After a great weekend of SUP surfing and kiteboarding in Santa Cruz; the next morning I followed the swell down the coast and met up with Eric Akiskalian from Towsurfer.com and surf photographer Mike Jones of Azhiaziam.com for a mid morning tow surf session. After my first wave skiing session a couple weeks ago, I really wanted to see how these wave skis worked on a steeper faced wave that had a little punch to it. My optimal goal is to ride these skis in the tube; I just have to find the right wave with a good swell and smooth conditions.
The storm that was pushing the swell down the coast, had a lot of strong winds associated with it, making it a challenge to make the call where to go. We studied the conditions early morning and decided to go for it even though there was a light wind blowing. Sometimes you can wait for days for perfection, but half the fun is about the adventure and you never know what you may find unless you go. After 30 minute of getting the jet skis, boards, wave skis etc all ready to go, we were cruising our way out of the harbor. After a quick bumpy ride up the coast we checked a couple breaks and decided to check a below sea level reef slab that breaks about a mile off shore. Sure enough with the low tide and building swell, there were a couple fun pits to be had.
I towed my partner Eric into a couple nice glassy runners for an hour and then when we switched I opted to give the wave skis another shot in some solid, steep, fast racing pits. Ever since I tried the wave skis a month earlier, I really wondered how they would handle in ledgy fast waves with the obvious consequence of getting plowed and going over the falls with skis on. deep in my mind, I know it’s possible to get a tube with these skis, it’s just how big and can they hold an edge at high speed without blowing up??
This time I was better prepared with biodegradable liquid soap to slip my feet into the tight ski boots. Skis on, life vest and ski poles; hand me the rope, I’m ready to do some major R&D. Eric throttles the ski and pulls me out of the water to the outside, where we wait patiently for a set wave. A couple minutes later, I’m up and gliding into my first bowl of the day. It’s all about getting your timing right with the way the wave hits the shelf or shallow reef. The speed i get from the whip of the jetski puts me in perfect position and I arc a sharp turn down the face, followed by another arcing bottom turn under the lip of the wave. The high speed takes me a little further past the tube section, but gives me a good idea where I can bleed some speed to set up better for the next wave. “What a rush”.
I kick out in the safety of the channel and grab the rope as Eric passes by me and we zip back out for another. Every wave, I get better and better at managing my speed and control over the ever changing conditions. The light onshore wind leaves a slight crumble on the lip making it hard to get a clean tube, but still smooth enough to get some great rides. The great thing about this wave, is that it breaks perfectly almost in the same spot every time and if you miss time the right bowl section, you can still turn hard Left and ride it out the other way. like a perfect A frame.
After about 15 waves, my confidence is peaking and I start to get a little too comfortable and thats when mother Nature gives me a good slap in the gut. I whip into this wide set wave and let go of the rope a little too early making me too late to make the section and as it closes out, I decide to ride around the exploding lip and get gassed where the white water takes my feet out from under me and knocks the wind out of me. I can’t tell you how hard that hit me, but I felt like I could only squeeze a breath in and out of my lungs the size of a ping pong ball. My skis still on my feet ; I lay floating in a little ball catching my breath for a good 5 minutes.
I got off pretty lucky, laughed it off and grabbed the rope to keep my sanity in check. If you don’t get back on the horse, sometimes that might be your last ride. Eric towed me into a couple more waves and every time after a ride, he would sling me into the next wave on our way out. We call this move, the inside whip because you can arc the ski towards the in coming wave and do a super sharp turn whipping the rider into the face, giving the rider a burst of speed banking into the lip straight into a bottom turn. It’s a huge thrill and if your timing is on, you can almost get every wave in a set.
An hour and 25 waves later the wind started blowing a little stronger and we all decided to call it a day. it was a great full day of hard wave skiing R&D and it gave me a new found respect for the unknown which I can’t wait to explore and push further on the next swell.
A big thanks to Eric for towing me into so many waves, to Mike Jones for shooting photos and to Jason Starr and the McDermatt brothers for custom shaping these great wave skis.
Here’ s a look at the new custom big wave skis that the McDermatt brothers shaped for me for the 50′ ft ++ days for next Winter season. Stay tuned…..
Last year I competed in the SUP surf event which was part of the Kayak Surf Festival in Santa Cruz at Steamer Lane and the waves were knee to waist high, making it very challenging to really showcase the sport of SUP surfing. This year’s event had a solid swell forecasted to hit during the event and build on the final day.
