This past weekend I had the opportunity to compete in The Surfing AmericaUSA SUP Surfing Championships at Huntington Beach, Ca.
It was really cool to see that the surfing Industry is starting to recognize SUP surfing and that the Surfing America Organization added it into their competition schedule for 2012.
The conditions were 2′-3′ ft waves with a couple head high sets and foggy overcast skies that burned off by midday. There was a great mix of talented athletes from Hawaii, Florida and Southern California as well as a strong youth brigade of talent that really made competing in these small even more challenging.
Stand up paddle surfing in Southern California is always a mixed bag; where in the Winter, we have a good amount of fun over head surf and in the Summer we are always making the best out of our local beach breaks to get the most out of the small waves. Don’t get me wrong; we do get some awesome large Winter swells and and solid Southern hemi’s that really light up our coast; but its usually all about getting the most out of the small waves year round.
Even though I live in Southern California; I have been very fortunate to spend the last 15 years chasing large swells across the globe and have become totally addicted to riding big waves which seems to fit my style of riding better then the small stuff. That being said; competing against these small young rippers, with bodies that stretch like a rubber band was a major challenge for a big guy like me who lives for riding the big stuff.
For the last couple weeks I have been doing some R&D, riding a super short SUP surfboard By Naish “Hokua” ( 7’8″ x 29.25 x 4.5 ). This board has become one of my favorites and has really helped me refine my small wave riding style. I have to admit; I was kind of hesitant to ride this board in this event because of how slow the shorter boards paddle and when you only have a 20 minute heat to chase down and ride 10 waves against 3 other guys, you need to be quick and on point to make sure you get the high scoring rides.
After finishing 2nd in my first heat; I had a good idea of what i needed to do to keep advancing to the Finals. My first couple heats were really tough and sometimes I had to really stop and take a deep breath to keep myself from getting too amped because as the clock ticks down and your in need of one more high scoring wave to really close the deal, you get a little crazy and just go on any wave instead of being patient and selecting a good one to finish on.
It’s funny how your mind plays tricks on you when your paddling back out and you see one of your competitors just rip a wave to shreds and you can’t help but wonder how the heck your going to beat them; but I have learned and keep learning that it is important to stick with your game plan and alway have a plan B just in case. Sometimes competing against the clock can be bitter sweet, especially after you just got the high scoring wave putting you in the lead and you wish the clock would just speed up and other times your in need of a good scoring ride with only minutes to go and wish time stood still.
We were super lucky that the fun “A” frame conditions hold up for most of the day, although the wind and low tide in the semis and finals made for very challenging drained out, bumpy conditions; making it even more important to still be patient and wait for the right waves. My board was really working great all day and even better in the bumpy conditions because the short length really worked insanely well in the pocket and was super fast going rail to rail down the line, allowing me to out race sections with ease.
I was super pumped how everything came together for me competing in this event. Its great to ride with the best guys because it really elevates your riding. Congratulations to all the men and women athletes who competed and really pushed the level of riding to the next level. Thanks to Surfing America for an insane run event. The ASP judging format with the computer print outs really made it so you could concentrate on your surfing and not have to stress on whats happening in the judges tower.
I want to Thank all my sponsors and friends for their support in making it possible to push myself in all my sports.
Thank You –
Naish, Ocean Minded, SUP Co, Kialoa, Watermans sunscreen, OnIt, NOW Energy bars, Rainbow fins, GoPro, Dakine,
It was a solid day of rising swell 6′-8′ swell with a bunch of 10′-12′ ft clean up sets.
Went out at sunrise to get a couple good warm up waves and get the conditions dialed.
I got a couple great waves and my Naish Hokua 9’8 was feeling great for the size.
Sure enough when you get a little comfortable, thats when it happens; Kai Lenny and I were paddling for this one steep bomb that I
didn’t want to let go by and getting into it a little late, I air dropped down the face, landed and set up for the bottom turn just as the lip went over my head and shut the garage door, sending me deep to the bottom, rag dolling for several seconds trying to figure out which way was up and finally I climbed my leash rope to the surface for air.
I came up laughing and collected my gear and paddled back out to get a couple more just to keep my head in the game.
I competed in 3, 20 minute heats against a strong competitive field of athletes from all over the world.
