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…..
Shortly after coming home from my family ski trip up in Lake Tahoe; I received a message that the Kui Kaika big wave SUP surf event at Makaha was going to run that following Monday. It was Saturday morning and I had to still book a last minute ticket, pack boards, make some calls to friends on the West side about a place to stay and above all, make sure my wife was ok with me pulling another disappearing act for another 3 day adventure. Sure enough I got the green light and everything fell into place by that night.
Up at 3 am Sunday morning, quick breakfast shake, hugged my dog, kissed my wife and out the door to the airport like Casper the ghost. I parked at long term parking, unloaded my SUP boards and crossed my fingers that the shuttle guy wouldn’t have a heart attack at the sight of my oversized board bag. The funny thing was, that the board bag wouldn’t fit into the shuttle door. I couldn’t help to laugh, but then got kind of nervous. How the heck am I getting this monstrosity to the airport?? Only a mile a way; I could run with it over my shoulders?? Just then the driver says, “no worries, I will open the back window”. That was pretty lucky… Next stop, playing Russian roulette with the ticket counter attendant with my oversized board bag. Lucky again; I just lifted it up like it weighed 20 lbs and nearly blew my shoulder out.. ha ha.
Travel now a days is totally different. I can remember way back traveling with all my windsurf gear to Hawaii etc. with a 10 ft windsurf board bag that carried 3 wave boards and a surfboard then another huge gear bag filled with masts, booms and sails etc. both bags weighing well over 100 lbs to where you could only drag them on the floor and only having to pay $125 for both. Now a days, you have to cross your fingers in hopes of getting a nice ticket agent that doesn’t give you the run around about opening your bag and counting boards etc. I have been lucky more times then not and found that a super big smile accompanied by the yes sir, yes ma’am attitude works pretty well.
A quick 5 hour flight and I arrive on Oahu, grab my boards and call my good friend Craig Davidson who is a Lifeguard on the West side as well as a stuntman, waterman and one of the most humblest guys I have ever met. We drive back to the West side towards Makaha and I was shocked to see how small it was. The forecast was calling for a solid 15 ft NorthWest swell to start filling in by the evening. As we passed Makaha, the waves were only 2-3 ft; kind of hard to believe that by this time tomorrow the swell would be pumping, but that’s what Hawaii is known for. I quickly got settled in at the Davidson property, met the family, had a bite to eat and set up my boards. Craig and his daughter walked me across the street, down a path to the ocean where he showed me a couple spots in the sharp volcanic reef to dive in with my SUP board and paddle down to the point at Makaha. I watched the waves for a while and decided it was too small to SUP, so I just paddle surfed on one of his short boards till dark. By the end of my session, you could see a couple pulses of the new swell starting to show. I was pretty burnt out from traveling, so shortly after dinner it was lights out for me.
Craig and I woke early the next morning and checked the surf in front of his house. There was definite swell, but still on the small side with a couple good sized sets a little on the inconsistent side. We drove down to the beach and met up with some of the local Makaha boys and competitors to see what the call was going to be about running the event. It was great to see everyone; kind of a who’s who of the Hawaiian water world, like Brian Kealana, Mel Puu, Archie Kalepa and Robby Naish to name a few.
The swell had turned a little North which made it look as if the swell was slightly missing the point with sets toping out at 8-10 ft, still not big enough to give the green light for the event. Glen Mancata of Quiksilver had to make a tough decision and after talking with several of the guys at C4, they all decided that the swell was too small and wait till next year. It was an unfortunate call, but what can you do?? I watched a couple solid sets roll through the point with strong off shore winds and only 3 guys out. I was pretty fired up to say the least, so we ran back to the house and got ready for a long day on the water. Sun screen and a full belly, ready to rock!! I walked across the street and made my way up the reef to study the conditions and look for a safe way out. It was pretty intense to watch the sets march in way up the coast and with in a minute or so it would just light up in front of the reef making it impossible to even think of paddling out. I must have run out to the jump off spot on the reef and back at least 10 times because the sets kept coming.
Finally, a break in the action and I tip toed across the jagged reef for my last time and plunged into the deep blue paddling for the horizon like an olympic swimmer. Safely outside the impact zone, I paddled down to the top of the point and waited for a set. There were only 3 of us at the top of the point and a handful of guys surfing the West bowl. Looking up the coast, I could see another big set starting to hit the reefs on the way down so I paddled out about 20 yards and waited. Sure enough the dark liquid mountains formed perfectly just outside of me. Rule number one; never take the first wave of a set with a building swell because the next couple waves are always bigger. I stroke over the first 2 waves and quickly spin around and aim for the West bowl. As I paddle into the wave, my board speed increases and I start to glide down the face, pumping past every section with more and more speed. The wave starts to bend hitting the West bowl section and I attempt to rebound off the lip, turning back going left and get completely swallowed and driven to the bottom. Still griping my paddle, I get pulled like a torpedo towards the beach and finally break the surface gasping for air. i take 2 more waves on the head and paddle on my stomach towards the safety of the channel. What a rush! what a wave! back out for another I go.
