Rory Parker conquers his social anxiety and heads to Jaws!
When Derek asked if I wanted to fly to Maui and cover Pe’ahi every instinct told me to say, “Hell no!”
I’ve been to surf contests before. They take forever, it’s hot as hell. There’s never anywhere comfortable to sit, you’re shoulder to shoulder with a million sweaty gawking strangers. Been there, done that. Much happier watching online. Pants off, cold beer in the fridge, bong hits at the ready. How can you beat that?
Then I realized that I’ve become an utter pussy in my old age. What happened to my spirit of adventure? Sure, it’d be a long day, probably wouldn’t be terribly comfortable. I don’t like crowds, I don’t know even know exactly where Jaws is. The only times I go to Maui are on lame little marriage trips where we eat at the Surfing Goat Dairy and watch the sunset on Haleakala.
I’ve become a spoiled and complacent little bitch. That can’t stand. Went online, booked my flights and rental car. Applied for a media pass via the WSL’s site on a whim. Didn’t expect anything to come of that. Night before the event, don’t imagine many people within the WSL offices like me. But it was worth a shot.
On a side note- fuck Hawaiian Airlines. Just under $400 for an inter-island flight is total fucking extortion. Also, Discount Hawaii Car Rental is the tits. Every other company and reservation service was charging $150 for the day, minimum. Only $50 through DHCR.
Up at 4am the next day. Not a civilized hour. Sucked down a coffee and nicotine enema, tossed a notebook in my backpack, cheated my “no cell phones” rule by stealing the wife’s. Drug my crank tired ass onto my flight and dreaded the day to come.
I was secretly hoping they’d call the event off. I’d be free to spend my day hanging out in Paia, my fave little town in that island. I don’t know what it is abut the place, but it is literally overflowing with super sexy JOJ wanna-be hippy girls. I love it. Made sure to wear my best tie dye shirt. Needed to blend in if I was gonna lure one into my rental and finger-blast her in a beach park parking lot.
They called the event ‘on’ during my layover in Honolulu. So no luck there. I was gonna have to follow through with this shit.
The final half hour flight featured an obnoxious father-daughter couple in the row behind me. Dad reading aloud to his idiot offspring. Her shrieking with joy as he did different voices. Really put me on edge. Children should be seen and not heard. At the very least, keep their fucking voices at an acceptable decibel level.
Flight landed at eight, checked to see the contest was still on. Collected my rental and made my way down the Hana Highway. Still didn’t know exactly where to find the event. Online maps were some help, but I’ve learned over years in Hawaii that they can’t be relied on. Figured I’d just look for the mob and follow everyone down to the cliff’s edge.
It was a solid plan, and worked perfectly. Not much parking, but I was in a rental so I felt free to drive like an asshole. Snaked a spot on the side of the road off a tourist family in a minivan who pulled slightly too far forward before hitting the brakes. I could shoot in head first, mean mug Dad when he gave me a dirty look.
Local entrepreneurs were out in force. $10 for a ride through the former cane fields. Dusty as hell, no shade, a very long walk. Would’ve happily shelled out the dough, if I’d remembered to bring cash. Which I had not.
Because I’m an idiot.
The highway is set back quite a ways from the coast, and the walk fucking sucked. I was stoked I remembered to stop for a bottle of water, immediately started wishing I’d put more food in my body than a hastily choked down Snickers Bar.
Walk and walk and walk and walk. The Jaws Surf Tour van was hauling ass up and down the road, depositing another group of cash carrying citizens with each stop. Blasting their horn to clear pedestrians out of the way. I’d’ve found it amusing, had they not caught me day dreaming and startled the shit out of me.
It was 10am when I finally reached the clifftop. Drenched in sweat, covered in road dust. Elbowed my way through the crowd to get a view. Just enough cell reception to pull up the heat sheet. Is that a Hobgood falling from the sky? Who are all the other little specks? This was not a good idea. Why did I bother?
I could see the WSL point peeking out of the trees on the next point down. Shaded canopies, no double ample seating. And there I was, wallowing in the muck with the common man. I deserve better than this! Don’t they know who I am?
Don’t dwell on it. You’re here to work. Find something to write about.
The first women’s heat hit the water. It is, I think, deserving of its own separate piece. That will be along later. Here I’ll just say, it set the mood for their portion of the event. The pack would dodge sets, race for the shoulder, then chase scraps deep and inside before getting caught by the next one that swung in out of the West. From a few hundred feet up, far far away, the wave looks so easy. The should just paddle deep and backdoor into the barrel on a set. So easy to say. Not so easy to do.
The crowd didn’t care. They were ooh-ing and ah-ing and cheering like mad. I was bored and hot and decided to take a walk. See if I could sneak onto the event site.
Dodging teenagers on motorbikes hammering back and forth down the deep road I crept like a ninja. A drenched in my own bodily fluids, huffing and puffing ninja. Not very stealthy. Not that it mattered. I soon came to the end of the road, two very nice local fellows employed by the WSL to say, “This far, no further.”
Wise planning on the event’s part. Any further and I’d have ended up on the beach. And you can’t let people down there during a swell this size. I know better than to take a dip and end up drowned. Most visitors to these islands do not.