I had spent the last couple weeks training for the Catalina Crossing SUP race where I was going to team up with Byron Kurt and paddle our new Hobie Unlimited board, but after looking at the forecast I made some last minute arrangements because I really wanted to get the chance to SUP surf Steamer Lane with some solid size and really give a good showing for the sport.
I drove up early Thursday morning and arrived in Santa Cruz at 6 am and took a short 3 hour nap. Restless, I ate some breakfast and picked up some new race and SUP surf fins from The Rainbow Fin company which has been my sponsor since the early 90′s. I always love going in there and talking shop and seeing what new creations Schad has designed for me for SUP, tow surfing and kiteboarding.
Shortly after, I drive up to the event site at Steamer Lane to test out a couple of my new short Hobie SUP surfboards and make sure I have everything dialed before contest time the next day. The waves were double over head on the sets with a spread out crowd, making it easy to catch a couple waves and get warmed up. Later that evening I drove back to the Broome’s house where I was staying and enjoyed a nice home cooked meal, hot shower and passed out within seconds of hitting the bed.
I woke up super early and drove up to the event site to secure a parking spot and see what the swell was doing before my heat. The swell was still holding double over head, but there was a slight bump in the water from the high tide and the waves refracting off the cliff walls. I wanted to ride my Hobie 8’8 but decided at the last minute to ride my 9’9 mini gun, for stability and the ease for catching waves. We had to wear helmets because of liability reasons, which took a little getting used to because of the muffling sound on the ears and if you fell and had to punch through a wave, your head felt like it would just float off your shoulders.
We had 20 minutes with 5 guys in a heat, so it was important to get a good solid opening ride to set the pace and then keep building on that as fast as you could. The waves were pretty perfect and every now and then you could catch one that would have a South bend to it that would race all the way around the corner for over 100 yards through to the inside. At the blink of an eye the heat was over and you always wished you had one more wave, but when its almost perfect you just have to go with the flow.
The first round of the SUP division was over for the day, so I drove up the coast with good friend Peter Trow and met up with photographer Jarrett McPeek to take advantage of the swell and get some shooting in. We found a nice Right hand point break that had a couple big set waves rolling all the way to the inside with no one out. We suited up and paddled up to the top of the point to see what we could find. The swell was a little raw and unorganized, making it slightly challenging to connect one all the way to the inside. Peter and I traded a couple fun waves along with several close outs which made for some fun paddling. A couple hours later the wind started to work its way down the coast, so we called it a day and got some lunch.
After a small nap, I met up with Dave Broome and a couple of my good friends who own and run Caution kites out of Santa Cruz and went up the coast for a kiteboarding session. The wind was blowing a steady 20-25 mph with good waves and a pretty big crowd: but when your kiting with the local boys, the crowd seems to always disappear. I have to admit that my kiteboarding was a little rusty, but after an hour of battling the crowd in the waves, it slowly came back. I always love changing it up on the water, no matter what the conditions are.
After a full day of nonstop adventure, I went to a BRBQ at one of Dave’s friends house up in the Santa Cruz mountains where they had built an insane mini moto dirt bike track in the front yard. It was pretty awesome to watch the boys terrorize each other as they raced around the track and every couple laps one of them would come flying off the track just short of taking themselves out. Dave let me try out his new 110 around the track. It has been a long, long time since I last rode a dirt bike and after a couple laps, I was hooked. That’s all I need, is another sport to escort me to the hospital even quicker. ha ha. Much respect, I will stick to the water for now…..
The next day our heats started mid morning with a slight drop in swell, but great conditions. I rode my Hobie 8’8 Stinger swallow tail quad which worked insane for driving down the line with speed and doing quick round house snaps in the pocket. Riding this board makes me feel like I’m surfing my short board. I worked my way through that heat, just milking every wave to the inside with as many tight turns as possible. Everyone was surfing really well, which made for some stiff competition.
The next day, they ran the semi finals and then the finals. I was super stoked I made it to the finals. The swell started building and just before our final heat, sets were hitting the outside middle peak with 10′-12′ ft faces pealing perfectly through Indicators. The tide was on it’s way up, making it great conditions for a good final. Everyone was surfing out their heads and with only 20 minutes, every second counted. After each wave, I would kick out and paddle as fast as I could back to the top of the point. The waves would peal so long that you had to force yourself to kick out. It was really tough to tell who was going to take it because everybody kept getting really good waves. The horn sounded and the heat was over. We all congratulated each other with big smiles on our faces. Sharing waves with 3 guys at the Lane was pretty sweet.
