In all the epic waves ridden during the Atlantic epic Epsilon swell, be it Nazaré, Belharra, or Mullaghmore, often there was one constant; Many of the surfers were riding tow boards made by Dylan Longbottom of Dylan Shapes.
We caught up with the big wave surfer and shaper in his Cronulla factory to see what it takes to make boards that can handle 80-foot waves. And where the rapidly evolving tow board design is headed next?
WSL: How did it feel to have so many incredible waves ridden on your boards?
Longbottom: It was a great feeling, and humbling, that the guys and girls trusted the boards and that they worked in some crazy waves. There were my team riders at Nazaré; Lucas Chianca, Antonio Silva, and Joao Macedo, but then also Pedro Scooby, Toby Cunningham, and Italo scored some bombs. In France all the guys that surfed Belharra, like Pierre Rollet, seemed stoked. Also Pete Conroy had the chance to test his board at Mullaghmore.
Are the boards tailored for each surfer, or are they stock models?
I'll shape the boards according to the surfer's shape and size, but with tow boards, it's all about the weight. For bombing Nazaré the feedback from Lucas is that 10 kilograms is about the weight required. For the perfect, high-performance days we drop it down to 7 or 8 kgs.
How is the process different from a normal shortboard?
I shape the boards in Australia, and then send them to the ORG factory in Portugal to finish the setup. It's taken years of R and D, but the tow boards are much more of a team effort.
What is the actual process?
There are so many more glassing procedures and carbon fiber is another element. Then there's the lead weights and the routing out needed for them to be placed throughout the board. Each board has so many people working on it at different phases. I'd say they take at least four or five times the man-hours required to make a normal shortboard. We charge €1250, but they are so durable and tough unless they end up on the rocks of Nazaré. In there they get turned to dust.
And they need to handle some speed, right?
Yep, they need speed and hold. I mean we saw how fast they were going last week at Nazaré, maybe the fastest ever? We add carbon fiber for the flex and the lead weights to keep the tail down. However, especially for Lucas and Kai Lenny, who has also just ordered a bunch, they need certain outlines and rockers to suit what they want to do. It's not just about survival anymore.
Is it hard keeping up given that the progressive element of surfing is evolving so fast?
For sure. They want to pull in to massive barrels, perform snowboard-like carves, and then do huge airs with rotations. Before Covid Lucas and Kai has planned to come out to Australia for a month of R and D. They were seriously talking about doing air-360s off the step at Shipsterns in the barrel. Lucas said he needed a board that was light enough to spin, but short enough to land in the barrel. It's so cool and my job is to try and match the boards to their thinking.
Where's it all headed?
I think in the next few seasons we might see a radical shift in what is possible in big waves. All these athletes are pushing so hard. It's the way I've always dreamed about surfing (as you can see from an old clip below), so to have those guys doing it in real-time is so exciting. I'm just so stoked and grateful to be a part of it.