Faceplant -- 1/16/99

Steve MacKenzie catches a good one at Gums

After recovering from my post New Year's bug I was finally able to get back in the water. The timing couldn't have been better. A WNW swell had just peaked and the North Shore seemed primed for serving up some good stuff.

I've been trying to hook up with a new coworker and fellow sponger named Justin. Surprisingly, he finally agreed to come out and play. Buddy and Makani were also going to join in on the action.

Justin and his friend Greg met me at Laniakea at 6:30 AM. Surf there was surprisingly small. I phoned Buddy and Makani, who were still on their way, and told them we'd move on to the Ehukai Beach Park area.

When we pulled up, I couldn't believe my eyes. The surf was just macking at Pipeline in the 6-8' plus range, and a slew of bodyboarders were getting pitted off their nuts. Very very intimidating. The beach itself was abuzz with the Hui crew prepping to run their Backdoor Shootout contest.

In the meantime, Buddy and Makani leapfrogged ahead of us, drooling at the huge peaks coming in at Sunset Beach. We finally decided to connect with them at the Velzyland lookout spot. It was nice there, but smallish and already very crowded. So we did a u-turn, targeting Sunset.

Our intrepid crew was about ready to head out when a solid triple overhead set came in. At that moment, Justin and Greg got a bit of cold feet. I gotta admit, I too felt some hesitation, knowing that the wave is not very conducive to bodyboarding (it was damned big too). On the other hand, Makans and the Budster couldn't get their boards out of the bags quick enough as they were eager to partake.

So we decided to split up, with Justin, Greg and me heading back to the beach park in hopes of catching some grinding lefts that were roping off the sandbar. From later reports, I heard that Makani and Buddy scored some prime Sunset before the pack overwhelmed the spot and the surf tapered off.

Back at Ehukai, the Pipe/Backdoor lineup was packed with at least 40 guys, all jockeying for some waves before the water patrol started chasing everyone away for the contest.

I jumped in first, getting swirled down the beach in the infamous rip fronting the beach, but fortunately made it out without incident. Rather than go to Ehukai, I decided to first grab a few at Pipe and Backdoor. It was crowded, but I managed to snag some of the smaller sets.

My last one in that lineup gently reminded me of the power that I have been so missing this winter. Pulled in late on a small tube at Backdoor. After traveling a little while under the curtain, I got sucked up by the lip into what seemed like an eternity of weightlessness. Managed to curl over so that I was falling on my back and then got plastered onto the bottom. Got away with just a few minor scrapes through the rash guard--yup, the waves are potent out there.

Paddling over to Ehukai, I joined Justin and Greg in the already crowding lineup of spongers. A small cadre of Aussies were tearing it up in the heavy sandbar action (about 4' Haw'n). Former Morey Pipe champs Eppo and Macca were doing well, but Ben Holland, third this year at Pipe, impressed the most with his high-speed antics and critical dropknee attack.

I kept looking over to Pipe and Backdoor, which was going richters. It was sickening to watch so many waves go through unridden. And it was twice the size over there than at Ehukai. No fair.

Jus and Greg seemed tentative at first, but were charging in the end. Greg favored the longer lefts towards Pupukea, while Justin chased down waves fronting the beach park. Both of them are stoked locals who are fully committed to bodyboarding.

As for myself, because I missed last weekendís action, I was just getting aggro, taking some ill-advised drops. The waves were just dredging off the sandbar, making for some thick lips sucking out over shallow sections. Unlike some of the more talented spongers in the lineup, most of my rides started with a late takeoff and ended with a grinding closeout.

Don't really want to admit it, but I may have been a bit more reckless because of some unconscious attempt at, not impressing, but proving to Justin that I could indeed surf. The stories I write sometimes make me feel that I have to validate my words with performance.

Even with that in mind, I was STILL shocked by what was about to transpire.

I took off late on this meaty right at Gums. Pretty good tube, but with no speed, there was "No Exit" written all over it. As often is the case, the wave picked me up and threw me back over the falls. This time, I guess I didnít have the wherewithal (right word?) to rotate completely around and ended up getting pitched, fully disoriented.

It all happened so fast, I can't remember all the details. The next thing I knew, I was slammed face first onto coral! Waitaminute, Gums is a sandbar--what the hell? But it was really happening. I could feel my skull compressing down on my facial skin, grinding it on the slightly sand-covered rocks. An electric buzz flooded my face, numbing it on impact. When I surfaced, I already knew it was going to be bad.

Found Justin and told him I was going in. The look on his face gave it all away. He said he'd go in too and bring me to a hospital. Told him I could go home on my own, but he insisted.

Heading up the beach, I decided to show the lifeguards my reef rash. "It's just a scratch!" one of them chimed. I thought otherwise. The lifeguard reassured me that I wouldn't need any stitches.

At the shower, I was joined by none other than pro surfer Strider Wasilewski, who was competing in the Shootout. "Oooooooh!" was his response. "I got one just like that at Puerto." We made small talk before wishing each other well (for different reasons, of course).

The reaction by everyone who saw me was the same--Ewwww! They all just winced in anguish as I walked past. When I finally saw my reflection on my car window, I didn't blame them one bit:

Heavy duty contusion on my forehead, with scrapes continuing down from just under my nose, into my mouth and on my chin. Somehow my prominent probiscus went unscathed. I could just imagine my wifeís reaction--"No more surfing!"

We hung out at the beach for a little while watching the contest before heading home. The surf was still very dramatic although it was obviously on the way down.

So what kind of morals did I extract from this episode? Hmmm... Never say no to an epic session at Sunset. Never feel that you have to prove yourself. And above all else, never do a faceplant on coral--the coral will always win!

Aloha from Paradise,
"facial" sponge