Within the hour, the swell really starts to pulse and fill in with a couple solid 12 footers and bigger. Paddling back out was as good as riding the wave because you could watch all your friends take off deep racing for the channel and sometimes fighting the close out with some great wipe outs. It couldn’t be more perfect; light off shores, hot and sunny with a building swell and only a handful of the best to share the day. Every hour, there was a changing of the guard and a new crew of guys would shuffle into the line up. Later Aaron Napolean joined me at the point and pulled into a bunch of insane close outs with the biggest smile on his face. By mid day he and I had the line up to ourselves for an hour just trading wave after wave. The water patrol sat in the channel on their ski all day, making rescues and pulling us out of the pit every time one of us would got hammered by the end bowl. Later the off shore winds really kicked in heavy making it almost impossible to drop into the wave. One of my worst wipe outs of the day was when I paddled into a solid set wave and just as I was making the drop, the wind picked up the board and hung me on the lip, flipping me side ways, free falling, backwards into the pit. I can remember floating for the longest time wondering when I was going to hit and explode. I wore 3 more on the head and got plucked out of the soup by the guys on the ski, who applauded my crazy effort in flight.
By 3, the wind had increase dramatically and my beaten body was running on empty. I caught the next wave in and ran back to the house to refuel. it’s amazing how long your hungry body will hold out when the waves are good. After a little nap and a huge lunch, I joined Aaron Napolean and the boys at the beach for a beer and listened to Mel Puu and Ekolu play their ukuleles. I wanted to go back out for another evening session, but after 6 hours of good waves and beatings I was pretty content to just sit and chill. That night Craig’s wife cooked a great dinner and then I slowly melted into the pillows for a long, uninterrupted sleep.
The next day the swell had dropped, but still pushed a couple solid sized sets through the morning. I decided to try my new 8’8 Hobie stinger, swallow tail quad and see how it worked with a little of the leftover Hawaiian juice. I got a couple really fun waves off the point that connected with the West bowl and reformed into a really fast racy left. The board really worked well, making super tight turns and rebounding off the section with ease. As the swell slowly faded, we all camped on the middle peak connecting long rides all the way to the beach.
After another great 4 hour session, I joined Sam Pai and his friend for some good Kalbi plate lunch and then a cool drive up the coast to the end of the road. It was great to get a first hand look at some of the hidden beauty and history on the West side. When traveling any where in the world, it’s really important to respect the locals, their way of life and the hidden beauty that makes it so special. “Respect, enjoy and leave it as you found it so that some day you can come back and do it all over again’.
Later that afternoon, I packed up all my boards for my flight back home and enjoyed playing with the dog and watching Craig show is daughter the simple pleasures of flying a kite. I can remember back when I did that with my dad, it was the coolest thing ever.
This West side adventure was truly a special one; making new friends, enjoying great surf with some of the worlds best and exploring some of the hidden gems the West side has to offer. Many thanks to Craig and his wonderful family for sharing their paradise with me and to all the Makaha boys for all the great waves and friendship and to my wife and sponsors for your support in making these adventure possible.
Aloha to all and check back for many more adventures coming soon.
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 was one of those special chaotic times where chasing big waves fell on the same time as a big SUP race. There was a pretty solid Winter swell hitting Hawaii with perfect conditions that I really wanted to chase at the same time as the “Cold Strokes Classic” SUP race that was put on by Jeoffrey Nathan, owner of Coastal Urge in Wilmignton, North Carolina. Kialoa, my paddle sponsor, was the title sponsor of the event and had asked me to fly out and help promote and race in the event as well as teach a paddle and race clinic.
I was torn because I really wanted to do both, but this was a great opportunity to help push the sport of SUP racing and meet a lot of the East coast paddlers who are driving the sport on the Right coast. I had heard that the weather was unseasonably cold with highs in the mid 30′s, so I packed like I was going on a ski trip; “kind of funny to be paddling when it’s cold enough to snow.”
I flew into Wilmignton, N Carolina Thursday night and met up with Dave and meg Chun, Owners of kialoa paddles and Jeoffrey and kat Nathan, Owners of Coastal Urge and visionaries of the Cold Strokes Classic paddle. We all went to a nice dinner and discussed our game plan for the paddle event and race clinic.
work is never done; now I know what writers cramp feels like. ha ha
The next day started with a great breakfast at the hotel with Meg and Dave and 2 box’s of SUP magazines and posters that Coastal Urge wanted me to sign to give away to all the races at the event. Around mid day we visited the Coastal Urge SUP store before going to dockside to set up the Kialoa tent and get ready for my paddle and race clinic. I was so amazed to see so many stoked people from all over, like Florida, S Carolina, new Jersey, Michigan and New England at the paddle clinic because it was so cold and windy. After a half hour of lecturing on paddle stroke and racing tips we all headed to the water for a good paddle. It was great to see everyone so pumped on paddling and eager to take it to the next level.
