Category Archives: skiing
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…..
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
Stay tuned for more crazy adven
Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe
This year has been a nonstop, last minute, traveling roller coaster; chasing swells, snow storms, competing, training and working with sponsors. It has been one of those dream years with endless swell for the last 5 months with no end in sight.
Sometimes you get so immersed in the moment and forget to slow down and spend quality time with family, loved ones and old friends. So I decided to take some time and go to Lake Tahoe to visit my mother for her 73rd birthday and see my sister’s 8 week old son William and of course spend some time on the ski slopes with old friends.
I packed my truck like a boy scout, ready for anything; skis for the snow, tow boards incase the swell got big on the way home, kites and kite board if it got windy and of course my SUP board. As usual, I started driving just before midnight because I can’t stand wasting daylight driving when I could be doing something athletic outside. I arrived in the parking lot of Squaw Valley just as the mountain opened Monday morning. I totally miss this place and it’s great to be back at my old stomping grounds. I grabbed my skis and took a couple runs to warm up to my new ski boots and eased into the ski state of mind. Mid afternoon, I met up with long time friend and ski photographer Hank DeVre and Tom Wayes to get some fun afternoon, late light ski shots in.
“It’s funny, no matter how long you’ve been away from a sport, your memories and mind set are like you never left, but your muscles and confidence are telling you a different story. Sure enough, the reality of new boots and not skiing every day like in the past, took it’s toll and I couldn’t get to the bottom fast enough to get them off. “slipping on a pair of running shoes after that nightmare was sheer ecstasy”.
Off to my sister, Janet’s house on the lake to see my new 8 week old nephew William and visit for a while. It’s so awesome to see my little sister all grown up. I would just get lost staring at William’s eyes and watching him squirm and make funny faces. It’s amazing how perfect his fingernails and eyes were and how jealous I was of his new ligaments and joints; what I could do if I had those again….. ha ha … My sister and her husband cooked a nice dinner and shortly after I was left snoring on the floor next to the fireplace.
I woke up early the next morning to work on the computer and had a nice breakfast with the family. Shortly after, I called to wish my mother a Happy birthday and told her I was still in Hawaii and would not be able to see her for another week. I could tell she was a little bummed out, but happy to hear my voice; which went exactly as I had planned. An hour later I met my sister and surprised her at her house. She was soo happy and completely beside herself. We celebrated with a bottle of champagne and plenty of good laughs. I am so lucky to have such a great loving family.
By mid day the sunny blue sky milked over with the new arriving snow storm. Mom was content to finish some work at home and I raced back to Squaw for a couple hours of free skiing as the snow started to fall. Nothing like storm skiing in the trees. That evening my sister prepared an awesome birthday dinner for mom at the house. My mother still blows my mind how well she skis, windsurfs and stand up paddles at seventy three years young. I hope to follow in her footsteps for as long as possible.
The snow dumped all night and by morning we had 8″ at the house and 18″ on the mountain. I hooked up with Hank deVre and free skier Myles Clark for a morning of shooting. It was a game of peak-a-boo sun light, where the sun would pop out of the clouds for about a minute to shoot and then it would start to snow and then clear up again and so on etc. It’s very trying on your patience as you watch all your friends do laps around you in the fresh powder all morning, but in the end you get the goods.
Around lunch time the clouds made it challenging to get a good shot and we decided to free ski for the rest of the day. Myles and I took the KT22 chair up and hiked up to a steep peak called the Eagles Nest which is a 120 ft vertical rock wall that needs to be caked with a Sierra cement snow pack (wet snow) that sticks to the steep rock walls to be skiable. At the top of the peak, you will see a beautiful black, welded steel Eagle that was put up there last year in honor of Squaw valley’s Shane McConkey; (worlds best free skier and base jumper that was killed in a ski/base jump accident in Italy March 26th 2009)
Shortly after a couple laps on the KT chair, I ventured over to the Headwall chair that was closed all morning do to avalanche control. The snow was pretty insane and after a couple laps down the face and and the Bell Towers, I was lucky to make it on the chair one last time as they closed it behind us because of a major ski accident. We were pretty shocked as we looked to our left off the chair to see about 15 people huddled around someone that had fallen through the jagged cliffs on the lower Bell Tower section. Growing up skiing in Squaw Valley, you always see injuries, but when it’s in an area that only the best usually ski; you hope and pray that it’s not anyone you know. The ski patrol closed off all sections leading to that side of the mountain, so we skied down the face and decided to pack it in for the day. I met up with Hank at the corporate office to see about the next days shooting plans and got word that the injured skier was CR Johnson who had died in the accident up on the hill. We were completely shocked and sick to our stomachs because we had just seen them in the lift line the run before. How could that be? Why? Does not make any sense; all these questions pop into your head and there are no right answers. Another fallen Squaw Valley ski hero who had pushed his slope style aerial skiing into the back country free skiing world. It was and is a sad day for the ski world.
