Billabong V1 Inflation Vest
Necessity has long been the mother of invention and Shane Dorian has long been the best big wave surfer in the world. When he suffered a near-death two-wave hold down at Mavericks in 2011 he realized something had to change within the arena of big wave riding: safety vests. Giant waves tend to pin you to the bottom with relentless force. So much so that compression vests, long worn by the big wave elite, were no match for the punch of waves like Mavericks and Jaws. Dorian racked his brain for something to help him get to the surface amidst the chaos underwater. And during the safety instructional video on a flight to Hawaii he found the epiphany he was looking for. The blow-up vests used for water landing, with a pull inflation valve, Dorian realized, were exactly what would help him to the surface when at depth (in theory). After 6 months of back and forth with Billabong wetsuit designer Hub Hubbard and the air bladder manufacturers at Mustang Survival, Dorian had his first C02 vest prototype. It worked immediately. In the six years since this invention not a single big wave rider’s life has been taken when wearing the vest. Truly a “game changer,” as Dorian puts it.
Our team at Surf Only has been known to dabble in the dark arts of big wave riding and had to get a V1 to test out. The first thing that we noticed is that if the waves are not life-threatening you can use the air valves each side, which you blow up and seal prior to entry. The air surrounding your core is pushed to your back once in prone paddle position on the board. Air will rise up in a dense column of liquid, thus bringing you to the surface without the resistance known with compression vests. Once the waves are Dorian-esque the Co2, being 60% denser than air, becomes a necessity. The two C02 cartridges are easily screwed into the back pouch of the vest, but you must pay close attention when allowing the pull chord to penetrate the Co2 valve. On a test run we only had one cartridge fire, realizing soon after that the tank that didn’t fire was not in line with the pull chord poker. This malfunction made us realize that although you are wearing a well-designed safety vest filled with air and dense C02 gas, there is still a margin for error. Many of the best big wave surfers wear the vest during every big session but do not rely on them for survival. There will always be a margin for error when under water in a turbulent environment, but the gap is closing with each improved version of the V1, making the future of big wave riding safer and more progressive than ever. Just be sure to load the cartridges correctly and test it before sending it out at Mav’s.