I went into each heat with one thing in mind; to have as much fun as surfing and hitting the lip in the most critical place possible and it worked.
I can’t say I wasn’t nervous or full of adrenaline, but going against the best always brings out the best in you.
In The last heat, the swell was getting pretty maxed out with a couple close out sets and the wind and rain turned onshore making it pretty difficult, where any mistake could take you out of the game.
I have been stand up paddling for the last 5 years traveling the world chasing waves, paddling long distance ocean channels and coastlines and racing. The sport of stand up paddling gives you such a great view of marine life as you stand on top of your board paddling through the oceans and lakes. I think that is one of the most intriguing beauties that makes stand up paddling so inviting. “You are your own captain of your ship, exploring the waters of the world”.
Ever since I have been stand up paddling, I have witnessed some unbelievable moments of mother Natures creations paddling in the ocean. I have had a Blue whale breech in front of me, startled a huge Marlin sunning itself on the surface, paddled along side dolphins, Grey whales, Whale sharks, Thresher and Mako sharks and in the last 2 years several Great White encounters.
For someone who rarely paddles in the ocean; this could be pretty scary, but for someone like me who spends almost every day in it, It is magic.
San Onofre beach has been known for hundreds of shark sightings; in my opinion because of the Power plant that sits just South of the beach park that uses the salt water for cooling and the warm water that flows back in attracts big numbers of fish and marine life and this coastline has been a known breeding ground for several sharks for over a hundred years.
For the last couple of years paddling that stretch of beach, many of us have had Mako, Thresher and Great White sharks swim under and around us while SUP surfing in the line up. The sharks have always been there; it’s just until now because we are standing up on our boards paddling, that we have a better view of what lurks below. Most of the sharks we have seen vary from 6′ to around 10′ in length with a couple rare sightings of 12′ and bigger. With a huge abundance of fish, these sharks are fed well and have only been curious of what else shares their waters.
It’s become a normal occurrence where someone has seen a shark just about every other day. The more you see them, the more comfortable you get which in turn can be a mistake, being that these kings of the sea are still very wild and unpredictable. In the past 2 years I have had some very long encounters where I have had a shark swim around me off and on for a couple hours. I would paddle around chasing down waves and like a puppy dog, it would be waiting for me just outside the surf zone. Kind of creepy, but it has always captured my own curiosity as well. It’s like being in Africa and stumbling across a lion or tiger in the bush or even fishing in Alaska and seeing a grizzly bear catching fish in the same river your fishing in.
I have always wanted to take a photo of these sharks that swim along side us, but every time I took my water camera with me, I would never see one. Then finally, after SUP surfing with a couple good friends one afternoon where we had a 7′-8′ shark circle us off and on for a half hour, I was determined to get a photo the next day. I rigged up an extension pole with one of the new GoPro HD HERO water proof cameras and paddled out on my 12’6 Hobie SUP race board to the same spot we saw the shark the day before and within 5 minutes there he was.
It was a little freaky because I was looking forward and as I was scanning the horizon I accidentally startled the shark which was just behind me and as it took off, it’s tail hit my board bringing me to my knees to keep myself from falling in the water. After a moment of confusion and clarity; I stood up and set up my camera rig to take photos. A couple minutes passed and shark was no where to be seen. I had blown my only opportunity to capture a rare moment and then he appeared about 4o feet off the nose of my board. I’m not quite sure if this was the same shark or a smaller one. He made a couple wide passes and then came pretty close to where I could follow him swimming past with the pole cam. I shot a couple shots and then changed the setting to Video mode and was lucky to capture a couple really cool clips of him circling before taking off. I paddled around searching for him and caught a couple more waves and paddled in.
Finally, I had some photos and video that I could study and share with friends. When I got home that night, my wife and I went over the photos and video and were blown away at what we saw. It was a 7′-8′ juvenile Great White shark that looked pretty Gurthy around his mid section. Totally stoked on my find, I put my video on Vimeo and posted it along with a couple photos on my Face Book to share with my friends. To my surprise; the next morning I was bombarded by phone calls and emails about the video.
I had no idea that this was so out of the ordinary because we see these sharks almost every day. I was completely shocked at the mayhem that ensued shortly after. The shark video went viral world wide and by the next day had over 1.2 million views. I was contacted by several Shark specialists and marine biologists along with the whole alphabet of world wide news like CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, you name it.
