Like, without dying!
A few days ago, I hosted another surf journalist for breakfast. While we filled our non-athletic stomachs with pancakes, we shared anecdotes and laughed at the absurdity of everyday surfers like us travelling with the best surfers in the world and their accompanying entourages of filmers and managers and so forth.
At one point, my companion told how he’d made a perfect “hook-up” with a water photographer and, at the photographer’s urging, had given the turn everything he had. Surfing generally does something terrible to a man’s ego and I waited for the obligatory showing of the photo, me doing the ooh-ahh, thing, while thinking: have you no modesty?
The photo was something else. It looked nothing like my good-looking blue-eyed friend. Instead it presented him as a fat and reddish blob awkwardly trying to tip an oversized board onto the rail while making a vomit face with a tongue that looked like it was trying to swallow his face. (Oh, I wish I could reproduce it here.)
Anyway, it reminded me of how, as a travelling surf writer of sorts, I often find myself dangerously outclassed at waves that, by any sort of right, I shouldn’t be near. Teahupoo, P-Pass, Ours, those sorts of deadly waves.
And, y’know what, sometimes you can get away with being a bit of a kook at the world’s deadliest waves. Five cardinal rules: Choose the right waves. Tow in if it’s a ledge. Surf it small if it’s the North Shore. Know your escape routes. Avoid the shallow inside section.
Let me recount my experiences in the field.
Teahupoo: I remember so clearly sitting in the channel watching Kalani Robb, of all people, for it was early in the century, take a west bowl and stand straight up in a barrel immediately after takeoff. I was hampered by two things. Fear and an inability to ride a backside tube. What could I do? I couldn’t just sit in a fifty-foot deep channel all week.
Cheat sheet: Teahupoo is open to two swell directions, south and west. The west bowl is an immediate tube. As Luke Egan said once, “If you have to look for the tube there you’ve already missed it.” Waves that come from the south, however, arrive further up the reef and move outward to sea. I’ve been to Teahupoo five times, caught hundreds of waves, and never been tubed! Or hurt! If you can’t surf, you want ’em from the south.
Ours: Mark Mathews and Koby Abberton showed me this wave a very long time ago and, because I have very bad wave sense, I couldn’t even see the wave.
“There is it is… take off here…”
Later, when I was in business with a pal who loved the joint, he would take me there every time it broke, offshore, onshore, two foot, ten foot, just to see, I’m convinced, the terror in my eyes. But I got tubed, got inside some real tubs of fun. How’d I do it?
Cheat sheet: Get on a jetski and get towed. Paddling at Ours requires real wave sense to see the boil, find the chip shot, paddle down the face, and stand upright. With a tow? Bend your legs to absorb the shock, wait and don’t panic when the wave folds.
Backdoor Pipe: I rode this every day with Andy Irons one year, which made me feel immortal, although the biggest day was four foot. I remember Carissa Moore paddling out with Pancho Sullivan and asking, “Is it breaking?”
Cheat sheet: Backdoor at two foot is a dream. So much zip!
Waimea Bay: Who hasn’t watched The Eddie and dreamed of cutting himself off his own slice? I have! I’ve stroked with an intensity I never thought possible, jumped into a deep crouch, and cut down one felt like a one-hundred foot wave.
Cheat sheet: Did you know Waimea Bay has a smaller inside wave called Pinballs? I think it’s the safest wave in the world at six foot and yet, stroking in, and taking off, you get almost the same vision that fills the eyeballs of the best big-wave surfers in the world. The church. The beach. The highway.
Cloudbreak: Is the Fiji Pro still as warm as morning bread in your head? Do you remember those little days where it looked like you could throw yourself at a mostly harmless, at least for a reef, lip, but recoiled when that long interval swell showed up?
Cheat sheet. Up to six foot, even with sneaker eights, Cloudbreak can be managed simply by sitting up the reef, on the ledge. Ride a longer board, get in early, and get out before it hurls itself onto the inside, even the middle, section. Your rides are short, you kick off in deep water, and when you want to go back to the safety of the resort pool you can paddle around the takeoff zone and back to the boat.