A Brush with Greatness -- 10/2/01

Big bowl in the rain

Finally, a big swell was coming! Pat Caldwell forecast a big NNE on the rise through Tuesday. Other people weren't so optimistic. I trusted Pat's judgment.

Monday evening and even Tuesday morning had no firm signs of the impending swell, with very little on the buoys. But it was to be a short period swell from a nearby low pressure system. Also, having nothing on the northwest buoy was not unusual given the expected NNE swell direction. Decided to go for it.

Around midday, I bailed work and headed out to the North Shore. After gobbling down a burger at Wendy's, I got a chance to see the swell as I wound down the road to Haleiwa (unusual for me since I usually drive to the NS in pitch darkness). The swell was firm with a definite northerly component sweeping towards Mokes.

Arriving at Laniakea, I was greeted with a nearly full parking lot, a crowded lineup, onshore winds, and crumbly but sizable waves. I immediately called Buddy (who was already on his way), saying that it was a couple feet overhead and decent.

I pulled out my longboard, and as an afterthought decided to bring my paddling gloves also. Good call.

Stretching on the beach, I recognized someone also about to head out. It was good-natured Hiram, sporting a Martin Potter yellow/green lookalike twin fin. Gladly paddled out with him and his cousin.

Some size

As soon as we hit the lineup, I realized that my wave height call to Buddy was grossly understated. The sets were double-overhead, with some bigger ones. The skill level in the water ran the gamut, with Johnny Boy Gomes and Kelly Slater out, along with some obvious beginners. Surprisingly, I was pretty much the only longboarder during my session.

As I worked my way out to the lineup, I caught progressively larger waves just to get acquainted. My board, although feeling a bit sluggish, was doing well despite the buckle. It was one of those sessions where I was extremely lucky in my positioning and snagged several set waves. The onshores coupled with the extreme wrapping swell direction made for quite easy takeoffs into chunky walls.

I was just in hog-heaven riding wave after wave, just gaining confidence after my long drought away from powerful waves (my Achilles tear last year sidelined me for most of the winter). Unlike most of the riders out, I just rode the waves; I didn't truly "surf" them. Got into a full safety stance and charged for the shoulder with few turns. The size of the waves alone was enough to exhilarate me into a happy stupor.

Buddy soon joined me, paddling out from the east side (a ballsy move, given the size). I immediately apologized for underestimating the wave height on the phone. "Little bigger than a couple feet overhead," I sheepishly remarked.

Buddy, air drop

He wasn't complaining. Buddy immediately took off on some sweet walls, positioning himself just inside of the outside peak where some beautiful bowls awaited those who had the guts to sit in the zone.

It was then that I caught the wave. JBG had just left the lineup so I decided to sit the deepest in search for a full-on set, and boy did I get it. A big one came swinging in from the east and I was the only on in position. I dug deep with my paddling gloves and got in fairly early. The wave reared up as I skittered cautiously down the face. This wave probably was one of the biggest I've ever caught on a surfboard, and I was just so stoked.

Buddy's shot of my wave (it looks smaller than it felt)

I knew it was a big set because I surfed outside while everyone duckdove in front of me. One guy who I saw was Buddy, who heroically sat on his board to capture my momentous occasion on film. Although he missed the takeoff, he caught me mid-ride racing the wall. Unfortunately, Buddy got summarily thrashed afterwards as the wave pulled him over the falls. Thanks bro!

I continued on my ride in total bliss, just grinning from ear to ear as some people hooted. Suddenly I realized I had the opportunity to do something I've always wanted to do--ride a wave at Laniakea all the way through from the outside point through the third peak. Unfortunately, I had gone a bit too far onto the shoulder, and had to cut back at the third peak. I made it through the peak, but soon got caught behind the whitewater and bailed. Darn!

Still, I was on cloud 9 paddling back out. Some guys were congratulatory as I made my way back. What a rush! What a ride!

Later on, I lucked into another set. After flying on the shoulder for 20 yards, I saw someone "snaking" me, taking off in my wake. It was Slater. Guess he thought I was letting the good part of the wave go to waste. Since I had caught so many waves, I decided to pull out and let him do his magic. Big fans followed in his wake. On any other day, I would've probably kept going. But I was feeling so good that I didn't care.

Saw an old contest acquaintance nicknamed EO and he said, "You got a double advantage with your paddling gloves and longboard." I agreed. I was not ashamed.

Eventually, the atmosphere slowly changed in the lineup. Some up-and-coming groms came out to the peak and were charging into some sets, being a bit too loud and a bit arrogant (we probably were like that when we were there age). The inside lineup filled in with the "after-workers" trying to get a piece of the action. It got a bit unruly, with a big shouting match occurred (something about someone bailing a board, getting run over, scratches, broken board, hurt pride).

Unfortunately, along with the increasing crowd, the surf ebbed just as the afternoon glass-off began. My wave count went from a high rate, to nonexistent.

After three hours, I finally looked for a wave in. Tried for a nice left, but just pearled comically--my first true "wipeout" of the day. Soon afterwards, I snagged a sweet inside bowl. It had a glassy, headhigh wall that felt so silky and smooth. Nice way to end the session.

Riding with Slater, even though he snaked me, was pretty neat. But by far the highlight of the session was that big wave that I scored. For me it was a miniscule, but definite momentary brush with greatness.

I will now deflate me ego. :-)

Johnny Boy, snapping... on a wave

Unknown, taking a long drop

Aloha from Paradise,