All Photos: Peter Taras
If you flip through the latest Guinness Book of World Records, tucked neatly between the man who copped the most powerful kick to the groin (1,100 lbs of force) and the domestic cat with the loudest purr (67 db), you’ll find 32-year-old Reef sales rep and big-wave surfer Shawn Dollar. Above his name, the record reads: Largest paddle-in wave, 61 feet. Now that’s legit. Nearly a year later we speak to Shawn about the surfboard that propelled him into the record books (and won him $35k at the Billabong XXL Awards), because it must be one of the greatest records printed in that publication. Certainly more impressive than a kick to the nuts. —Zander Morton
SHAWN: I almost didn’t go to Cortes Bank for that swell [December 21, 2012] because I didn’t have any boards to paddle that size surf. None of my Maverick’s boards were big enough. But Jason [Stevenson] was building this 10’6” for Jaws, and he happened to get it finished just in time for the swell. It literally showed up the night we left, just before I got on the boat.
When we got out there, I didn’t paddle straight out like everyone else did. I wanted to take my time so I did water safety for a couple of hours and from my Jet Ski I could tell the upper reef was working really, really well. From the surfers’ perspective in the lineup, I don’t think they could see that because no one was sitting up there.
I paddled out an hour before sunset, so I only had a short window to catch a wave. All the best big-wave surfers — Greg Long, Shane Dorian and the rest of the crew — were sitting in a pack, and without much daylight left I decided to paddle straight up the reef to the lineup I’d been watching. Out there, I was all on my own. That board weighs about 30 lbs, so I knew when I committed to a wave I would catch it because it paddled so well.
When I picked my spot I realized the swell was building fast. Every set started breaking farther and farther out, which sucked, because I kept putting myself outside and every set still almost caught me in the impact zone. I was scared shitless. Finally, I paddled so ridiculously far out I figured I had to be in the right spot to catch one, and just then, the biggest wave I’ve ever seen stood up in front of me.
I just started scratching for the horizon and somehow the wave actually held up, feathered and just came right at me. At the last second I stopped paddling out and swung for it, and honestly, I don’t remember much else. I do remember the drop being super bumpy and hard to navigate. But when I made it to the end of the wave, I was so stoked. It was the craziest, best ride of my life.
That board is incredible; it did everything it should: It didn’t pearl, it held a crazy line, it blew through a lot of uneven water and it never lost momentum. But after one wave, that board’s retired — I don’t think I’ll ever use it again. I have similar boards being made, but I really don’t want to break or damage it. It’s a family heirloom, a wall-hanger, now.