When you single handedly change the face of big-wave surfing, you smile. It’s just what you do. Photo: Hilton
Dorian and his world record-breaking wave at Jaws. Think he might be a little more confident with that thing on his back? Photo: Bruno Lemos
I’ve been pestering Shane Dorian to talk to me about his new invention since November. But he played coy, telling me in an email, “We are just finishing up the patent process and Billabong wants me to hold off. I know that must sound obnoxious. I have been testing it and improving the thing, and it’s sick.” Such a tease! But a month ago I got a much better email, “Taylor, wanted to let you know that I can talk about the suit I have been designing. I want to thank you for your patience and give you first dibs if you still want to ask questions about it.” Such a classy guy, one of the many traits we appreciate about Shane Dorian. So, in an interview for our August 2011 issue, Shane told me the story of the V1 Vertical Ascent. —Taylor Paul
The whole thing started when I went to Maverick’s last year and nearly drown. I was so shell-shocked after that experience that I felt like I either needed to not do it anymore – not surf big waves anymore – or I needed to come up with something to make it a lot safer for me. So I just started sketching things out.
You know the whole airplane safety speech? The life vest is under your seat, put it over your head, pull the cord and it puffs open and inflates. That idea kept popping into my head. I was like, “there’s something.”
I got hold of Hub Hubbard, the director for the wetsuit division at Billabong, and I told him my idea. It’s funny, in the very first email I’m like, “You’re going to think this is a crazy idea, but just hear me out.”
When I got the first prototype I was thinking, “There’s no way it’s going to be as good as I think it is.” I put the thing in my wetsuit, swam out, swam down about 40 feet and pulled the ripcord. As soon as I pulled the cord and it started inflating, I was like, “Holy shit, this changes everything.”
Basically it’s an air bladder that goes in the back of my wetsuit, and it’s attached to a CO2 cartridge, and the CO2 cartridge screws into a little manifold with a pull pin. You pull the cord; it pulls the pull pin, which releases the CO2 cartridge into the air bladder. It inflates it in just a couple seconds. It’s not instantaneous, but it quickly inflates the bladder.
Then we went to Cortez Bank, and I got to try it. I ate shit on a wave at Cortez; it was a pretty good wipeout. I pulled it, and I just instantly relaxed as soon as I felt the pressure of it inflating. It went from a wipeout where I was a little tense, like, “Oh, this is a bad wipeout,” to just being relaxed. The thing has enough power to where it doesn’t even help to swim. You don’t burn up any energy and try to relax.
When I came up was the real exciting part. I thought it was going to be a major liability when I got to the surface with this thing on my back, that I’d be like a beach ball and it would just blow me with it until the wave it died out. It didn’t do that. The next wave was literally 30-feet of whitewater and I just sat there and spun around toward the shore. It blew right past me and pushed me down a little bit, and then I just bobbed my way to the top.
I’ve had three wipeouts that were about the same intensity, and I haven’t been under for more than ten seconds.
I used it at Jaws that one day [the day he caught and pulled into the world-record setting 57-footer] The CO2 cartridge is good for one use but I had a couple extra cylinders on a Jet Ski in the channel. I paddled back to the Ski, took the suit halfway off and deflated the bladder. And then I took out the old cylander, and put in the new one and paddled back out. I was back out there in 10 minutes; I was the first one to catch another wave.
I truly think it makes what we do a lot safer. This week we’re ordering suits for a lot of the top guys. We’re making it as low-profile as possible so If they want to stamp the suit with their own sponsors, I don’t care, I just want everyone to be safe. We just want to make it available to the guys who are involved in these kinds of waves already.
With every good thing comes some bad, it’s just a sacrifice you have to make sometimes. Because what we don’t want is for some random to see this and go, ‘Oh cool! I’ve always wanted to paddle Maverick’s…’ So we’re trying to avoid having guys who aren’t into it already be into it now because of the suit.