I was very fortunate that all my hard work paid off and I was able to defend my title one more time. Congrats to Zane Schweitzer 2nd, Michael Roberts 3rd and to Peter Trow 4th for really pushing the level of competition in the event. It was really great to see guys like Zane Schweitzer, Sean Pointer, and Dan Gavere pushing the short board style to the next level. Everyone has such a unique style and it will be exciting to see where the sport is next year.
I want to thank Surftech for another great event at the Lane and to all the competitors for pushing the sport. I want to thank Dave and Sarah Broome and Rainbow Fins for a great weekend in Santa Cruz and a huge Thank you to all my sponsors Hobie, Ocean Minded, kialoa paddles, Dakine, Rainbow fins, O’neill wetsuits, Reactor watches, Watermans sunscreen, H2o Audio, OnIt extreme cream, Monster paint traction and my family for your support in making this trip possible.
Photos by Jarrett McPeek
Just when I get used to being at home, sure enough another swell is set to hit Hawaii where “The Sunset Pro” SUP big wave event was on call to start the next weekend. I pack a couple 9’9 Hobie SUP mini guns and a duffle bag full of gear to stay for 10 days and made arrangements to stay with my good friend Sean Jenson and his family on the North shore. Leaving my family for more then a couple days is always hard, but I’m very fortunate to have a strong understanding wife that makes it easy for me to stay focused and do these last minute adventures while holding down the home front.
Traveling last minute these days is a lot more of a pain then it used to be and now I find it takes some major creativity when it comes to traveling with a couple board bags. I used to just throw a big smile and a little small talk and half the time, I wouldn’t even get charged; but now it’s a gamble on who you get at the ticket counter and how good you packed your 2 SUPs and paddles in one bag etc… ha ha
A quick 5.5 hour flight to Oahu and I meet up with Dave and Meg Chun from Kialoa paddles and Blane Chambers of paddle Surf Hawaii SUP boards for a nice local style lunch and a couple laughs. Early the next morning l paddled out for a couple hours at Sunset to get my boards dialed before the trials event started later that day. “The Sunset Pro” SUP trials were blessed with 8′-10′ ft glassy perfection. It was pretty impressive to see all the different styles of big wave riding and how the new young generation is really pushing the sport. The clear stand outs of the event were 17 year old Kai Lenny, 12 year old Riggs Napolean and 15 year old Slater Trout who won the trials. After the event finished mid afternoon, several of us paddled out for another super fun session till dark.
Up early with the roosters for another great clean 8′ft morning SUP session at Sunset with Robby Naish, Dave Kalama and kai Lenny. We all shared some fun waves all morning and as the late morning crowd thickened we respectfully paddled in for some food. My favorite thing to do when I’m hungry, is ride my bike to Teds Bakery and get a tuna sandwhich, drink and a chocolate Haupia pie for desert and kick it on the beach while checking the surf.
While waiting for the new swell to arrive, I kept myself busy, paddling every morning and afternoon, went for mountain bike rides, swam, body surfed and and ran the beach every day. I even got to join Bonga Perkins and Billy Watson and a friend and paddle the 4 man outrigger (surf canoe) into a couple waves at Sunset and cammy’s. You have to take advantage of the warm tropical weather, when your in a wetsuit all Winter at home.
finally the swell started to fill in Tuesday evening and by Wednesday morning Sunset was 15′-18′ ft and almost closing out. The Sunset Pro SUP big wave event was on. I paddled out with a handful of paddlers to get a crack at a couple big West bombs before the first heat started. Every so often, a set would close out the channel taking out a couple paddlers to the beach and an hour later, only 3 of us were left standing. It was awesome trying to figure out where to position yourself and wait for the bombs without getting steam rolled. My last wave in, was a lucky late air drop on a pretty big set that pealed all the way across the channel almost connecting with the Left at Cammy’s.
