ornament in the corner of my lounge.
I even stopped noticing it. This winter, I spent five weeks in Hawaii and kind of last minute, I thought ‘why not take the gun?’ Out there at Ho’okipa on Maui’s North Shore, I made friends with tow-surf pioneer, Archie Kalepa, who convinced me to take the gun out. Riding my 9’1” that day was a revelation.
You hear so much about this place, I was just happy to paddle out to the channel and watch
I bagged the three best waves I’d had in my life till that point, real heart in the mouth, wind howling up the face, endless drop type stuff. Emboldened, I booked a room right near Sunset Beach.
You hear so much about this place, I was just happy to paddle out to the channel and watch. Some locals were calling it 8ft, but what I saw out there bore no similarity to my 8ft. A west set came through and I looked around, hoping someone else would be in position, but feck, I was clearly the guy in the right spot!
I span round and stroked into this thing that kept rising up underneath me. I can’t really recall much of that wave, I think my mind probably blanked much of it out, but I do recall thinking that this was by far the most fun I’d ever had.
8’6 x 19 3/8 x 2 7/8
I’ve always had bigger boards for bigger waves. As I started surfing Cribbar more and more, my 7’2” just wasn’t doing it, eventually I got fed up of just scratching into the wave and decided I needed something longer.
I managed to make a really late take-off, but I was way too deep and just watched this whole section come down in front of me
The last time I properly rode this was December 2009, with Ben Granata out at the Cribbar. It’s hard to say how big it was that day, no-one else was out. It was a really good size though.
There was about an hour of light left and we were struggling to get waves, then this bomb came through and I managed to make a really late take-off, but I was way too deep and just watched this whole section come down in front of me. It hit me square on and I got completely nailed. This board is still a bit on the short side to be honest.
Campbell Brothers Bonzer
9’4 x 21¾ x 2 7/8
Malcolm Campbell unrolled some sheets and said “Look… this is the Holy Grail!” It was Dick Brewer’s gun templates from when Malcolm had worked with him.
The connection with the wave was incredible, being able to feel every ripple under the board
Guy Penwarden and I had been talking about getting Malcolm to make us guns for a while, there had been plenty of days at Broad Bench when I felt like I needed something bigger.
At Nigel Semmens’ workshop, Malcolm spent two and a half days cutting the shape out of the blank, he said the foam was so good it was like cutting through silk. Eight months later it was ready, just in time for double, maybe triple overhead Bench for five days straight! The connection with the wave was incredible, being able to feel every ripple under the board, I’d never had that sensation before.
9’3 x 20½ x 3 3/8
Prowlers is quite hard to paddle, it’s in the middle of the ocean so it’s hard to line up, but it helps having a board this size for just getting around.
When I know I’m gonna get one on the head I normally stamp on the board and dive off it
I took this 9’3” out the first time I paddled there and got a few serious hold downs. On one of them I got three waves on the head and on the third my 10ft leash snapped in two places.
When I know I’m gonna get one on the head I normally stamp on the board and dive off it, which gets you away from the board but also sinks it a little bit so it’s not flat in the water. You get a pretty big tug, but it brings you back up, so when your leash does snap you find yourself underwater for longer.
The weird thing is, when you first paddle out on a board like this it feels massive, but as you get used to it, it actually feels quite small.
Campbell Brothers Bonzer
8’4 x 20½ x 3
I had a gun previously which got snapped in half, not in a glorious moment, I miss-timed shooting the pier, tried to do a crowd pleaser and hit it. Malcolm Campbell, who is a friend, shaped this for me. I wouldn’t call it a real gun, more of a fun gun. One of the most memorable sessions on it was February 2010; we had such a big swell down here.
It was a hell paddle out, took me at least 15-20 minutes
The tide wasn’t right for Broad Bench, it was double overhead and then some, but I knew some of my friends had paddled down to Yellow Ledges. It was a hell paddle out, took me at least 15-20 minutes and I got out back and yeah, it was solid. Sod’s law, I got out back, paddled over to my mates and they said they were going in for lunch.
