Unphotogenic -- 1/26/00

There were moments--the north peak

Another famed alt.surfer rolled into town--this time, it was none other than Wedge bodysurfer Rick Ciaccio (webmaster of the Wedge bodysurfing site).

Rick was here, for among other reasons, to enter the Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic that's held every year at Pipe. A small contingent of the Wedge crew came, along with other contestants from around the world.

They got here just in time too. On the second day of their waiting period, the surf was expected to pick up dramatically, making for some potentially gnarly action. Unfortunately, the swell was expected to be crossed-up with both a north and northwest component. I thought they might defer running till later in their waiting period.

Called the contest line on Wednesday (1/26/00) at 7 AM and was surprised that they called it. It was a go. Pushing my not-so pressing commitments aside, I decided to head out for a half-day to check out the action, but mostly to meet Rick.

Tried to have Buddy come along, but some unexpected problems came up that barred him from making it out.

When I got there, the beach was pretty barren, with a few people milling around wondering what was going on. The skies were completely overcast with a misty rain falling. Pipe was filled with mostly bodyboarders trying to find some kind of perfection in the otherwise messy conditions. Waves were still small, just overhead, but I knew the swell was on the way. It didn't look pretty at all.

Figured I'd kill some time by jumping in the water on my sponge. Between the tight crowd and the poor conditions, I had a lousy, short session. Saw a few pretty intense barrels caught, but I could not luck into any of them (or I didn't have the skills or gumption necessary to catch them).

Last wave was pretty neat, though. Took off at Backdoor on a nice, walling peak. Drove for a long distance on a sweet wall with intent on launching an aerial off the closeout. For some reason, I pulled back (wimped out!) and tried floating over the curling section. Got promptly dunked and rolled by the wave, then snowballed by the remainder of the set.

Walking back up the beach, I noticed this familiar mug standing in the rain. I went up to Rick with a big grin on my face and after a bit of tentativeness, we introduced ourselves.

Just like with Foondoggy, talking with Rick was like meeting up with an old friend you haven't seen in a long time. Rick and I have been sparring with each other on the newsgroup for several years now, gaining each other's mutual respect along the way. I can't say I agree with everything he's said, but I do admire his brutal honesty about his views of surfing and life.

Rick was a bit more soft-spoken than I imagined him to be. Of course, it's very difficult to guess at what someone is like by his online persona. We both agreed that the dialog in cyberworld can be fun, but shouldn't be taken too seriously.

After talking story for a while, we went to our cars and exchanged gifts. I was honored to receive one of Rick's handmade Wedge pole mementos. When I first heard about them, I thought they were kind of hokey. However, now that I have one in my possession, I truly cherish it, especially given its history and the obvious time and effort put into making it. The cedar wood smells great too!

Regarding the contest, Rick was having second thoughts about entering. It wasn't because the surf was too big or treacherous--he just didn't feel comfortable going into a competitive environment at a place he's never surfed, especially since conditions were pretty funky. I definitely agreed.

Rick and his lovely wife Linda decided to hang out and watch the contest. As rain continued to shower down on the beach, they, along with the rest of the contestants huddled under the scaffolding.

I had more time to kill so I decided to jump in and try and shoot some water shots. I had asked in advance to be allowed to shoot, but was met with a bit of stiff formality. Fortunately, I knew the tabulator, and after filling out a waiver she let me go out with no probs.

By the time I got all prepped up, heat #1 was almost completed. While I did my routine stretch, another water photog walked up and introduced himself as Hugh. Hugh was shooting video (in DV format, I might add) for some action sports show. The contestants from heat #2 also came by, and we all ventured out just as Third Reef Pipe started feathering.

The rip fronting the beach was a lot more manageable than I expected. However, once in the lineup, things got interesting. After every set, there was a strong surge in the channel (where we were sitting) as water got pushed back out to sea. It was a constant battle for us (and the competitors) to stay positioned in the lineup.

The waves themselves were just all over the place with no well-defined takeoff zone. Because of the dual swells, peaks were popping up everywhere, sometimes lining up from the west, sometimes shutting down from the north. I don't think it was very fun from a contestant's perspective.

That north peak nearly drilled us on one particular set. Hugh and I were caught inside and scrambled for the horizon. As we dove, the wave thundered down right in front of us. Not having any board to dip, I was able to swim all the way down to the reef. With eyes wide open, I could see the boiling turbulence rolling downward. However, there was a small, maybe two foot window above the reef where it did not breach. I took the opportunity to wiggle right through that highly pressurized gap and got through clean. Ocean dynamics become so much more apparent when you are unrestricted by a board.

I was getting a few photos, shooting mostly empty waves. It was very overcast and gray, but there were flashes of beauty as Pipe tried to do her magic. I stupidly missed a few great shots because I had my shutter lock engaged.

As far as getting the bodysurfing action, well, that was pretty difficult. Because bodysurfers are planing their bodies in the water, it's hard to get a clean shot without waterspray masking the action. It's just not a very photogenic sport to begin with. Given the crossed swell and poor lighting that day, it made for even fewer opportunities for capturing decent photos. Neva matter--good exercise!

After former champions Mike Stewart (yes, the bodyboarder) and Mark Cunningham's heats (3 and 4), I decided I'd had enough and finished up my roll. A small north peak came through after the end of the 4th heat, and I rode it in before getting unceremoniously bowled over by an oncoming section. After a bit of floundering on the inside, I got to shore without incident.

Throughout the morning, the surf had progressively gotten bigger and conditions worsened as the sideshore winds picked up steam. From the shore, it really didn't look very contestable.

Rick and I were talking story right in front of the judge's stand when an exhausted competitor stopped nearby. The guy was from Brazil, and he said that it was the biggest surf he'd ever been in, too big for an old guy like himself.

"You know meters?" he said, "I saw five meter waves out there! I understood and was empathetic, but his words still put a wry smile on my face.

The water patrol/rescue jetski was finally launched, and immediately went to work, picking up someone who was caught in the rip. When it deposited the guy on shore, I found out it was none other than Hugh, the other photographer, who was starting to drift out to sea.

"They came and offered a ride, he later said, "I wasn't going to complain. Glad I went in when I did.

Soon after that, they stopped the meet in hopes of better, more manageable conditions on another day. It was the right call.

Afterwards, we talked story with a whole bunch of people on the beach. Through Rick I got to meet Larry Asakawa (who's doing a documentary video on bodysurfing) and Bob Davis (owner of WaveBlades bodysurfing device). Really interesting guys.

One thing about bodysurfers is that they are a pretty close-knit group. Their numbers worldwide are so few that their camaraderie seems especially tight. Didn't see any Wedge crew vs. Hawaii crew friction--if anything, they were downright friendly with each other. That's cool.

Unfortunately, I had to bail and head to work. Rick was jonesing to get wet and planned to head out west for some water time. I wished him and his wife well, and hoped to hook up with him again while he was here.

It was pretty fun hanging with the bodysurfing crew. Too bad the conditions were poor, but they made the most of it. As far as the pictures, it wasn't a great day to shoot, and the sport is unphotogenic to begin with, but I'm hoping for a few good shots.

Postscript: A few days later, they continued the contest in clean, 6' (Haw'n) surf. Rick actually did enter the contest, and although he didn't advance, caught a few sweet ones. He's on record as saying, "Maybe the Wedge isn't the center of the bodysurfing universe after all..." :-)

The waves were there, but getting properly positioned was super challenging

Hugh, capturing some of the action

Hauoli Reeves pulls back while Hugh shoots

Eventual winner Mark Cunningham, flaps back

Aloha from Paradise,