The event ran 3 heats of the first round before calling it off, “due to challenging, dangerous conditions”. I guess some of the competitors got pretty beaten up and pounded by the waves with a hand full of broken boards. I was pretty ticked off to say the least because this is what many of us trained for and dreamed of; to showcase the sport of big wave SUP surfing in some of the biggest, challenging waves you could ask for. We traveled so far, now we had to sit and wait for a smaller more manageable day, while the first 3 heats got the chance to compete and show their big wave skills, completely unfair…………
We spent the rest of the afternoon towsurfing at Backyards and Phantoms and called it a day. sure enough the next 2 days were super windy and stormy, so Jamie Mitchel and Billy Watson and I motored to the West side for some cleaner fun conditions at Makaha. We were blessed with 6′-8′ ft surf and only a handful of guys in the line up. Always a good adventure on the west side.
Woke up early as usual and rode my bike down to check the conditions and see if the event was on at Sunset . The conditions were still pretty messy and the swell had dropped to 8′-10′ ft and with the swell dropping the next couple days the event had to go today. It was a total buzz kill to think how good we had it, but sometimes you just got to go with the flow. The waves were all over the place and you really had to be at the right place at the right time. it was anybodies game. The judges wanted to see you ride the biggest waves yet the small ones were the only ones connecting through to the inside and the bigger sets would just mush out with a couple lucky ones connecting inside. The heats were 30 minutes which went by pretty fast. In my heat posted up outside picking off a couple good sized sets but they never connected and finally I got a good one where i made a couple good turns and did a snap in the bowl section thinking I could ride it out, and dug a rail and got plowed. I noticed that Bonga and the others were sitting more inside getting smaller but good rides and that’s what made the difference. That was pretty frustrating and my worst heat ever; but you have to loose to win and hopefully I got that out of the way for next time. That’s where racing is so much better; first man across the line wins, no politics. etc….. ha ha.. just have to take it with a smile!!! The one thing that really put a smile on my face, was watching my Hobie team mate and good friend TJ Saeman surf so well making it all the way to the semis. Congrats to him and all the other great athletes that really represented the true watermen style so well.
Now, back to paradise and the finer things in life; hanging at the Jensen family house on the hill with the Saemen brothers….
The next morning, the Saeman brothers and I enjoyed some really fun Sunset and got a couple fun ones at Backyards and then early afternoon drove to the South shore to hang with friends and SUP in Waikiki. For how crowded the beach was, we got waves everywhere. Later I hooked up with the brothers and Candice Applebe and friends and had a couple cold ones at the Sunset pro after party at Lu Lu’s. It was one of the most hilarious nights of people watching with the Saeman brothers I could remember. It’s amazing what a little alcohol does to some people.
I love early mornings like this when everyone is hungover and your the only one up and on it. I went for a fun early paddle at Sunset and then caught a couple lefts at Cammy’s and bodysurfed the shore break for a while. A quick ride to Ted’s Bakery for some pastries and maybe a pie, just kidding and then back to the house to see if anyone was actually moving. sure enough the brothers were up making breakfast and talking story about the nights escapades.
It was our last day before going back home and checking in with the reality of the real world. I packed up my boards and bags ready to leave for the red eye that night and then we all went down to Sunset for a surf and some last day R&R.
Another great adventure where I challenged myself and put all my hard training to work to enjoy some solid size surf, compete with great watermen and make new friends. Many thanks to my sponsors and to the Jensen family for sharing their beautiful home in paradise and to Ted’s bakery for all the chocolate Haupia pie…..
stay tuned for another adventure with friends and some more new challenges coming soon……..
This El Nino season has been a busy one with strong consistent swells hitting Hawaii and the West coast almost every week. The hardest part, is choosing the right location to catch the swell and most of the time we have made the call within a couple hours of leaving. This swell was no different; after studying the swell and wind charts, we were still up in the air because every site had a different call on what the winds were going to do. We put our heads together and decided to roll the dice and go with our gut feeling and if it was wrong, we were ok with that.
A couple hours of packing the boat, loading the skis, food etc; we were off into the night with our thumbs crossed. The conditions were a little rougher then the last go out, but still manageable. We woke with one hour to go to partial foggy skies with a little wind chop out of the south. A couple rain squalls passed with super strong winds and as they passed the seas would turn calm again.
Finally, our first site of the reef bank, showed a couple rolling mountains capping with some good sized sets, but due to the high tide, not really doing it justice. We motored around for an hour and decided to wait it out. The wind and rain came and went making for challenging seas to just sit and wait, so we decided to slowly motor one way for 45 minutes and then motor back. Motoring in one direction kept the boat from rocking back and forth and making anyone sea sick. We passed the time watching a couple movies and eating with one eye always peeled at the ocean. By mid afternoon, we passed through a big rain squall and the wind switched slightly out of the South East, grooming the ocean with a slight manageable texture.