That night was a tough one, good to be with friends and family. Live life to the fullest because life is very precious and you never know what will happen. Be happy, make a difference and make sure to stay close with friends and family.
After a long night of deep thought and prayers for his friends and family, I awoke to sunny, clear blue skies. It was a perfect day to ski powder with CR and enjoy Gods wonderful gift of life. This was a perfect day for shooting at Squaw Valley because there were still a couple parts of the upper mountain that had not opened the day before do to avalanche control. Hank deVre and I met Myles Clark at the top of Squaw at the Silverado chair, where he was scoping a couple cliff drops in the canyon. There was plenty of untracked powder everywhere, so we each picked a couple zones and went to work. Myles stomped a beautiful landing in the trees off a nice 40 ft fall away cliff wall and shortly after, I carved a long drifting turn down a spine drop off into the valley floor. It’s a humbling trip to get back on your skis after a 2 year break and just send it off a rock and hold your composer in the air and stick your landing safely. It was great to ski with Myles and watch him work lines in the cliffs and it also gave me a good act to follow which boosted my confidence back to the way it was when I was skiing every day.
It’s always a pleasure to work with photographers like Hank because we both know each others style and what it takes to get the best shot and in turn he brings the best out in me. We take the chairlift back up and scout a couple more lines on the high traverse where we find a variety of powder turns and rock drop offs. Time passes so quickly when your having fun and sure enough we had milked this run for all it’s worth. It was 3:30, “quiten time” and I still had an 8 hour drive home to tackle; so I said my goodbyes and went to my sister’s to pack up and meet my mother for a quick bite.
After a great steak dinner with mom, I downed a large coffee and started my 8 hour drive back home to Dana Point. Talk radio mixed with Rap music and a couple Monster energy drinks and I was home by 4 am.
As I reflect back on these past few days; I am so thankful to have such great friends and family that have enriched my life. Life is short, be happy and make a difference.
Stay tuned for my last minute trip to Makaha for the Kui Kaika big wave SUP surf event.
We have been plagued with 4 days of torential rains, wind and heavy waves and of course some great low elevation snow. I hooked up with long time friend Dave Reddick of Powder magazine and drove up early Friday morning to enjoy a good Southern California powder storm day. It was pouring rain all the way to the canyon entrance and as we made our way up the mountain road the rain turned to snow at around 3,ooo ft. I couldn’t believe it; we were an hour and fifteen minutes from home by the beach and it’s dumping snow like an epic winter storm in Colorado.
We cautiously climb the last couple miles to the ski area parking lot and are the first ones there. The great thing is that Mt Baldy is a small family run “mom & pap resort” which is rare to see these days, especially here in Southern California. Who would have thought. As we pull up to park, we see a huge piston bully tractor pushing snow to clear the small parking lot and to top it off he parked his truck with the lights on to light up where he was going. Kind of classic.
I want to thank Dave and company for a great day. It was a great last minute trip, with friends to enjoy another one of Mother Natures gifts and a great reminder of how much I miss skiing and the beauty of the mountains. “Life is funny, just when you get in a groove or a routine where everything is safe and cozy, you get an opportunity to go back and do something you lived for in the past and you find that love for it again and wonder why you ever stopped doing it.” It’s a humbling yet refreshing reminder of how lucky we are to enjoy what we all love to do.
” So get out there and get back to living and enjoying Mother Natures Rainbows.”