Going Big -- 11/24/96

Brian Wise Dropping in Late

In the past few months, I've been taking some friends with me to my surfs, pushing their abilities in bigger conditions. This weekend, I wanted to push mine.

Had a prior engagement on Saturday, but it worked out great since a new swell was scheduled to hit late Saturday--perfect for a Sunday dawn patrol.

Details on the swell were a bit sketchy, with different sources giving conflicting information. Kim Gennaula on KGMB (Ch. 9 TV) was calling it to be 8-10'+ out of the nnw, and Mark Poppin of the SNN (596-SURF) was guessing 6-8'+ out of the wnw. The buoys verified the swell by holding steady at 14', 14 sec. (kinda short period, given the swell size), but gave no clue as to the actual swell direction.

Driving past Laniakea, I didn't see much of the swell under the full moon. Same thing at Chuns. Hope it wasn't one of those phantom swells. However, as I was parking my car, I could hear the roar of the surf pushed in by the onshore breezes. It was real, alrighty.

Crouching at the foot of the Ronnie Burns memorial bench, my suspicions were affirmed by a long line of whitewater rolling across the beach. A few big peaks were jumping up near Off-the-Wall, and Second Reef was doing more than feathering. A big lump suddenly popped up in my throat!

It took me quite a while before I decided to make a go of it. I grabbed my new bodyboard (Chocolate-T) and gear, and trotted to the beach.

While I was stretching (and psyching up), I saw a familiar form jogging towards me on the beach. It was Brian Wise, a fellow bodyboarder and acquaintance of mine. He's the nut riding those huge waves in Tahiti in Surfing mag (Dec 96, p. 30) and Bodyboarding mag (Jan 97, pp. 38-39), and flying at the Wedge during Big Wednesday on the cover of the LA Times (7/25/96).

Brian said he paddled out with (Tahitian) Matt Walbrou, but got nailed by a set before making it to the lineup. That's why he was paddling back out.

"Ohhh...," I said meekly, all the while thinking, "If he can't get out, what's going to happen to me?"

He waded back into the water and started paddling out in the darkness, mid-set. I blindly followed. The current on the inside wasn't too bad. We broke through the crease between Pipe and Gums with no problem, and met up with Matt, who already had caught several bombs.

Conditions were less than ideal with a light onshore flow, and swells coming from several directions (I guess KGMB and SNN were both right). By then a bunch of others had joined us--mostly bodyboarders, with a few surfers.

It felt like shorebreaky conditions, with lumps popping up here and there from crossing waves. The winds crumbled the surf a bit, but it was still pitching on the good ones. The pre-dawn darkness contributed to the overall gloomy mood. The waves were occasionally crumbling at Second Reef, and sometimes even pitching at Third Reef (1/2 mile out). I felt pretty insignificant.

It's really awesome just watching from the shoulder. There's so much power in the waves and intense focus in the riders--energy everywhere. I saw lots of unridden tubes early on--from the back you could see the wave heaving over, then a lateral whitewater explosion tossed skyward, followed by a firehose spray of spit out the shoulder.

The north peak sometimes closed out the waves early, but the swell out of the west was definitely on the rise. This did not hold back guys like Wise and Walbrou, who were killing it. Later on, Mike Stewart joined the fray and proceeded to sit deepest and score the biggest ones.

I stayed out for about two hours and caught only seven or eight of the smaller waves. But I did score a set wave that Stewie let go. IMHO, it was eight feet Hawaiian on the takeoff, if it was an inch--no doubt the biggest I've ever ridden there. I just clawed over the edge, bounced down the face, and held on for dear life, not even breaking trim.

Towards the end of the session, conditions cleaned up considerably, but the lineup ballooned with riders of varying talent. The paparazzi on the beach did not help the frenetic jockeying, but I guess it's to be expected during mid-season madness, especially with the Show (ASP) in town.

You'd think that I'd feel good about myself, having ridden my biggest wave ever. Although I felt good about the session, I couldn't help but feel inadequate about my riding skills.

As I was talking story on the beach, I saw bodyboarders doing takeoff spins, ARS's (Air-Rollo-Spins) and even a backflip. Not to mention some of the surfers getting major tube time in the improving conditions.

There I was, trying to push my limits in, what I perceived to be huge surf, and these guys were just taking it to pieces. They were just playing out there, surfing at a level I'll never master.

But that's ok. As long as I always feel good about my surfing and bodyboarding, that's all that should matter. Anyway, although that level of performance is unattainable (for me), at least it gives me something to aspire to. I can dream, can't I?

Aloha from Paradise,

Postscripts: (1) I pulled out the old camera after that session. Look for a few photos down the road. (2) Congrats to Kaipo Jaquias for winning the OP at Haleiwa. I've seen him surf since he was 12--happy to see him realize his dreams. (3) I'm off to Puerto Rico. Hasta la vista, baby!

Cranking off the Bottom

Free Falling