We could see a lot more white water off in the distance and with only 3 hours of sunlight left, we quickly got our wetsuits on and skis ready to unload as we motored back to the reef. The ocean still had a little bump on it, but every 2nd wave of the set was super clean, so we decided to tow in and make the most of what little time we had left. You had to be pretty selective due to the wind bump, but every now and then a really nice set would come our way with a nice fast inside race track through the West bowl. We rarely let any waves go by and every now and then paid with a good beating on the inside trying to out run the West bowl.
We had a solid 2 hours of really fun waves and then the onshore wind really kicked in hard making the waves pretty bumpy and blown out. The seas really got rough, so the captain decided to keep the boat moving with the swells while we patiently loaded all the skis back on the boat safely. Once everything was strapped down and secure, we continued our journey South of the boarder to check another set of reefs that might be protected by the wind. The captain motored all night and through part of the morning until we hit one of the off shore islands we had been looking to surf.
Sure enough after an hour of rounding the island and checking each point and cove we found a wave that was breaking on an outside reef and on the bigger sets, would peel all the way to the inside of a cobble stone beach. the wave needed less tide, so we decided to anchor and eat lunch and slowly get our paddle boards together for an afternoon session.
After lunch, the tide got lower and the wave started peeling from the outside section all the way through to the in side. The outside peak still had a bump on it from the wind making it a little challenging for stand up paddling, but when the only crowd in the water is the crew you came with, it’s all good.
We paddled for a couple hours and towed into a few before dark, before loading everything up for the long haul home. the captain motored all night and we arrived back in the safety of the harbor late the next morning. Some adventures go as planned and others are a crap shoot, but if you plan for the worst, it always ends up better.
A big thanks to the captain for keeping us safe and being understanding when we wanted to wait out for better conditions. In our case, patience, paid off even though it was a small swell.
keep posted for what Mother Nature throws my way….
Still buzzing and a little jet lagged from a great trip to North Carolina; I hurried home from the airport while on the phone pin pointing where it would be best to catch the last day of the swell. After a quick pit stop at the house, a little quality time with my family and I was back on the road headed North to meet up with fellow photographer Dave Puu. Dave’s artistic vision brought us to a secluded cobblestone point just before sunrise.
All suited up, with my 8’6 Hobie SUP and kialoa paddle; I quickly navigated my way through the 6′-8′ ft pounding waves just as the sun started peaking over the coastal mountains. The strong offshore winds and the golden glow of the sunrise made every wave look like a priceless work of art. The long period swell made the big sets inconsistent enough to squeak back out before the next series of waves came marching in. The great thing about stand up paddling is that you can see sets way before they get close and then you can chase them down like a hunter, picking off the best one of the bunch. The angel of the swell was so perfect that you could get some rides down beach over a hundred yards long.
After 3.5 hours of nonstop surfing and paddling, the wind turned onshore enough for us to call it a day and get some food and move to another location with a better protected point at low tide. A quick bite and a half hour of scoping waves, we found ourselves scoping a couple dredging rock point breaks a half hour South. The swell was hitting these uncrowded points perfectly. The only thing making it questionable was that the wave would hit the shallow sand bar and bowl into a racing, dredging sand barrel about 1o’-15′ ft off the rock wall. One mistake and you were getting a rock tattoo.
Nothing like a different kind of challenge to fuel the fire of another adrenaline rush. I paddled out along the rock wall studying the waves as they peeled by. As i got to the top of the point, I caught the last wave of a 5 wave set and barely made the air drop, high lining it in the pocket and just escaped getting denied at the end bowl. What a rush!! i paddled out with a little more confidence and decided to wait for a bigger set. Before I could even pause another wave reeled my way. I quickly turned my board down the face, sliding into the pocket with ease as it hit the inside shallows I could see the roof of the wave close over me, pumping as fast as I could go, I blast out of the first section about to kick out, but I roll the dice and push on back dooring the next sand bowl and find myself trapped with no place to go. The end bowl slams the door tight spitting me into the rocks. I gain my footing on the shallow sandy bottom only to delay the inevitable. I pull away from the rocks and try to dive under the next wave and get smashed on the bottom, breaking my paddle in my hands. Luckily there is a break in the waves and I gather my garage sale together and paddle on my stomach to the safety of the deeper waters. “wow, what a great way to experience both sides of the spectrum and still get away with minor bruises. I humbly paddle inside and call it a lucky day.
