By Jason Polakow
This winter has definitely been the worst wave season on record. The reason for this unusual weather is the changing climate system from El Nino to La Nina weather patterns.
La Nina is associated with cooler than normal water temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean, unlike El Nino which is associated with warmer than normal water.
The result is fewer large weather systems forming resulting in fewer large ground swells. The upside to this La Nina weather condition is that there tends to be more windy conditions and this December was no exception. I have never seen such a windy December in all the years I have been here.
Another phenomenon that occurs during the late part of December and early part of January are Kona or South blowing winds. For the first time ever there was not 1 day of southerly winds in the month of December. La Nina is definitely here! Great for the sailor who wants 2 weeks of sailing time on his 3 week holiday but bad for someone like me who is waiting patiently for the monster storms to develop.
With the La Nina obviously taking a strong hold on the Pacific I was happily surprised when I saw the maps indicating that there was a Jaws size swell in the pipeline. Talk around town spread like wild fire and soon I heard that people and surfers from all over the globe were coming into town.
The night before the swell I drove to the airport to pick up my friend who had come over from Australia to paddle the swell. I arrived to see the arrivals hallway littered with 10-foot surfboard bags. From that moment I knew that it was a pivotal moment in history where Jaws would never be the same. It was a sad moment for me as I have had the best of Jaws for so long and now everything was going to change. For the first time since its discovery in the late 80ies, Jaws would now have the wave line up filled with paddle surfers!
With so many people in town for the swell I wanted to be super ready as it was probably going to be the only swell for this winter. I hired a boat to put all the equipment and food on board. I also had a wetsuit made with a CO2 canister and air bladder built into the back of the suit. If I got into real trouble underwater I could deploy the CO2 canister by pulling a tab that was secured on the front of the suit thus releasing the compressed air into a bladder. This inflated bladder would bring me back to the surface even if I am unconscious.
With the development of these new flotation devices more and more people will be heading out to Jaws in the future. The morning of the swell there were already 30 paddle surfers out there catching 15 sets, most of them using the CO2 canister suits. Gone are the days of tow surfing medium size Jaws. Only on the biggest swells will tow surfers dominate the line up!
I arrived at the break around 11:30am on the ski with the support boat anchoring in the channel. The waves were medium size for Jaws but still looked to be super fun. From the first set that came through I could see that the wind was very offshore and the waves had started to push more West making it even more difficult to ride the wave. The North to Northwest sets are the best to ride at Jaws because they break on the upper part of the reef making the ride longer and less offshore.
I could also tell that the consistency of the sets had dropped dramatically indicating that the swell was turning west and dropping fast. Around 12 noon I was on the water and searching for a set wave along with10 other sailors, 5 kite surfers and a whole pack of paddle surfers that littered the line like a good day at Hookipa.
I thought the challenge would be to catch the right set wave but once I caught a few waves I discovered that the real challenge was trying to get deep off the bottom without the wind stalling out.
When the wind is that east or offshore, the cliff tops play havoc with the wind as it hits the impact zone. The wind tends to come in spurts rather than blowing at a clean consistent rate. Sometimes you would get great drive off the bottom and other times you would stall out and almost come to a stop in the bottom turn. It was really nerve racking not knowing if this was going to happen or not, especially with most of the sets turning to the more westerly direction.
I have never really had a problem like this at Jaws before which made it very difficult to set up deep. At least 50% of the time I would stall out and would have to exit the back of the wave before it closed out on the reef. This is super dangerous as you are in the firing line for the next wave and if you get a little unlucky your day will be done.
I spent the afternoon catching moderate size waves always having to fly down to the end section before the wave would close out. It was frustrating at times but still an adrenaline ride as you raced down a 30 foot wave face a million miles an hour.
Everyone was doing the same. Setting up nice and deep and then once the West bowl would show its face everyone would charge down to the end bowl to squeeze in one bottom turn and one cut back.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining! Any time I venture up to Jaws there is a big smile on my face but it’s just frustrating when you’re limited to what you can do due the wind and swell direction.
By 3 pm I had relinquished to the fact that it was just not going to be a classic Jaws day and actually I took some time out to sit on the ski and watch windsurfers, Kite surfers and paddle surfers all catching waves with smiles on their faces.
By 4:30 we were making our way back down the coast. It was not the marathon 8-hour session I had like last year but I was thankful that we had at least seen a small glimpse of what Jaws can be like on a good day. If not only for that I got some positive feedback on my board development and I am now in the process of making another Jaws board.
I think this next board will be the one! All I need now is 20-foot swell.
Fingers crossed for the rest of the season!