Guns Over Skis: Shane Dorian Interview
If you asked the top big wave guys in the world who was at the head of the pack, odds are Shane Dorian would get the nod. There are people who are crazier, and that probably train harder, but when it comes to pushing the limits of what’s possible in big surf, Dorian is setting the bar. He’s gotten barreled at Mavs his first session there (and nearly drowned the next day), and holds the record for biggest wave paddled in to for his 57-foot bomb from his first time paddling Peahi in March of 2011. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation for the “Guns Over Skis” paddle in feature from the May issue of the magazine.—Casey Koteen
TransWorld SURF: Why do you think people are paddling into much bigger waves in the last four or five years?
Shane Dorian: We have tow surfing to thank for a bit of it. There was quite a bit of time where we’d look for the biggest waves, whether it was at Mavs, Jaws, Cortes Bank or wherever. And almost always there was no one paddling on those days. We got used to the size and we took a lot of wipeouts. Knowing you could fall and wipeout on waves that size helped give us more confidence to go back and paddle some of those waves.
Also, I think we got our jollies out, a bit. There’s always going to be a place for tow surfing, it’s super legit and guys do amazing things tow surfing. But there’s some days where’d I’d much rather paddle surf. When there’s a big swell on the map these days, I’m not always looking for the biggest waves on that swell, I’m more looking for someplace that’s going to be the best place to paddle, that’s what does it for me now.
So are you not going to tow anymore?
No, I will. I love to get towed into waves at Teahupoo when it’s too big to paddle. That wave is incredibly difficult to ride, even tow surfing, it’s very technical and challenging. There are certain waves that are good for tow surfing and not that great for paddle surfing.
These last few swells at Peahi have been pretty big, but not really big for Jaws. They’ve looked big because guys have been paddling, but they’re not even close to the really big swells that can hit there. So it’s going to be interesting to see when we get a really big swell. Normally Jaws is such an insane wave for tow surfing when it’s huge. It’s fine to go out there on a 15 or 20-foot day and catch a set, but on a day when there’s 60 or 70 foot faces coming in, that’s something that’s totally different when you’re paddle surfing.
So, I haven’t got rid of my tow boards or anything, but if I can, I’d rather paddle it.
March of 2011 was your first time ever paddle surfing Peahi. What was the most surprising thing about paddling out there?
I was surprised that it was as doable as it was. I anticipated it being nearly impossible, because I’d tow surfed out there quite a bit and it’s so bumpy, and I thought it’d be too bumpy to paddle it.
I was surprised that I felt pretty comfortable out there right away. It was scary though, for sure, and I was nervous. We got cleaned up pretty bad a few times. When you’re towing and a big set comes you just get up and motor out of the way. But paddle surfing you’re a sitting duck, if the wave breaks farther out then you get smoked.
Your wave was a turning point out there, not just that you pulled into it, which was crazy, but for the size of it, too. Did you know it was going to be that big while you were paddling for it?
No, I had no idea. The first wave I caught that day looked about the same size to me. I didn’t really realize that wave was any bigger than my first wave. But when I saw the photos later I was kind of blown away. It looks big, but it also looks so perfect and hollow, and there’s no one else in the frame and everything. It was just such a unique wave, normally when you see photos of Mavs or Waimea there are 20 or more guys in the frame, and that photo really stands out because it’s just me, and it’s all blue and perfect.
We’ve talked about this wave before, and you’d said you had to pull in, you had no choice. Did you realize that as you were lining it up?
Yeah, I knew it was either straighten out or pull in. That wave had a lot more West in it, which makes it break faster. I wasn’t on the shoulder and there was a lot of wall in front of me, and it was jacking and doubling up, too. So I knew right off the bat I’d have to straighten out or pull in. As I was going down the face it looked like it was going to open up, and not crumble. So I thought, ‘Well, I can either straighten out and get pounded, or pull in and get pounded.’ So I went for it and pulled in.
That was a stand out wave of my whole life. When I look at that photo it all comes back.