A new inflatable vest for big wave surfers has just been launched, the result of a collab project between Quiksilver and scuba diving company Aqua Lung – but what makes it a little more noteworthy is this life-saving equipment is on the market for public consumption.
Oh sure, it is not the first and certainly won't be last available for Joe Public, but it had previously been used exclusively by Quik team riders. Deeply involved in the Quiksilver Highline Airflift's inception and delivery were team riders, Jamie Mitchell, Koa Rothman and former Big Wave Tour commissioner Peter Mel. The partnership with Aqua Lung forged a few years ago and the R&D has been extensive.
Think of it as peace of mind, aimed at the most experienced of big wave hellmen and should, by no means, act as a substitute for skill or knowledge. Vests can be the difference between a surfer making it home or not, perhaps driven home a little more with Cotty's horror wipeout at Nazare just yesterday (see HERE). The Airlift comes equipped with four separate inflation tabs and deflation tab. Anyway, we thought we'd quiz Mr Mel on the nuances of the vest and what exactly went into its design.
How much in put did you have in the design of the Airlift, what was your involvement?
PM: I was included from the very beginning of the project. Myself, Jamie Mitchell, Koa Rothman, Tom Carroll and Hawaiian lifeguard Mel Puu.
We had several meetings to talk about what was a necessity for the vest and what we could dream about for the future. It was a really good experience for me to watch the project go from a dream to reality. Two-years-ago we were at Agua Lung discussing the project and now we have the Airlift in my surf shop for sale and the feedback has been great.
What sets this vest aside from others on the market?
I feel it's the experience that comes from the two companies partnering together. With the 45 plus years of surf expertise at Quiksilver and the 70 plus years of Aqua Lung diving experience. Together, with the team established to work on the project, it was destined for success. This vest is by far the most durable and comfortable on the market.
How has it been tested?
From the very first prototype we used the vest in the water. First in the test pool at Aqua Lung at several different depths. Even jumping off ladders to simulate wipeouts. Then we used them in the ocean surfing.
Jamie and I wore a vest for 10 hours straight on the North Shore of Oahu. We figured we needed to know if the comfort would be there for an entire day. It passed the test.
Do you think these vests are allowing for people to push the limits of big wave surfing more, knowing some of the risk has been mitigated?
I feel it is natural in the evolution of big wave surfing to keep pushing the limits. With that in mind, the risk raises as well. The vest reduces the risk, so in short, helps push the limits and gets everyone home to their families.
And therein lies the problem as well, because this vest is available to the public. Could it instil a false sense of confidence?
In my experience, I’ve seen some extra bravery that comes with the vest. But I feel it also came with the creation of the surf leash, lifeguards and seat belts.
Nothing takes the place of education from an experienced waterman, so it's a responsibility of them to advocate safety in big surf by living by the code
As a group of surfers we all advocate training and education. BWRAG.org is an excellent place to learn what is needed to be safe in the lineup.
Nothing takes the place of education from an experienced waterman, so it's a responsibility of them to advocate safety in big surf by living by the code. Train, train and train some more. The vest is just a one tool in a full tool box.
For anyone thinking about charging big waves, do you think the vest is must have equipment?
When wanting to get into surfing big waves, I’ve always said, don’t climb Mount Everest on your fist attempt. Climb the small mountains first. It will help educate yourself and think about it. You will get to summit a hundred times and learn along the way, which is way more fun. Same goes for riding big waves. Surf bigger and bigger waves over time.
Cover shot, Koa Rothman during The Eddie equipped with vest, taken by Servais