This is the official WSL safety vest designed to save Jaws lives

The Quiksilver Highline Airlift Safety Vest is designed to help save lives in situations like this Koa Rothman finds himself in. Photos: (L) Quiksilver (R) Mike Coots


Inertia

“What I love about big wave surfing is adventure, feeling alive and most of all coming home.”

This simple statement from Maverick specialist Peter Mel explains why he chose to join the team of innovators at Quiksilver and leading dive company Aqua Lung in 2013 to help design and test the Quiksilver Highline Airlift Traction Vest. , the latest safety tool for big wave loaders worldwide and the official WSL Big Wave Tour vest sweater. After a smooth unveiling in France during the ninth stage of the Championship Tour in Hossegor, the vest was officially presented as the WSL’s new must-have safety product for the men and women who loaded XXL swell during the third Pe ‘ Annual ahi Challenge last weekend in Maui. .

Watching Makuakai Rothman, Greg Long and event winner Ian Walsh tackle some of the heaviest waves imaginable in the historic contest showed why the vest has undergone such rigorous testing over the past three years. As Mel explained during a presentation in France, more than 200 people – including Tom Carroll, Ross Clarke-Jones and Mel himself – have tested the Highline Airlift all over the world under all possible conditions. They surfed with it at Jaws, Maverick’s, Nazare, and Outer Reef Waimea (to name a few), jumped off cliffs and dived into impossible depths before inflating it, which is a standard test for them. Aqua Lung products.

“I wore it earlier this year in Australia at Cow Bombie, wore it on Friday at Mav’s, and here this morning,” said Clint Kimmins, former World Tour competitor turned triathlete and big wave runner, who was in Pe’ahi this weekend. support Jamie Mitchell, who has also been closely involved in the Airlift testing process. “It’s great because it doesn’t get too big under your chest so you can still lower yourself to the plank. It’s just perfect.

The placement of bladders and CO2 cartridges on the Airlift is an innovation that sets it apart from several other big wave safety options on the market. The four cartridges (which can be 25g to 38g with a 3/8 “thread) are stored at the back of the BC in an easily accessible pouch, and they are connected to bladders that inflate along the torso and the surfer’s back, leaving the diaphragm unhindered for easier breathing and better comfort. A deflation tab allows for quick release of CO2 so you can dive under giant waves, and a tube at the top also allows for inflation and oral deflation.

Pe’ahi finalist and Big Wave Tour leader Kai Lenny first received a Highline Airlift at the 2015 Eddie Aikau Invitational Opening Ceremony in Oahu, and he said it was was one of his go-to vests, especially due to its level of comfort worn over a wetsuit in colder waters.

“A lot of times when you’re wearing all that gear, the padded wetsuits and everything, you can feel pretty restricted, and riding big waves is the last thing you want,” Lenny said. “Jaws, Pe’ahi, is one of those places where you can’t surf here at the level where we are without some sort of flotation device like this. Being able to inflate and knowing that it won’t burst under pressure is super important because it’s pretty easy to drown in there. It’s pound for pound one of the heaviest waves on the planet. I got caught inside by a pretty big wave, and I was held back for a while [during the contest], but you only trust the equipment you have. When I fired the cartridge I knew I just had to go on the roller coaster and know I was going to float up.

So how does one of the best watermen in the world stay calm when working with 40ft Jaws sets?

“I think the way I keep my cool is you have to understand that you have to live the experience. You don’t get out of it, so you just accept it. I always tuck my chin in to make sure my airways are closed, and I try to keep up with the flow and hope I’ll come back up… eventually, ”Kai said.

During the presentation in France, Peter Mel also highlighted how being able to rely on your equipment and the rigorous tests it has undergone allows a surfer to relax their nervous system during a wipeout and to maintain themselves, retaining its energy and without wasting oxygen. The vest’s safety stitches were refined each year as big wave surfers gathered in Oahu for the annual Big Wave Risk Assessment Group (BRAG) training. One of the many respected people who attend this reunion each year is the well-known figure of Big Wave Dave, better known as waterman, lifeguard and water commentator Pe’ahi Dave Wassel.

“I come home safe and sound at the end of the day, that’s it. It’s 100 percent, ”Wassel said of the importance of traction vests and water safety knowledge. “So far, it looks like this one doesn’t need to be worn under a wetsuit, and that’s a pretty big plus with that waist strap.”

Quiksilver reiterated that the vest is a safety tool, NOT a performance booster. Its use should always be combined with a thorough knowledge of water safety and strong swimming skills. Never put yourself in a situation you couldn’t save yourself from and always use it with water patrol boats or skis nearby keeping an eye on you. The vest was presented to the public via a limited release in mid-October to surf shops near big wave spots in France, Portugal, Hawaii and California, including Mel’s Freeline Surf Shop in Santa Cruz.

Editor’s Note: Learn more about the big safety vest debate here.


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