Getting Guillermo -- 8/9/97

Makapu'u Morning

Hurricane Guillermo was coming. It was a category 5 storm with winds topping 180 mph. Heading WNW at 16 mph, the super-hurricane was barreling straight for the islands. And even though it was nearly a couple thousand miles away, Hawaii was bracing itself; the devastation of Hurricane Iniki still fresh in most local's minds.

Fortunately, the high pressure ridge to the north of the islands eased a bit, pulling Guillermo northward into cooler waters. This weakened Guillermo before it even came close, downgrading it to tropical storm, then eventually tropical depression status.

However, before ebbing out, Guillermo had bombarded the West Coast with one of the best south swells of the summers. Reports of good double-overhead surf were coming in everywhere between Baja and Central Cal. We, in Hawaii, were impatiently waiting our turn.

On Friday, the buoys started pinging in the eight foot, seventeen second range. The swell was finally here! KGMB News reported that the Big Island was already getting eight-to-ten foot waves (probably faces) on the eastern shorelines. I was buzzing with anticipation.

Earlier in the week, I planned to defer my sesh to Sunday, hoping to catch the swell at its peak. However, I changed my mind due to the promising buoy reports, and instead went for my usual early Saturday go-out. Kohei-san from Japan was going to join me in my search for the best waves Guillermo had to offer Oahu.

We made it to Sandy Beach at about 5:20 am and found... nothing. It was tiny; we couldn't believe it! Up the coast, Irmas was just the same. It seemed like there was no southern component to this swell at all.

So we hit it right around the corner to Makapu'u, and found it big, but choppy. The winds were fairly light in the 10-20 mph range, but were blowing directly onshore. The sizable surf was churning in from the outside center peak, but it didn't look all that appealing.

Still not believing that Sandys and Irmas weren't showing, we got back into the car and had a second take at those spots. Nothing. After checking Makapu'u one more time, I suddenly got a wicked bout of Montezuma's Revenge (or rather, Foondoggy's Revenge). Fortunately, there was toilet paper at the Makapu'u bathrooms, or it would have been an ugly scene. :-)

In desperation, I suggested we check out a "secret spot" a half an hour's drive up the road. Maybe the swell would come in better up there, with cleaner conditions.

Getting to the spot was pretty stressful, since I knew that my precious water time was being wasted. But the payoff could be really high if it was catching the swell right. This spot was good enough to be featured in a recent Surfing mag article... enuf said!

I was flying through the roads at a, let's just say, rather quick pace. Of course, the worst thing that could've happen, happened--blue lights in my rearview mirror! I got pulled over! Miraculously, the officer let me go with just a warning. Maybe things were finally turning for the better?

We finally arrived at the secret spot as the sun peaked out of the horizon and found... flat conditions! Bad call! This spot had a more northern exposure, but it didn't catch any of the wrap either. The swell must've been a straight, straight east. Since I wasn't too familiar with the surrounding area, we decided to shine it and drive all the way back to Makapu'u. Gasp!

By the time we got back, it was 6:30 and there was already a fair crowd in the water. Thinking that it might be too big for my new longboard, I had only brought my bodyboard to ride. Kohei had both a shortboard and a bodyboard to choose from, but opted for the shortboard. (Even though surfboards aren't allowed at Makapu'u, the locals all surf out there until the lifeguards show up at 9.)

After shooting off a few pics, we bounded down the cliff and jumped in. Surf was good-sized (the Surf News Network called it 3-5', with some bigger ones), but it was very bumpy. The waves were difficult to see because of all the glare. As one local in the water told me, "The swell is coming right out of the sun!"

It was big, but messy...

Most of the crew looked like Waimanalo boys who were on top of the swell. Some people were very friendly, some were not so friendly. Surprisingly, I even saw someone who surfed Jimmylands with me last week. As far as wave riding vehicles, the spread was about 15 surfers, a half dozen bodyboarders, a sprinkle of bodysurfers, one paipo, one kneelo (and one mynah bird in one papaya tree).

I immediately started catching some fun waves. The outside peak has a very narrow takeoff window. Once on the wave, you pretty much flapped your way inside on the crumble. Occasionally, the middle section would reform and double up providing a nice wall to work with. Otherwise, you'd just ride it to the shorebreak where you could either pull in or pull out.

Kohei was having a tough time positioning himself and started getting a bit flustered. However, he eventually caught a great wave all the way to the beach. Afterwards, he was a happy camper, scoring several good rides. I saw him make a critical takeoff on a wave that was almost double-o. I was hooting at him as he came down with a smooth, drawn-out backside bottom turn right past me.

For myself, I feasted on the first half of the session, catching lots of waves, then had a major famine during the second half. Maybe it was because of the growing lineup, maybe the rising swell, or maybe it was just plain kookdom on my part. It was frustrating missing waves, but it still felt really good just paddling (and kicking) around in all that power.

I did manage to stroke into one fair wave that walled nicely for me on the inside. I did my infamous "drag-my-body-and-use-the-bodyboard-as-a-large-hand-planing-device" technique. Although I didn't get shacked, I could feel the negative pressure behind me and heard the funneling roar.

Just before pau hana time, I had the misfortune of getting acquainted with what was probably a box jellyfish. Never saw the bastard, but I have the welts and itchiness on my legs to prove it.

After almost two-and-a-half hours of water time, we bailed for home. Kohei had to hit the books to study, and I went home to the open arms of my patiently waiting wife and daughter.

On our way back, we passed Hawaii Kai Bay which offered a good view of the coast all the way down to Diamond Head. Kohei and I simultaneously did a double-take of amazement when we saw how very *little* whitewater action there was along the fringing reefs. This was one weird swell! I knew that somewhere, some surf spot on the island must've been firing, but it wasn't any that we could find.

After all our trials and tribulations just choosing a surf spot, it was satisfying to know that we scored some sizable surf, even though the quality wasn't all that great. I heard that Town had literally hundreds of surfers waiting in the lineups for waves that never came.

As I scratch my itchy legs, I can smile reassured in the fact that we got Guillermo pretty good.

Aloha from Paradise,