SANTAS PRESENT ON X MAS DAY
It seems that big swells almost always seem to hit on major holiday times. I’ve been out at Jaws on Thanks Giving at least three times over the last 15 years, so it was no surprise to me when I heard that it was going to be 20 feet on X-Mas day.
I was scheduled to be in Kauai for X-Mas spending time with my girlfriend but that all changed X-Mas morning at 6am when Erik Aeder called me with a report that Jaws had 20 foot waves on the big sets.
I drove straight to the airport and jumped on the first plane I could find. A few quick phone calls and a short 40 minute flight back to Maui and I found myself meeting Robby Naish at the boat ramp loading our gear onto the jet ski and making the long painful journey up the coast to the best big wave spot in the world.
I could not help but reflect what happened to me about 2 weeks earlier at Jaws when Robby and myself were tow surfing Jaws.
Robby towed me into my first wave of the morning and I must have been a little too hyped up because I decided to stall and try to pull into the barrel. As I tried I got caught by the spray of the lip and went down, doing cartwheels down he face until I finally got sucked back up and went back over the falls. I got pushed deep and was locked down there in a chamber of air and water.
After what seemed like an eternity I started to try to swim up but nothing was happening. I was suspended in a pocket of air. I started to panic as I new the second wave was coming. With no warning I got hit again by another wave this time much more violent than the first.
Once again I got pushed even deeper into blackness and then my life jacked got ripped from my body. I sank even more and saw no light. I was completely out of air and my brain wanted oxygen desperately. I started swallowing water and thought this was it for me. I was going to drown. The blackness I saw was my understanding that my brain was shutting down but after a while I saw dark blue then green. I realized then, that I was just really, really deep. I panicked even more as I new I was still going to be a long time before I saw the surface.
I struggled and struggled until I saw white foam and then the third wave hit me again. I honestly thought I was going to die, but by then I had been pushed under water from the outside peak, all the way to the inside making the time I spent under water just over 1 minute. I was dazed and kind of hallucinating by the time Robby got me.
I spent the next two hours in the channel coughing up water and getting myself together again. To most of you spending 1 minute under water seems fine but let me tell you that when you have that much pressure and energy pushing on your body your air supply runs out in seconds.
Anyway, enough of that drama story…
By the time we got up to Jaws it was midday and we were the only windsurf guys in the lineup. Wind filled the entire break but it was extremely offshore and gusty. Robby was already vomiting, as he gets seasick easily. While he sat and puked up his morning breakfast I rigged our gear and tried to get the anchor to snag to the bottom.
You never quite know what to expect when you arrive at Jaws. All the forecasts in the world can never prepare you for what you really get out there. Tides, wind and direction of swell all play a role on the size and quality of the surf.
A super SE wind direction along with a disjointed north and west swell component made for a very tricky session. You had to sit just in the right place if you were to catch anything that day.
Out of about 8 guys on the water that day there were only 3 guys catching waves. It was kind of scary to commit to a drop on this particular day. When you looked down the line you could see a 100 meter wide wall of water standing up and bending in on you. Light wind coupled with a nasty direction made sections extremely hard to get around. Francesco Portealla was the first to experience this.
As the session went on it was clear to me that you could not be on the outside trying to catch the waves. It was just too light and too offshore. Sometimes the only way to get some of the waves was to try and get planing on the top of the first wave and then peel out the back and try and carry your planing speed into the next wave. 9 times out of 10 you would stop planing and just sink into a pocket of no wind. Little Kai Lenny was so light he had the best chance of catching waves and actually got a few nice ones from what I could see from the back of the wave.
I had to play a different card and just try and sit right on the impact zone and pick the waves up at the last minute. It is probably the most dangerous thing you can do at Jaws as the big set waves break further out and if you’re just a little too far inside you’re going to get hit by a 25 footer.
It’s also really hard to gage where to sit on the impact zone as your sometimes waiting for 20 minutes for the larger set waves. They stand up like skyscrapers tricking you into going out too far. You have to tell yourself to stay put and rely on your senses. I almost got hit about four times but I wanted a set wave so bad I was willing to take that chance.
After dropping into a few I realized that there was also no wind in the bottom of the wave to drive the rail back into the face of the wave. The barrel behind was sucking all the available wind into the barrel making it extremely hard to set up deep on the wave and bottom turn in the critical part of the wave. I’m not sure how everyone else was doing but I know I had a hard time.
I had to pump frantically onto the wave and at the last second try and dive into the straps and make my way down the face. I was a little more nervous than usual as there was not much wind and definitely not enough to get around any big sections. Once the waves starts to barrel the wave pulls tight and you can rip some really nice bottom turns under the lip.
On one particular wave out there that day I started my bottom turn a little too deep and once I came up to the mid face it was already starting to throw. I could not cut back as I would have been smashed so I continued up the face and into an aerial. The wave was so clean I could tell exactly where I wanted to hit the lip for an aerial. It was kind of gnarly looking down at the bottom of the pit even though I was not that high off the lip.
[click to enlarge]
My future plan is to hit a big air at Jaws and try to make it back inside before it blows you out the back.
We had not sailed Jaws at this size for at least 3 to 4 years so it was a blast to be out there again. Nearly all the big 25-foot sets went unridden that day. They were just too hard to get into. The only guy who I saw on a monster was Kai Lenny but I was just inside him and called him off the wave as I thought I had enough wind to get it. He graciously pulled off the wave and I tried everything to get it but the wind swirled me and I just got blown off the back at the last second. Sorry Kai, that would have been a front cover shot for sure!
I started to sit deeper and deeper so I could catch a wave and then finally I paid the price. A set came through and I got clipped at the end section. I dropped the sail onto the water jumped off the board and dove head first into the water as it barreled over my head. As I came up the rescue ski was there and I jumped on, but my gear was gone. We looked for it for a while and then finally I saw the nose of my board in the white water right near the rocks.
I really wanted to get my board back as it was brand new so I told the guy to drive to a very small key hole upwind of the peak on the inside where only a few people know about when Jaws is 20 feet. You have to know exactly where to drive the ski otherwise the ski will be on the rocks as well.
It’s a very small cove on the inside and the current just takes all the broken boards there. On a big day there might be as many as 10 to 15 surfboards just sitting on the rocks. Laird had taxied me in there twice on the last big swell so I had a real good understanding on where to go and how to scale up the rocks without getting totally dumped by the shore break.
I scaled up the rocks and around the cliff face and found my board nestled in the ledge of the cliff. I was looking at the deck thinking the board was ok but once I turned it over it had been completely snapped in half and only the top layer of glass was holding the two pieces together. Getting back out is almost more dangerous than coming in. You have to time it just right to get the ski inside near the rocks and then punch out through the white water and into the channel. The guy on the ski has to know exactly what he is doing and be very confident in his driving and you can both make it in and out without getting smashed
We made it to the channel but my day was done. I sat and watched the boys drop into a few but by then the wind had dropped even more and before too long the day was over.
A lot of people may think it was a waste of time to travel on an aero plane just to ride maybe 3 or 4 waves, but once you have experienced the adrenaline and power of Jaws at its best you will do almost anything to get another taste of nature’s most powerful force.
Thanks to the photographers Erik Aeder and Tracy Kraft!