Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ua nui ke nalu!

"What was the largest wave you ever rode?"

When someone finds out that you're a surfer, especially one from Hawai`i, that is a common question. I think that they are usually expecting a very short answer, preferably expressed in feet. But we surfers know that the only true answer to that question is a story, told over a beer, and measurements enter into it only tangentially. So crack open a cold one, pull up a chair, and I'll tell you a story...

In the late 80s, Ron, Tim, and I were surfing the North Shore a fair amount. Hale`iwa and Kammieland occasionally, but more often a break between Chun's and Waimea. We never knew it's name; Ron and Tim called it "Ron and Tims", I preferred the name "Turtles". It was a nice peak with short rights breaking into a paddling channel and long lefts that occasionally closed out.

One bright and clear Saturday morning we arrived for a dawn patrol session. We had been out the day before and the waves had been mediocre, at best, with a side wind and a sizable crowd. On this morning the National Weather Service had issued a high surf advisory and was calling for a growing swell; but the conditions were perfect, and the lineup was empty. It didn't look that big from the shore, but then, it never does.

We paddled out into big, but not huge, surf. We were a little tentative at first, but the waves were very clean and there was no one out. Pretty soon we were having one of those magic sessions that you knew you would be talking about for days. So clean and so empty.

Ron and Tim were both finishing up rides on the inside and were paddling out when I saw the set coming. It was bending the horizon and I knew it was bigger than anything we had seen that day. I started paddling. As we approached each other my heart started pounding, it really was huge. I cleared it and was staring at its big brother. Keep paddling. Clear the second and paddle, the third is coming. As I paddled over the top of the third I spared a glance back towards shore. Ron and Tim had made it past the first wave but the second was about to eat them for lunch.

I approached the fourth wave, and in one of those decisions you can only recognize in hindsight, I spun my board to catch it. I was in a great position and it only took a few strokes before my board started to drop. Up to my feet and turning left, hoping it wouldn't close out. Down to the bottom and racing back up the face of a two-story wall that seemed to stretch all the way to Waimea Bay. Time seemed to slow as I turned at the top and took another roller coaster drop. Two more swooping turns followed before the wave closed out and I bounced my way to shore in front of the whitewater.

So, what was the largest wave I ever rode? If you're a surfer, you know.


Cap'n Bob said...

That's a great story, and I know the break you're talking about. Good stuff there.

Here's my 'big wave' story. I'd been on Oah'u for about a year, and this guy I worked with talked all the time about how much he like to surf and how good he was. He was always asking if I wanted to go to the North Shore with him and check out Sunset.

I'd been foolin' around with longboards in Waikiki, boarding at Makapu...just getting to know Mother Ocean, so I finally bit the bullet and bought a 'real' board. Went to the old Ben Aipa shop and found a 7'2" round pin glassed in single fin...it was yellow and orange and OH was it nice! ;) Rode it some at Queens and figured the next time he asks...I going!

So...of course we go up North, and it's a BIG clean day (the OLD measuring method would put it around double-overhead) and there's maybe 10-15 people out. We sit and watch for a while figuring out the break and the paddling channel (remember, this is my FIRST time here), and bs'ing some. So, I'm ready and say "let's get out there"....and he's like "man, it's kinda big for me".....I (obviously) think he's just been jerking my chain about being 'good' and paddle out into the pack.

OK, so, we ALL know a new face doesn't get ANY slack from the pack...and I at least know enough to sit back and paddle around and not just jump one. After about 20 minutes of this I'm kinda far out and away from everyone else, and I hear the yell that freezes your gut....."OUTSIDE"!!!

Dammm, y'all.....I look back and there's a freaking WALL coming at me!!! Stroked like a madman and got over it, but the next one is RIGHT THERE. So I suck it up, turn, and paddle. As it lifts me up, the ONLY thing that's going through my mind is: "don't screw up....don't lose it....they'll NEVER let you catch another one if you do"! ;) Been there done that, eh brah?

It lifts, I'm up and dropping....and dropping....and dropping......and I'm realizing - oh, we are NOT in Waikiki anymore Toto!! I see the spot to make the turn for the right, bend into it, and OH MY GOD I'm barrelled!!!! First wave at Sunset and I'm in the freaking green room. Pushing hard and leaning into the face and now I'm begging....please please please let me make it outta here - when that beast spits me out and I come over the top right in the paddling channel. I dig back out to the pack and 3 or 4 of 'em are hooting at me....I belong now.....so I grab a small one and go in to the beach and let the adrenaline rush wear off.

My friend is STILL sitting on the beach with a dry board. And he says "man...I didn't know you could SURF"....

There's my big wave story. Y'know what else would be good? A 'best wave' story......

Unknown said...

Was that board by any chance a Progressive Expressions? If so, that was my first surfboard - I bought it from Ron!