Pe'ahi Challenge

Behind the Board: Jon Pyzel's Pe'ahi Performer

Daniel Jenks

Hawaiian Billy Kemper stunned the surfing world with his ambitious assault of Jaws during the first-ever Pe'ahi Challenge. Performances like his simply don't happen without a monumental amount of confidence and commitment, and equipment is a huge part of that equation. While Kemper leans on Town & Country Surfboards for his high-performance shortboards, when it comes to massive tasks like he had on Maui he puts his trust in shaper Jon Pyzel.

Kemper's Grande Finale at Pe'ahi
Billy Kemper stands tall in the barrel, comes out ahead of the spit for a strong start to the Pe'ahi Challenge Final.

Pyzel developed the model Kemper used with big-wave charger Mark Healey, who used the same design to win the 2014 Big Wave Awards Paddle-In category. This time on Maui, however, it was Kemper who found a magical combination on Pyzel's shape.

World Surf League: What was the model and dimensions of Billy's board?
Jon Pyzel: It's my Crazy Train Quad model and the dims are 10'5 x 20.75 x 3.63 the volume is 80 liters.

Billy Kemper elated and exhausted after his win at the Pe'ahi Challenge. Billy Kemper with Big Wave Tour Commissioner, Peter Mel, following his victory in Maui. - WSL / Kelly Cestari

WSL: What is the most significant design aspect to look at when shaping a big wave board and why?
Pyzel: I think rocker is probably the most important part of a big wave board. You want to have just the right balance of flat/curve so that you get maximum paddle speed and still plenty of curve to fit into the drops and knife it into the barrel if possible. The performance aspect of big wave boards has really changed in the past few years with the way the guys are all pushing each other to really "surf" the wave, rather than just catch it and stand there.

Surfers vs. Nature at Pe'ahi Challenge
Watch the entire highlights from the first-ever Pe'ahi Challenge.

WSL: You mentioned it was a quad set up. In recent years a lot of big wave surfers have been using four fins. Can you tell us about the pros/cons of the quad setup?
Pyzel: It was a Future Fin quad. I make probably 95% of my big wave boards quads because they let you get the most speed and control in heavy situations. Quads tend to surf more "round" and less pivoty than a thruster setup, and that suits big waves really well.

WSL: How did Billy determine what size board to take out in such massive waves?
Pyzel: He told me that he only rode that board one time last year, but that it felt really good so he put it on ice until he rode it again in the contest. It was probably one of his bigger boards, which would be what you want on a day like that (unless you are Albee Layer, who I think was on a 8'8'' or something crazy).

WSL: Can you give us a rundown of a board from nose to tail? Where is the thickness stored? What rocker and rail configurations come into play, and how does all this affect the performance of the board?
Pyzel: That board has a moderate rocker that is very smooth and consistent so it paddles really well, but still has enough curve to fit the drop and turn easily. The wide point is pushed forward a little bit, and a relatively wide, round tail. It also has the majority of the thickness pushed up under the chest area and it has a lot of thickness all the way up to the nose (which has an old school beak). The thickness really tapers off in the back 1/3 of the board, going down to about 1/4" at the tip of the tail and kind of knifey in the rail. It has a very light vee running from nose to tail, and I put a little bit of double concave through the middle of the board too.

It's amazing to see what they can do in waves that were once considered unrideable!

All of this adds up to a board that paddles really fast and carries its momentum into the wave really well. Once you are riding, it should feel really fast, but stable and solid, and the light vee/double concave, combined with the thinner rail running off the tail lets it tip onto the rail at super high speed and not track. These guys are pushing the limits of their guns, both in size of waves ridden and in pure performance. It's amazing to see what they can do in waves that were once considered unrideable!