Long story short it has been a major learning experience for me with a lot of good and also some frustration. While most of the world seemed totally shark crazed and happy there were the few who didn’t approve. My mother and sister was one of them who made me realize that yes I was very lucky to come away from that experience alive and that perusing the shark is not a good idea. I also got an ear full from the local surf schools that were losing business because the parents saw the video and did not want to send their kids back in the water. I totally understand their frustration but can’t take the blame for filming something that has been going on for over 50 years. It’s basically what I call ” out of sight, out of mind mentality “. The video went world wide because everyone shared it and it turned into a whole new animal.
That being said, I have learned a great deal on how precious life is, our curiosity can, down the line get us into trouble, with every action there is a reaction, listen to your elders, and if your passionate about nature and life itself; be grateful and share it with everyone.
Words of wisdom – I was lucky and the next person may not be. Leave the shark exploring to the experts and divers of the world and Shark Week. Respect and protect nature and it’s surroundings from a safe distance and keep the ocean and our world clean.
Thanks for listening to another one of my eye opening adventures.
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…..
Pre race prep nutrition has always been very important to me, whether I’m racing, training, paddling long distance or SUP surfing; I always make sure I’ve fueled the machine.
During a normal week of training, I get all my nutrition supplements from Nutrition Zone and I have 3 stacked protein shakes a day, Blended ingredients – (High protein/carb matrix powder, glutamine powder, Amino acids, multi vitamins, fish oil tablets, 2 bananas, strawberries, blue berries, egg whites, Flax seed oil, bee pollen, honey, scoop ice cream and non fat milk) around 1500 calories each along with my regular 3 meals a day.
The day before a race is where I stretch and take it easy and boost my carb intake with pasta, potatoes, rice and bread. I also make it a point to over hydrate with lots of water all day long.
The morning of the race, I wake up early and have a big bowl of oatmeal and a protein shake. it’s really important to eat food that digests easily so that you don’t have a full stomach and get a cramp while racing.
An hour before the race, I will drink a high potassium, electrolyte filled pre work out shake and half a protein bar, followed with another 22 ounces of water. As long as I’m completely hydrated, I can paddle a 10 mile race without taking any water with me. If I’m paddling long distance like the Molokai crossing, I will eat a bunch of Hammer gels, drink pure coconut milk and have a bag of plain pasta or a carb/protein drink to keep me fueled for the long haul.
At the end of the race, I will run to the car and drink another high protein/carb shake and a bottle of coconut milk to help replenish my muscles and help with quick recovery.
I have this ritual that I share with another racing competitor “Thomas Shahinian” that after every race we both eat a huge piece of Claim Jumpers double chocolate cake and a tall glass of milk. I have a huge sweet tooth, so to me that is the same as an ice cold beer. ha ha
The most important thing to remember when choosing your pre race and post race nutrition; is to stick with what works for you and if you want to change and test other products, make sure you do it with plenty of time before a race, so that if it does not agree with your body, you can always go back to what worked in the past. Many times, racers will try something new while racing without testing it before hand and then they get sick or hit the wall or bonk because their body reacts differently then what it’s used to when your pushing it at a high level.
Train hard, eat often, remember to rest and on race day, never look back the race is in front of you, but always remember to smile when it’s over. Happy racing and I hope to see you on the water.
Additional: Rainbow Fin co. CWP Race weed fin 10″-12″, OnIt racing speed polish, Watermans sunscreen, Hobie sunglasses, H2O Audio waterproof Ipod music case & headphones, pre & post race nutrition by Nutrition Zone.
I enjoy training in rough, windy conditions on a shorter board then what I would use on race day. Long & short distances, sprints & down winders; I love challenging myself in everything.
Race training and for what kind of race? I like to train in the most challenging conditions, paddling a couple miles longer then the length of the race that I’m training for. I have found that training on a shorter, slower board before the race really helps me with conditioning, endurance and strength for those long races. I like to work in some sprint training and focus on getting into a good rhythm while under pressure because it’s good to be able to push yourself into 5th gear the last quarter of the race and be able to take some guys out and finish strong.
