Exploring South Dakota

Exploring South Dakota

Mt. San Jacinto, an Island in the Sky

March 16, 2016 Comments (0) Field Facts

Building a Semi-gun for El Niño

As fall ended and the steady drum beat of the meteorologists and wave prognosticators calls for an El Niño winter increased, I knew there was only one thing to do- order a new surfboard ! But not just any surfboard, I had a glaring gap in my quiver and that was a board that could comfortably handle bigger waves. I’m not talking huge Maverick’s or Jaws, but waves in the neighborhood of double- overhead, where a board in the six foot range wouldn’t have the necessary amount of foam or the proper shape to handle larger conditions. The term semi-gun comes from the nickname Elephant Gun coined by 1950’s big wave pioneer Buzzy Trent. Elephant Guns were the boards specifically developed to chase down the biggest waves on the North Shore of Hawaii. Today these boards can be in the range of ten to eleven feet long, while a semi-gun is usually in the seven foot range.

The term semi-gun comes from the nickname Elephant Gun coined by 1950’s big wave pioneer Buzzy Trent. Elephant Guns were the boards specifically developed to chase down the biggest waves on the North Shore of Hawaii.

Unlike a Saville Row suit, surfboards are probably one of the few items where a regular joe can order a custom piece suited to their exact physical specifications and intended use without breaking the bank. And luckily Southern California has many expert shapers to choose from and I knew just who to call. I already had my eye on Album Surfboards’ Instagram feed for some time, so I emailed the owner and shaper Matt Parker and scheduled a time to meet up at their Oceanside Factory. (There is also a Showroom in San Clemente)

One thing that drew me to Album Surboards was the broad spectrum of boards they make, with a focus on custom orders they build a variety of performance oriented boards that would be considered “alternative” compared to the mass produced labels in most surf shops, but are highly user friendly and most importantly fun to ride. Matt has been shaping for 15 years and has over 5,400 boards under his belt. Additionally Matt’s boards have impeccable glass jobs that are all done in house and often feature resin tints and bright color designs that take the boards to the next level. These aren’t the same cookie cutter all white boards marketed as “what the pros ride”. Each board is unique which is exactly what I wanted and why I was going to go with custom shape and color scheme in the first place.


The biggest advantage of ordering a custom board is the ability to talk face to face with the person who is going to make your board. This allows the shaper to tailor a board to your skill level and requirements. Matt and I talked about my current boards, what I liked and didn’t like in a board, my (honest) dimensions such as height and weight, skill level and what kinds of waves and conditions I wanted to ride the new board in. From this he was able to work up a design based on his “Destroyer” model using a CAD program. That’s right- surf boards are now designed and major portions are cut by computer to produce more exacting dimensions and symmetry. The CAD can even tell the final displacement volume of the board in cubic liters which takes the guess work out of whether or not the board will properly float the rider. Once the basic cuts are made by the machine, the shaper is then able to spend more time putting in the finishing details and more refined touches to the boards rails and contours.

One aspect of boards designed for heavier surf is the need for subtlety and refinement. A semi-gun needs to have extra foam that is strategically placed, but not too much or it will be too corky and you won’t be able to duck dive it. Too little and it won’t paddle well and get the rider over the ledge in time. The bottom concaves are generally shallower since the wave is already producing plenty of speed and the board needs to harness that speed. A slight amount of “Vee” in the cross section of the tail allows the board easier transition from rail to rail and add more control during turns. A rounded pin tail also adds control and better fits in the steep face of the wave. All of these subtleties equate to a board that will perform as needed and give the rider a feeling of control and connection to the wave even in critical situations.








The final product:

7’ 2” by 19 inch wide and 2 1/2” thick round pin tail.  A five box FCS II fin system allows me to change between a three fin thruster or four fin quad configuration based on wave conditions. The board is glassed heavier to withstand the punishment of bigger surf with 10 ounce S glass on the deck and 6 ounces on the bottom. The added weight also aids in pushing through chop and wind during take offs in less than ideal conditions.

I couldn’t be more happy with this surfboard and I know it won’t be my last from Album Surfboards.



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