“Nothing like exploring the good and the bad and walking a way with a smile.”
I was still buzzing from my Cortes Banks Dream trip and could not even think about sleep, so I zipped home, switched out a couple SUP boards for smaller surf, checked the buoys and decided to continue my SUP mission with a 2 hour road trip up North……..
I called my good friend, renowned surf photographer Dave Puu as I was driving into Ventura around 5:45 am . He never misses a sunrise with a swell in the water. We met up at one of the local beach breaks to check the conditions of the surf and 5 minutes later had a game plan and hit the road. When shooting with Dave, your always searching for artistic perfection and when the conditions don’t seem to be all time, you still hit the water knowing that Dave’s keen eye always finds the magic.
We checked a couple more spots and finally settled on what I call “the studio”. Surf was a couple feet over head with a bone chilling 15 mph offshore breeze. I suited up and grabbed my 8’6 Hobie SUP board and hit the water. We worked a dredging Right handed sand bar that offered up a couple long draining spitting tubes with it’s fair share of close out beatings. Three hours later we were ordering breakfast at The Cajon Cafe exchanging stories of the morning goods and setting up for the afternoon plan of attack.
With the tide dropping and the swell slowly on the decline; we took a gamble and headed South towards Malibu. The boys shared a local low tide sand spit that throws a backwash wave into the in coming set creating a super steep, square , grinding, wedge of a tube that peels right down a rocky point. Dave suited up and swam out with his water camera to get a different view of the action. We managed to beat the crowd and score a couple really fun back wash bowls before the welcoming comity swarmed the peak.
We dried off and headed South once again checking several points on the way and finally stopped shortly before sunset at a small point beach break. Nothing really enticing to motivate the crew, so they called it a day as Dave and I contemplated one more go out in hopes of capturing some of the mystical sunset that lit up the inside section of the point. I quickly raced down the rocky cliff and paddled out catching wave after wave as the sun slowly set behind the dark ominous clouds. I rode my last wave in with the biggest smile on my face, knowing we had scored once again finishing the day with another epic sunset. There’s nothing more satisfying then hearing Dave say “that we really killed it today”. “What a great way to end my 48 hour wave crazed treasure hunt.” I packed up my truck, said my goodbyes and started my long journey home.
Home at last; my wife, my dog, a hot shower and dinner and the rest is history……
Stay tuned to another wave filled adventure coming soon…..
There is a fine art to chasing swell and no matter how prepared you are, Mother nature always throws you a curve ball. This years El Nino pattern has made it a busy swell chasing season, traveling to Hawaii, Oregon, Mexico and up and down the California coast. There is so much work that goes into being at the right place at the right time, but the pay off can be huge. Every swell episode starts with days of consistent studying of swell charts on wind conditions, storm track, swell direction, size of the storm fetch and weather pattern. I also spend hours on the phone getting more educated opinions from several of my weather guru friends and then put it all together at the last minute to pin point the best location to intercept the biggest swell.
Unfortunately this swell hit Hawaii on Christmas day, making it tough to get away; so I decided to catch the tail end of the swell when it hit the West coast. Our plan was to go up North because of the better wind direction and swell size, but we also had our eye on a couple other outer reef breaks that were closer to home, incase the wind switched in our favor. I spent Saturday afternoon packing my truck with all my SUP guns, paddle boards and tow boards; ready for an early morning departure. Just before dinner the phone rang with news that the wind conditions stayed favorable for the outer waters so I quickly called the rest of the crew to change plans and see if we could pull off a miracle and get our good friend’s boat ready to go that night. We couldn’t get a hold of the captain and decided to wait and make the call at midnight to either pack the boat for a 100 mile adventure at sea or drive up North.
Luck was on our side and by 3 am, we were on the boat fully packed with 2 skis, SUP guns, paddle guns, tow boards and a great crew of friends ready to take on the world. We had been waiting for this day for 3 years and finally we were on our way, crossing our fingers that our forecasting would pay off. I had made 3 trips out to Cortez in the past 6 years so this was a dream come true for me. We got a quick safety meeting from the captain “AJ”and good friend and boat owner, Tim Ditty; then decided to catch some much needed sleep as we motored through the night 100 miles out to sea.