Stroke technique and for what kind of race? I’m not very technical, but I have learned a lot about smooth and clean power strokes from paddling outrigger with Team California. I think it is important to have full extension with a clean entree and exit with every stroke of the paddle blade while delivering maximum power going forward. it also helps to have a couple different stroke speeds that you can use while racing; for example – a quick and short paddle stroke really helps keep the board speed up especially during the start of a race. Then, a good strong efficient power stroke that you can get a good rhythm with in the middle of the race and then finish strong with the quick & short stroke to the finish. Changing it up also helps me keep my muscles from cramping and sometimes even helps stretch it out with a longer stroke. Always remember when going hard on your strokes, to dip the blade deep before you deliver the power to your stroke, otherwise your wasting valuable energy and power.
Cross training? Anything in the water; surfing, SUP surfing, prone paddling, swimming, running stairs, mountain biking, and beach workouts along with a good gym routine and a lot of stretching and balance ball workouts. Keep it exciting so you never get bored and you are always challenging yourself so you are always ready for anything.
Pre-Race planing and course management? I always make sure my training routine fits for what the race calls for. Make sure you always understand the course, possible changing conditions and what divisions or board class’s the race is offering to race in. I always make sure, my race boards and fins are race ready and that I have all my pre & post race nutrition and hydration packed for consumption and that my Ipod is charged and ready with good energetic music to race with.
Knowing the conditions- weather, winds, tides- thoughts? I always look online to see what the wind, wave, tide and weather conditions are doing before and on race day. It can really help if you study the tide currents ebb & flow if the race course is inside a canal, harbor, river, inlet or bay because like in a river, there are always areas that flow slower etc. and in racing every bit of information can help in choosing the right line to the finish. Conditions also play a big part in choosing the right equipment on race day. The better you prepare yourself for every condition; the more energy you save for the race which makes for happy paddling warrior.
Preference in blades, paddle shaft, carbon vs. fiberglass vs. wood? I have been working closely with Kialoa paddles doing constant R&D on many different paddle blade & sizes that we keep evolving as the sport continues to grow. I have found, when paddling shorter race boards like the 12’6, that I like using the smaller narrower “Shaka Pu’u” blade which works great with the quick, short stroke rate and when paddling my 14′ or 18′ unlimited boards, I use the larger, wider “Nalu” blade, that works well in maintaining the board’s speed and glide in long distance paddling. When racing I always use a longer carbon paddle (86″) then when SUP surfing (82″) because you can get a better reach and the race boards are thicker, making you stand higher out of the water. When paddling into rough and windy conditions I will always use a shorter carbon paddle because your body position is more bent over to cut through the wind making it easier to stroke with a shorter paddle. I have used wooden, fiberglass and carbon paddle shafts and really like how much stronger and stiffer the carbon paddles feel, especially under full power whether racing, training or SUP surfing.
Hydration- how do you hydrate for under 5, 10 ., over 10, over 30 miles? I hydrate several times during the day and night before the race and again in the morning of till just before the race starts. I have conditioned my body to go with out water for 10 miles, but anything longer, I bring a Dakine hydration pack filled with a mix of coconut milk and a couple endurance carb nutrition powders that really help in keeping my body fully hydrated and energized for long distances. Remember everyone’s body works differently, so when testing something new, make sure you do it a couple weeks before, so if your body doesn’t work well with it, you can still go back to what worked well in the past. Always remember, treat your body like a well oiled race car and you will go a long way…. Happy racing…
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.
I can remember when I was growing up, drawing those huge perfect waves with a surfer that looked like a tiny ant in a massive tube on my binder at school. Back then it was only a dream and now we are doing it. Like Dave Kalama, I grew up skiing and as I got older started racing and competing in the Extreme Free skiing events. I lived and skied in Squaw Valley, Ca and was fortunate to make a good living traveling and competing, filming and getting photos in the magazines. I learned to surf at 13 years old and started to compete windsurfing shortly after. I spent many early season months before Winter training; living on Maui, Hi and got into the big wave scene surfing, kite boarding and tow surfing. I found that the combination of skiing steep lines and jumping cliffs in the back country really helped me with riding big waves.
back in the later 90’s my good friend Shane Mc Conkey, world Champion free skier and base jumper and I were always talking about exploring the idea of taking water skis out into the big waves in Hawaii and skiing the waves like we do the mountains. In 2000, I got a pair of custom jumper water skis and while living on Maui, got the opportunity to tow into a couple big waves and experience for the first time what I had always dreamed about. The skis were a little too big and boxy, which made them hard to turn; but they could glide for a couple hundred yards with ease. I knew it was more of a stunt; something fun to explore, been there, done that kind of thing; so I moved on.