So there I was on my own, sitting miles out to sea with hideous big waves! But, I had the best time out there. It was making the drop more than anything else, it’s a thick wave when it comes through and critical by the time you’ve caught it, so you need to get down the face and this board was handling it perfectly.
Big boards are something we’ve always used down here, and people are like ‘where do you think you are, Hawaii?’ But once you’ve surfed out here on one of the big days, you’ll realise, a true Broad Bench man will have a gun in their quiver.
SIMON ‘SKELLY’ SKELTON
8’6 x 19½ x 2 7/8
After winning the 1974 Pipe Masters, East Coaster Jeff Crawford set the bar high for fellow Floridians, influencing Slater and the next generation.
Buying a Dick Brewer gun isn’t as simple as just walking into a shop, I spent the first week hunting for one
The first time I went to Hawaii I bought a Brewer, they are just such iconic boards, so about five years ago when I went back I was keen to get another.
Buying a Dick Brewer gun isn’t as simple as just walking into a shop, I spent the first week hunting for one, asking around the line-up at Sunset. Eventually after a tip off, I tracked down Jeff Crawford, who had 30 vintage red Brewers at his house.
He offered me this, or a 9’6” that Michael Ho had ridden in the Eddie, but I knew I would never need something that big. So I bought the 8’6” and spent the next few days re-introducing it to Sunset.
9’6 x 19 7/8 x 3 1/8
I thought you might be able to just use a longboard blank for guns, but they are too flat so you need a special gun blank so you can get enough rocker. Phil Hodge shipped one up from France to shape me this 9’6”.
With that much nose in front of me, I’ve got the fear that it might catch
Last September, it was ready and I picked it up at the same time as an 8’0” from Luke Hart. With a bit of a lump in my throat I thought, “shit, I’ve got no excuses now!” Since then, all of the bigger waves I’ve been at have been too sucky and ledgey for it, so I’ve just used the 8’0”.
With that much nose in front of me, I’ve got the fear that it might catch. But hopefully soon, on a really big day at Cribbar or Mullaghmore, there’s no real rush, these kind of boards you have for life. I am just looking forward to the day that I put some wax on it.
9’6 x 21 x 3 ¼
How do I decide whether I’m going to tow or paddle? It depends how lazy I’m feeling! Seriously though, the main difference between towing and paddling is that you obviously get a lot of waves when you take a ski out.
I got all the rest of the them on the head and got washed up into the rocks
A couple of Decembers ago, I went out on this with Simon Greenwood, the day after towing with Ben Skinner.
It was the first time in 17 years of surfing that I didn’t get a single wave. Not one wave, but I did get the biggest flogging of my life which kind of spun me out. I got one on the head and hit the bottom.
It was the first wave of the set, so I came up eventually and got all the rest of the them on the head and got washed up into the rocks. Then paddled back out and tried again. Hideous, but, really good fun, in a funny sort of way.
DAN ‘MOLE’ JOEL
8’6 x 19½ x 2 7/8
Matt shaped it for me with the Cribbar in mind actually about a year and a half ago. The right day hasn’t cropped up yet. I’ve taken it for a paddle when it was flat just to get used to how she paddles but I haven’t properly surfed it yet.
Nick Williams’ motto is ‘Anything is Possible’ so I thought I’d put him to the test
I’ve never felt the need to take it out on the big days at Leven, I’ve always just stuck to my 6’1’ because once you’re on the wave and come off the bottom you need that maneuverability to get into the tube which you don’t get with a gun.
The spray was by Nick Williams who I reckon is one of the best guys around. His motto is ‘Anything is Possible’ so I thought I’d put him to the test and see if he could recreate Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. I think he did a pretty good job!
WORDS & PORTRAITS GREG MARTIN
This article was originally published in Wavelength issue 202. Be the first to get our articles in print and online by subscribing here.