Restless, I awoke a couple hours later to see the sun rise through the storm clouds that blanketed the glassy Southern California coast. With another 4 hours to go we cooked a quick breakfast for the hungry crew and tried to get another couple hours of shut eye. Hours later we all awoke to see the first views of the cloud break hitting the Cortez Banks. What a rush, we’re 100 miles out off the coast and perfect 12′-15′ glassy waves are pealing perfectly in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight. We see another big boat and notice a couple other skis in the water; could only mean one thing, Team Billabong’s Big wave specialists Greg Long, Twiggy Baker and crew are here.
We rush to get our full suits on, stuff a couple energy bars and protein shakes down knowing it was going to be an all day nonstop session and get the skis ready to unload with the davit (crane) off the boat. We race out to the peak and to our amazement, see 8 guys sitting on their guns waiting for a set. It’s as we suspected; the Long brothers, Twiggy, Kelly slater, Peter Mel, Mark Healy, Nathan Fletcher and 2 others surfing the same dream session that we came to enjoy. After a half hour of scoping the scene, TJ, Bryce, Eric and I zip back to the boat and grab our paddle guns and I my SUP gun and join the fun. “It’s funny how small the world is when your chasing swell; we always seem to run into each other just about every big swell”.
The swell was still building and with 18-20 second intervals it started out pretty inconsistent making it very challenging to find the best place to wait for the sets. The shelf is about 12′-15′ ft deep in a quarter mile + circle and there are 3 distinct peaks that you can surf when the swell is pumping. Most of the guys sat on the last inside peak which we call the West bowl and a couple of us paddled back and forth between the North peak and middles. It was super challenging and took me a good hour before I caught my first wave going because i was too deep for the right. I got super lucky and managed to paddle back out through middles with out getting swatted by any clean up sets. Finally one wave under my belt, now I can relax a little.
The waves here travel about 30 miles an hour, about 5 miles faster then what we usually surf on the coast because the wave energy of the swell comes uninterrupted from super deep and then hits this shallow shelf full force. It’s a totally different kind of wave because when you first get into the wave, it starts out slopey and then when it hits the inside shallower section, it stands up and then just unloads shooting white water sometimes 50′ ft in the sky. When I would paddle for a wave, I would have to stroke super deep and fast to get my board up to speed just to get the glide going fast enough to make the drop because a lot of waves just passed me by like I was standing still.
At low tide there was a long flat spell where we all just sat around laughing and trading funny shark stories to pass the time. It was so cool to see how happy and relaxed everyone was; cheering guys on as they dropped into a bomb and hearing the stories after a great ride or wipe out, Truly Special…..
Later that afternoon, the offshore winds picked up a notch making it even tougher for me to make the drop, witch made for some pretty insane levitating air drops followed by a couple great deep ear popping beatings. One of my good friends, Eric from Towsurfer.com was running safety on the jet ski for us, which really helped everyone get back out especially after a big beating. About an hour and a half before dark, the sets started to pulse with a couple solid bombs. we milked the session as long as we could before going back to the boat to load up the skis for the long journey home. We loaded up, battened down the hatches, so to speak and slowly motored home. Tim prepared an awesome pasta and sausage dinner with his special salad that we all devoured in minutes. It’s crazy how hungry we all were in the middle of our session, but we never went back to the boat in fear of missing a good wave and it was all worth it.
After a good 6 hours of sleep, we finally entered the Harbor entrance and motored to the dock. We all powered as a well oiled machine and unloaded the boat faster then we loaded it 24 hours ago. Tim and the captain and crew were exhausted and all hurried home to catch the last couple hours of sleep before sunrise. I was still buzzing from my Dream trip and could not even think about sleep, so I zipped home, switched out a couple SUP boards for smaller surf, checked the buoys and decided to continue my SUP mission with a 2 hour road trip up North……..
A special Thanks to Tim Ditty for all of his support, photos and the use of his beautiful boat, AJ the captain and his first mate for making it possible and Eric Akiskalian for taking photos and running safety and TJ and Bryce for charging so hard and to my wife Susan for her patience and to my truck “The Road Warrior”…….