Earlier this year, free skiers Mike Douglas and Cody Townsend spent 6 weeks on Maui trying several different types of water skis on the waves and really pushed wave skiing to the next level. They had been working with Wave ski builder Jason Starr, who designed several styles of wave skis that really worked well in riding and turning on the waves. they had found that using ski boots with ski bindings mounted to the skis really helped control the ski while edging and turning at high speeds.
Shortly after, I spoke with Jason Starr about giving it another try in bigger surf and in February got a box with 2 pair of Starr wave skis. I mounted some old Salomon race bindings and grabbed a pair of my old ski boots and ski poles and waited for the next swell to give it another go. With the great El Nino Winter we were having, I was not sure if in late March we would see anything big enough to give the skis a try. Finally a small north west swell with warm weather was forcasted to hit over the weekend.
I rallied up the Saemen brothers and Eric Akiskalian with surf photographer Rob Keith for a trip up North in hopes to explore another reef slab that had not been surfed for the last couple years because of windy conditions. Mother Nature, once again shut us down with strong outer water wind conditions, so we decided to drive North to find something more sheltered by the winds that still had a little size.
2 hours later we found ourselves setting up the jet skis and suiting up for a full day of exploration on the water. After a twenty minute jet ski drive down the coast we found a small liquid mountain of a wave that broke off a shelf and peeled right and left into a small bay. The wind had shifted, making the ocean surface a little bumpy, but at this point I was determined to try the skis, no matter what. I quickly unpacked the skis and poles and wrestled my ski boots on, which nearly killed me because I forgot to bring soap to make it easier to slip my wet feet into those concrete shoes. I placed the skis down in the gunnel of both sides of the ski and carefully clicked my boots into the bindings. I grabbed the rope and jumped in the water. What a weird feeling it was just floating in the ocean with skis on my feet; as if I had just fell off the chairlift or something…..
Eric started up the jet ski and pulled me out of the water, so I could get used to the glide and see how these things really turned. Finally a mid sized set wave rolled in and he whipped me into the peak from the side and as I let go of the rope I skated across the liquid surface edging lightly, keeping my speed so I could make it through the inside section, kicking out safely in the channel. That was so weird but so challenging, it was addicting. Eric whipped the ski around me and I gripped the rope and we took off back to the outside in search for another moving mountain.
Every wave I caught, the more comfortable and playful it was carving and gliding deeper into the bowl section. Using the ski poles really made it easier to control my balance and keep my body and hands in a natural position like snow skiing.
On one of the bigger set waves, I can remember dropping into the pocket and watching the wave just start to run on me and as I carved back to the shoulder, the white water just engulfed me like an avalanche and I just leaned hard on the tails of my skis and after a couple seconds of blindness, I shot out like a cannon and glided into the channel. I had a couple close calls like that, but luckily never had to take any nasty beatings. The bindings on my skis were race bindings that had a super high din setting (binding release setting), making it just about impossible for the skis to come off even if I got caught by the lip and thrown over the falls. For that reason, I kept within my comfort zone and slowly pushed it more and more as my confidence got better.
Everything was going well, then as I kicked out of a wave, I noticed that one of my skis felt super squirrelly as if I had broken the tail off. I had lost one of the trailing fins from the tail of the ski that helps it track in a straight line. I dropped into another wave, but could not keep the ski in control and decided to count my blessings and regroup for another day of swell in the future. We packed up all the gear and we slowly made our way back up the coast, stopping off at another fun slab for a couple lucky tubes before heading in. My goal, is to get a tube with the wave skis in the near fand this is the place to do it.
I want to thank and dedicate this adventure blog to long time friend and visionary, World free skiing Champion and base jumper, Shane Mc Conkey. “You are and always will be one of my biggest inspirations”.
I also want to thank Jason Starr, Mike Douglas and Cody Townsend for breathing new life in this great new challenge and I look forward to where we take this…..
Thanks to Eric and the Saeman brothers for your support and to Rob Keith for all of the great photos. Robkeithphotos.com
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.