The Tow-in Surfboard
The tow-in surfboard is the new preferred weapon of choice for big wave surfers across the globe. As the sport of big wave surfing evolved, its equipment rapidly progressed to enhance riding performance. Historically, big wave surfers used large surfboards that enabled them to paddle into powerful fast moving waves. Once the surfer was in the wave the extra board volume hindered any high performance maneuvers or critical decision making. The tow-in board changed the criteria for big wave surfing excellence with its ability to handle high speeds and choppy conditions with great control.
Tow-in surfboards range in length from 5’5” to 6’2”, depending on the rider’s weight and the surf break. They are unusually thin for a foam board, hovering around the 2” mark the entire length. A tow-in surfboard will have a wider tail and nose, keeping the rails more parallel for stability. As mentioned above, the boards are built for speed. This means the surfboard builder must try to eliminate as much drag as possible. The fins, for example, are smaller in size and run completely vertical (zero toe-in). Shapers are also experimenting with different concaves to produce more lift and reduce drag on the wave’s face. Many big wave surfers prefer a quad fin set up for more speed and added hold, while others prefer the responsiveness a thruster setup offers.
A tow-in surfboard will weigh somewhere between 10 to 20 pounds, which is quite heavy for a surfboard. This weight is reached by placing 5 to 15 pound plugs in the middle of the board for extra weight. The heavy board helps a surfer maintain speed and control in critical sections of the large waves where a lighter board would struggle to generate enough speed. The list of top tow in surfboard shapers includes Gerry Lopez, Jeff Clark, Bill “Stretch” Liedel, Dick Brewer, and Gary Linden.