“The Day After” TO BE CONTINUED NEXT POST………
I have learned in the past, when making travel plans; “Mother Nature” always throws me a curve ball. Six weeks ago, My sponsor “Hobie” made arrangements for me to fly to Australia to help promote Hobie SUP boards and race in a series of down wind SUP races with my team mate Byron Kurt. Sure enough 7 days before I was to leave for Australia; a huge storm began to form just off Japan and after further studying the storm track and wave models, it looked to have all the characteristics of a perfect storm producing solid 60′ ft waves and light winds aimed straight for Hawaii. To make matters worse, I was on call to compete in the Jaws Tow surfing championships on Maui which was in the holding period and set to run on the next huge swell, condition permitting.
I had a tough decision to make and the clock was ticking. Either way, my sponsors were behind me; but I was gambling on speculation, so I decided to wait and see how the storm developed day by day. After 4 days of internet surfing; I decided to go with my gut feeling and fly to Maui in hopes of tow surfing, and possibly SUP surfing Peahi, “Jaws”.
I arrived on Maui with Hobie team riders TJ and Bryce Saemen and met up with good friend and photographer Tim Ditty. The Baxter family had a truck waiting at the airport and within 2 hours we were backing the skis in at Kahalui harbor to get a quick tow session in before dark with the new building swell.
After spending so much time in Maui back when I was competing windsurfing and kiteboarding; I was very fortunate to get to know the Baxter family who sponsored me in and took me in as a part of their family. I watched thier kids grow up and excel at every water sport imaginable. I grew very close to their son Connor who I treat like my little brother and help train to become a solid waterman every time I’m in Maui and now I stay with them every chance i get.
The next morning; Connor and I took TJ and Bryce out to Peahi “Jaws” with the skis to get them dialed before the swell was in full effect. We did a bunch of swimming in the pit and practiced pick up drills as well as drive the skis through the rock zones where lost boards can be picked up when the shit hits the fan on the big days..
That night we spent several hours getting all the boards ready and skis outfitted for an early morning assault. The word on the street was that this swell was so big that all the harbors were threatened to be closed to any boat traffic, so we made a plan to launch the skis an hour before sunrise to make sure our skis were in the water no matter what. That morning, our plan worked flawlessly and we drove the skis up the coast to Peahi “Jaws”. My adrenaline gets pumping the minute We round the last reef point and you can see the spray from the waves breaking at Jaws a mile a way. It was a bit nerve racking taking TJ and Bryce out for their first time because any mistake gets magnified x 10 and you are being watched by everyone. it was all about patience and baby steps for the Saemen brothers.
The morning started out slow because of the inconsistent swell, but by mid day we got into the groove and started getting some good sets and having fun. The swell was out of the West at 20-25′ ft hawaiian (40′-50′ ft faces)with light offshore winds. My boards were weighted pretty heavy which made a huge difference in making the bottom turn with the bumps and the speed to make the west bowl. By the days end, there were 3 to 4 skis and about 15 -20 boards washed up on the rocks.That night we were in bed by 7:30 pm and up at 4 am to do it all over again.
The 3rd day the swell dropped with sets still hitting 30′ ft faces and I decided to bring my SUP gun to give it a shot. You only live once, right!!!!! It was probably one of my heaviest big wave SUP sessions I have ever attempted because the swell was out of the West and 15 tow teams were still going. My first wave was pretty heavy with the bump and offshore winds holding me at the top and then finally pushing over the edge for the roller coaster ride of my life. I was leaning so hard on my bottom turn to hold an edge and just folded my paddle and exploded in an avalanche getting pulled like a torpedo hoping my leash didn’t break. It’s kind of funny when your getting ragged dolled under water; the more you fight the worse it gets and if you just relax, it seems to make the punishment more enjoyable..I caught one more and called it quits to fight another day with better conditions.
We towed for another 2 hours, got lunch and then I took Connor out on his newly weighted board until dark. he really excelled and after every wave, he always had the biggest smile on his face. It was really awesome to see so many new young guns charging so hard.
The next morning I SUP surfed with Dave Kalama, Jamie Mitchel, Slater Trout Kai Lenny and friends at Sprecks and finished with a great breakfast talking story; then we packed up the boards, cleaned and packed away the skis and flew on the redeye home.
I want to thank all my sponsors, friends and family that made this last minute water world trip possible.
Aloha and i hope to see you all in the water soon…………
I always like doing R&D and exploring how much smaller of a board I can ride and still paddle efficiently in the surf. Today I tested a 7’11″ and it was a fun challenge. I feel I need a little more length to help glide into waves and make paddling easier and a little more thin and sharper rails to help control the board during sharp turns etc. All in all, it was a fun ride….