"I'm just a bodyboarder" -- 5/5/00

Half Point madness

After a few weeks of phone tag, I finally got a chance to hook up with Mike Stewart. We worked a small business effort together and wanted to hook up with each other to talk story a little bit. Of course, might as well catch some waves at the same time!

I've surfed in the same lineup with him on many occasions, but this would be the first time we actually went surfing together. Was I nervous? Well...

We went out on Friday afternoon to try and catch the last vestiges of a dying south swell that had awakened Town from its winter slumber. Since Mike wanted to catch a few "drainers," we decided to chance Sandy's.

Mike is the consummate waterman, by far the best and most famous bodyboarder in the world. But not many know that his skills extend into the business world where he is pioneering some radical design and business efforts. It's always so enlightening talking story with him, and it's great to rap with someone with such a vast knowledge of the sport and industry and the ocean in general.

The surf spot we targeted was Half Point, the rocky reef shelf right in front of the bathrooms at Sandy's. For me it's a super challenging spot, with a multitude of short period swells coming in from different angles, a firm rip current and an extremely shallow and unforgiving reef.

Obtw, did I metioned the crew? They are super in-tune with the idiosyncrasies of the spot, and have no fear when it comes to taking off and pulling in. The competition is always heated in the water, with only the best catching anything good.

After hooking up with Mike in the parking lot, we walked to the water's edge and jumped in. Everywhere we went, people came up to him and cordially (almost reverently) talked to him. It was like being with a rock star.

Of course, I tried to keep my cool, and just treated him like a peer, which of course he is. That mindset worked fine until I saw him catch some waves.

Mike started paddling for these small, inside waves. I was thinking, "What is he trying to catch?" The waves inevitably reared out of nowhere into these double-up tubes which he proceeded to just get shacked in, finishing off with these high-powered reverse-360's, banking off the whitewater.

Once again, I was in awe, like a little kid who had met his childhood hero. Pure adulation!

How did I fare? Well, whenever you perform or compete with people who are better, you tend to take your game to a higher level. My first wave was like a big surprise for me in the short, wedgy peaks. Quick drop straight into a tube, open face cutback, then rollo on the end. Man, I even surprised myself!

Of course, that was only one wave. The real me was revealed later. I was locked in this sweet tube, just driving towards a wide-open exit. Mike was paddling back out and I could clearly see him go over the shoulder. Then, somehow, I dug a rail and ended up bodysurfing out the end. Kook!

But the worst of it was on this largish, overhead set. Not being too competent in those kinds of tricky conditions, I tried taking off right on the peak (rather than slightly backdooring the takeoff). Halfway into the takeoff, I realized the wave was shutting too fast down the line, so I pulled back. Too late!

The wave just sucked me over the falls, right upon the shallow shelf. I actually got planted fairly gently onto the bottom in a semi-fetal position nudged snuggly around a reef outcropping between my stomach and thighs. However, the surge from the rest of the wave jarred me down severely, bruising my hip and giving me a wicked charlie horse on my thigh. Owww!

I painfully stroked back to the lineup to lick my wounds. Of course, I had to suck it up out of pride and just kept at it.

Between waves, Mike and I talked quite a bit about a variety of subjects. Thinking about his fame, I asked about whether he ever gets hassled in the lineup. "Not really," he said, "I'm just a bodyboarder." Understatement of the year!

We kept riding as the crowd got thinner and twilight drew near. Unfortunately, Mike took one in the impact zone and lost one of his fins. Not just ordinary fins, mind you, but one-of-a-kind custom fins that he designed and was hoping to soon put into production. We spent the last hour of before dark looking for the missing fin, to no avail.

Mike really is a down to earth guy who is humble and friendly. But when he starts busting, even in teeny-tiny surf, he is pure poetry in motion. Mike makes me proud to be "just a bodyboarder."

Aloha from Paradise,