It’s always been my experience, the more intimidating local guys look, the nicer they are. Eight feet tall and covered in face tattoos? Big ol’ friendly hug monster. Figured I might be able to massage my way past. Struck up a conversation.
They’d got the job through one’s father. He used to do security for the Triple Crown. When his son moved to Kauai he got offered employment doing the same at Pe’ahi. “Best job ever,” he said. “I get to sit here all day and be mean.”
Can’t argue with that. Type of thing I would love to do. Yell at tourists, scare children. Good times. The best!
They were friendly and funny and I truly enjoyed meeting them. But they were not letting me past. No way, no how. Sorry buddy, go jostle with the rest of the losers.
I’d nearly resigned myself to the cruel reality of my lack of special treatment when my stolen cell picked up another signal. I’d received an email! From the WSL! My media pass was waiting at the front gate. Dave Prodan is my event contact. Call him if there’s trouble.
Fuck this noise, I’m out of here losers. Things are looking up. I’m gonna go grab a great seat, enjoy the show with the rest of the winners.
A hundred mile walk down a dirt road at noon is no fun. I tried thumbing a ride, but for some reason no one wanted to stop for a sweaty dirty freak of a man. It fucking sucked and I was hating life long before I made it back to my car and cranked the a/c until my body temp dropped ten degrees. A decade in Hawaii and I still haven’t adapted to the heat. I’d blame my weight, but plenty of big local brothers are fat as shit, way fatter than me, and never sweat a drop.
Jammed down the Hana Highway to Oili Road, found the front gate.
“Hey buddy, I’m Rory Parker. Got a media pass waiting for me.”
“No, brah. Sorry, you’re not on the list.”
Son of a bitch.
Called Prodan, let him know the situation.
“Kindly ask them to check again,” he texted me.
Nope. Not on there. Called Dave again. He said he forgot to add me to the list, I was on there now. Which wasn’t possible, as the list was paper attached to a clip board.
I asked the boys at the front gate if they’d radio down for me. Double check. They were happy to oblige. Not trying to be dicks, just doing their jobs.
“Sorry, we’ve had one hundred people say the same as you today.”
I’m sure they did. And I was sure I was fucked. No way was I walking back down that fucking road. I’d probably die of heat stroke if I tried.
They called the head of security, he had no idea who I was. So I gave up. Fairly certain Prodan was just fucking with me, which I wouldn’t hold against him. Lord knows I’ve never been kind to the WSL. I’m sure I’ve made Dave’s job more difficult. If I were in his shoes, this is exactly what I’d do. Screw with Rory, have a good laugh about it later.
I texted Prodan that I was over it. Heading into Paia. Planned to hit a bar and catch the finals on TV. It’d be cool and I’d have beer and all that was sounding pretty damn good.
I was just passing the Haiku cemetery when he called. Said they were sending up some people who’d make sure I got in. Took him at his word, hit a high speed u-turn, got back to the site where they still had no idea what I was talking about. Well played, sir.
Then, lo and behold, they arrived. I was in. And, you know what, it was worth the effort.
I’ve never seen Jaws break first hand. I’m well aware that photos and film never do heavy waves justice. Long lenses flatten things out. Audio recording can’t capture that visceral rumble of huge surf. You can’t taste the salt spray, can’t see how the swell bends and warps and bowls when it hits the reef. It’s a fucking spectacle worthy of any amount of hardship.
I bashed my rental through California grass, hoping to hell I wouldn’t kill the sub-compact piece of shit I was driving. Created a parking spot, ambled down the to the action. Did what I always do when I’m in a public situation that makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. Found a corner to hide in, perched atop a pile of pallets, and lit a cigarette.
“No smoking on the contest site,” a security guard kindly reminded me.
The new vantage point put me a mile closer to the action. I could see how the the wave bowls when it breaks. If it were a ten foot face it’d be scary as hell. At this size it’s mind boggling. Jaws should not be considered a surfable wave. You cannot appreciate the power, the sheer size of the playing field, the fact that the women were anything but timid, if you weren’t there.
Combo swell approached from different angles. The wind was howling. The chopper pilot put on a show of his own. Flying like a maniac, stopping to refuel, then roaring overhead and dropping straight down the cliff to the water below.
I’m a jaded asshole, I admit that. Not much impresses anymore. But I was in awe. Despite a lifetime in the ocean I’d never seen anything like this. Maui County did the world a service when they purchased the land fronting the break. Pe’ahi is special, it should be kept open.
As I mentioned, I’ll be addressing the women in another piece. But I think they acquitted themselves well. It’s easy to say, and I’ve already seen it online, that they hid on the shoulder, didn’t really try. But that’s bullshit. They fucking charged.
But the men… Sweet tapdancing jesus, the men! They paddled hundreds of yards deeper, took off behind the peak as though it were four feet instead of forty. Billy Kemper’s barrels had me screaming with fear and joy. Seeing sets stack on the horizon and mow their way in towards the reef had me in chicken skin. I honestly can’t believe people can ride these waves. I can’t believe they’d even want to try.
It was an ass kicker of a day, and by 4pm I was ready to drop. But it was worth it. Even though I missed the majority of the event, the final few hours I caught were grand, amazing. Something worth remembering. Plus, I got to eat at the Paia Fish Market. I love that place.