French Revolution-- 10/18/03

Sacre Bleu! Alex charging hard. Photo courtesy Jamie Ballenger of

I've been on the Internet for about a decade and have been fortunate to dialog with surfers from around the globe. It's fun to discuss our diverse perspectives on waveriding and on life in general.

About five years ago, I started talking with a Frenchman named Alex on a surfing newsgroup. He enjoys bodyboarding and has been very generous about sharing his exploits and surf images from Europe. So when I found out that he'd be vacationing in Hawaii, I was stoked to have the opportunity to finally meet him. *

Alex at Mini-Pipe

We met on a Friday and bodyboarded small Pipeline/Backdoor. Fortunately for me, Alex spoke English very well, so language was not a problem. I could only surf for a short time, so we decided to try again the next day especially since the surf was expected to rise substantially overnight.

That night, the buoys jumped to 8 feet, 17 seconds. It was going to be big, but how it was going to manifest itself on the North Shore remained to be seen. I was a bit concerned for Alex, but to be honest, I was also worried for myself.

We met early Sunday morning at the beach park and checked out Pipeline. Even in the darkness, we knew it wasn't happening. It looked like the NNW swell was for the most part missing the area. Rockpile looked intriguing, but we figured we'd give Laniakea a look.

When we got there, we immediately knew that this was the call. No one was out yet, but we could see that some big sets were reeling down the reef oh so righteously.

The vivid sunrise was a sign of exciting things to come

Paddling out was fairly easy, with a surprisingly mild current. The sky flamed red as the sunlight started peaking over the Koolaus. We were stoked to be the first ones out in the pristine conditions with very little wind under clear skies.

The outside peak, later in the day

The outside peak was looking pretty nuts, finishing up over the inside reef (i.e. not quite connecting through), so we decided to first settle in on the middle peak. Right off the bat, Alex dropped in on a very hefty one that eventually closed out down the line. I was impressed and stoked for him.

This was the middle peak later that morn. I got worked after I took this shot

I got a few smaller sets, but I honestly was feeling a little bit of shame. My French friend was charging (link to image frevolution_5.jpg) while I was being a bit selective and cautious. Such is my fragile waveriding ego.

Alex, charging. Photo courtesy Jamie Ballenger of

Mid-session, we actually got into a very humorous dialog about us both growing older, especially since he was sporting a painful knot in his shoulderblade and I was all "achey" from the session the day before. Being in our 30's (me in the late-late 30's), we are actually among the more aged spongers of the world!

Me, rushing down the line, disposable waterproof camera in my teeth. Photo courtesy Jamie Ballenger of

Eventually, I journeyed to the outside point and played cat and mouse in the impact zone, catching the waves that others would miss and scrambling for the shoulder when the sets rolled through. Managed to get a few really good ones there, and even snagged a couple of verandas (not quite tubes). Felt a little better about myself afterwards.

Wide open walls

A few guys on big guns came out of the woodworks and were putting on a big waveriding clinic. They were sitting on the outside-outside peak and just charging the biggest sets. It was truly awe-inspiring.

This guy was tagging some beasts

The swells were menacing at times, with these big walls filling the horizon that seemingly were ready to punish us. However, we soon realized that the swell was so pure that we could dodge the sets or at least punch through most of them. I can't say I got totally comfortable out there, but in the end, I did feel more at ease in the conditions.

Set of the morning. Note Alex stroking on the far left.

After over three hours in the water, we decided to call it a morning. Alex admitted that it was the biggest surf he'd ever been in (it was pretty close to my max too). We were both tripping out on how fortunate we were to partake in such great waves. It may sound corny, but I felt like we now shared a special bond, like we'd been through a war together. Alex caught one in and I followed soon afterwards.

Kicking towards shore, I saw Alex jumping around in the shorebreak. He signaled to me with flapping arms, so I immediately thought that he lost a swim fin. As I got closer to help out, I realized that he was actually wading around with a bunch of turtles like a stoked little kid. I had to laugh--I guess we locals take for granted what most would consider a magical experience.

We drove up to the cottage where Alex was staying and had some morning tea with his beautiful wife and son. I had a rare all-day pass (thanks honey!), so we all jumped in my car and I played tour guide to the North Shore surf spots.

We went back to Lani's so that Alex's wife and son could also enjoy the turtles. From there, we moved on to Haleiwa's Alii Beach where some cute little kids were competing in the Menehune surf contest. Lunch was the last stop at Kua Aina Sandwiches before returning back to the cottage--old man Alex had an afternoon appointment with a massage therapist.

One of the best things about the day was just talking story with Alex and his family. I really enjoy listening to people speak their native tongue, but French is especially pleasing to the ear.

I had a bunch of questions that I just had to ask about their culture. Here are some things I learned:

  • Our respective countries may have issues with each other, but in general the French people harbor no animosity towards U.S. people even with all the boycotts.
  • The French do not feel vindicated in any way because of their pre-Iraqi war stance--they are just sad about the war and the general unrest in the Middle East.
  • It is customary for women to greet men or women by kissing them on both cheeks. However, it is not proper for men to kiss other men.
  • And I confirmed that French waiters (specifically Parisian waiters) are indeed rude (at times) because they lead such stressful lives in the city.


Monsieur Alex and Monsieur Neal. Photo courtesy Buddy Williams of

Hanging out with Alex made me realize that we are quite alike after all. We have similar dreams and aspirations for our families and for ourselves. And we both are members of the worldwide tribe of waveriders with the common love for surfing.

But at the same time, in this world we do not have to all think and act alike. It's not really a revolution that we should seek but more a revelation that we recognize and celebrate our differences. Viva le difference!

Alex on the inside

* I do not condone meeting online strangers in real life. Even with Alex, I first talked with mutual friends who had previously met him well before I chose to go surfing with him. Remember, there are some bad people out there.


Neal (Biscotte) Miyake