Later that evening all the racers gathered at the Dockside restaurant for the opening ceremony dinner where we were all treated to live music and a Polynesian fire dance. Shortly after, I showed a quick 10 minute SUP video that Chris Agular from “The Stand Up project” edited for me. and then we ended the night with some great music from a local live band.
“A good nights sleep and ready to roll for race day”. Another great breakfast at the hotel with all the racers and then off to the event site for an 11 o’clock skippers meeting. “Could it be any colder”?? 28 degrees out with a light North east wind, just perfect for a good day of paddling…..
I bundled up in work out leggings, sweat pants, wool socks, 5 mil booties, 2 breathable long sleeve shirts, thick gloves and a beanie. Not having my race board, I decided to paddle along side the recreational racers and share the stoke of racing. The Elite racers started their 7 mile paddle first and the recreational racers started their 3.5 mile lap shortly after. It was pretty awesome to paddle along side so many excited paddlers that were so stoked on the sport. I would paddle hard for a couple minutes shouting words of encouragement to the racers next to me and then I would stop take a couple pictures and paddle to the end of the pack, making conversation from one person to the next; back and forth, the whole time. It was great!! I can remember The huge smile on the last finishers face when he beat me through the finish line. “Paddling along side all of these super stoked people was so refreshing and it really opened my eyes on how lucky we are to be doing what we love to do.”
It was awesome to see my Hobie team mates “Byron Kurt finish 1st and Colin McPhilips finish 3rd behind good friend EJ in the elite race. “job well done, boys…” and a big congrats to Brandi for throwing it down for the ladies..
within a half hour of finishing the race, I was off to the airport to fly back and catch the swell hitting California. “Kind of crazy, but with the epic El Nino Winter we are having, it’s hard to let a good swell go.”
I really want to thank Jeoffrey Nathan and his wife Kat for putting together such an awesome, well run event and to Meg and Dave from Kialoa, for sponsoring the event and flying me over and to all the great East coast paddlers that I met paddling. And a huge thank you to my wife for holding it all together during my crazy travel schedule.
I hope to see you all the next time…
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………
With “El Nino Winter” in full effect, we have had a great run of solid swell over the past 2 months and it keeps on coming. Not even back a week from chasing XXL swell in Hawaii and I’m off again for a quick 1 day road trip up the coast with friends. When dealing with chasing swells, your always making plans last minute making it super exciting because it’s always a gamble and you never know what your going to get.
We made the call last night at around 10:30 pm and were on the road 2 hours later with 2 skis, SUP boards, tow boards and paddle boards. We arrive at the harbor just before light; it’s 4o degrees out with a 20 mph smoking offshore wind and a building West swell. We suit up and do a quick 30 minute jet ski ride up the coast to a fun slab of a wave that breaks over a shallow swiss cheese reef shelf.
As the sun pops over the mountain range, the first sign of the swell pulses a couple gaping A-frame tubes over the shelf that spit like a fire breathing dragon. “It’s on”, with a quick scramble to tie off all the extra boards to an anchor, we race to the outside to pick off a couple sets. “This is what it’s all about; I feel like a kid at Christmas time”…….
it’s like a studio out here, with a couple photographers shooting off the ski and another swimming in the pit; it doesn’t get any better…. We all trade wave after wave, sometimes getting our clocks cleaned and sometimes getting shot out of the tube like a cannon. “It’s the best way to train because we all push each other to go deeper and in doing so, sometimes you cash in the fun tickets for a quick ride down the elevator shaft to the basement of the kelp forest”…. After a solid beating like that, you really feel alive and that is all part of the rush that keeps you going back for more….
40 spitting hallways and a dozen punishing car wrecks and I take a break and swim in the pit to shoot a couple water shots of the boys doing their thing. “It’s the best seat in the house”..It’s such a cool feeling to watch your friends charging and driving in the tube right next to you..
A good hour of swimming in the pit, fired me up to sling into a couple more bombs as the tide slowly dropped out. 4 skis in the water with no shortage of waves, kept the moral peaking all day. By mid afternoon, the low tide created huge staircases to launch off in the tube, making for some unbelievable entertaining rodeo rides. With 8 hours of fun under the sun; hunger and exhaustion set in and we called it a day.
The day ended with a huge feast at a local pub as we all reflected on the days treasure, exchanging stories of wipe outs and stand out tube rides. It’s amazing what punishment you can put your body through and still have a smile on your face. Another great successful stealth mission in the books and a big thanks to my friends who shared this epic day and to photographers Fred Pompermyer and Mike Jones
The North Shore is the epicenter for Winter swells and a great place for me to push my big wave SUP surfing and waterman skills.
I really enjoy working hard for my sponsors and with great photographers like Tim Ditty anytime I’m in the water.
Here are a couple cool shots by Tim Ditty of a typical North Shore day with some fun Winter swell.