With a very slow start to the winter season in Hawaii I took the first sign of big swell to try my luck on the North Shore of Oahu to sail one of my most favorite waves.
I could not convince anyone to join me, so I decided to do a solo mission which turned out to be my first mistake of the trip.
Upon arrival around 10:30am I could already see huge sets breaking out to sea. Backyards comprises of 3 outside reefs, the first inside reef is where the best waves are ridden, the second and third reefs start to break when its over 10 feet but the quality of the wave is poor.
The trick is to get the medium size waves on the first reef but without getting caught out by the bigger sets breaking on second and third reef.
It’s basically a real game of cat and mouse.
By 12:30 there was no improvement in the wind strength and with the swell still on the rise I decided to just give it a shot.
This was to be my second mistake of the trip.
When it’s maxing-out this place is probably one of the most dangerous spots on the North Shore because of the current and how shallow the end bowl is. Normally there is a very small channel where you can sail to avoid the breaking waves.
If you sail out 30 meters too far you will get destroyed by the close-out sets on the second outside reef.
You literally have a window of about the size of a large living room to sit and everywhere else is suicide! It’s super hard to judge where that spot is and when you’re sailing out and see 15 to 20 foot waves breaking 100 meters in front of you it’s so hard to know where that safety zone is.
I managed to get about 3 or 4 mid size waves under my belt before I was confronted with one of the biggest closeout sets I have ever seen at Sunset.
I found myself too far out to sea and confronted with the craziest set of the morning. There was nowhere to go and I knew, I was out of the safety zone. I was on my own with not a sole in the water and I was thinking to myself what the hell am I doing out here !
I had left my flotation suit at home and all I had was a pair of board-shorts:
That was my third mistake of the trip!
I rolled over the first wave and all I could see were walls of water stacked on the horizon, one behind the other. I knew, I was in trouble.
I took a huge breath and jumped off my rig and tried to swim to the bottom.
I came up for air and then went down again and again. Before too long I found myself on the inside. I thought this nightmare was over but it was just the beginning of my horrible experience!
If I was on a surfboard I could have just surfed in on the whitewater but because I was swimming and had no flotation I was at the mercy of the current.
I stared to get dragged out again. I tried to put my feet into the shallow reef and even dive down to try and hang onto a coral head but it was impossible.
I was getting sucked right back out in front of the Sunset left which is the most insanely dangerous place to be.
When Sunset is maxing-out, all the water from the inside is getting sucked out through this little channel causing an incredibly strong current.
Within a few minutes I was already back in the impact zone with yet another bomb set breaking through the lineup at Sunset.
I took a breath and was under again and again, getting pushed back inside only to find myself back at the sunset left again minutes later.
At this point I started to panic! I could not get to the beach and I could not get to the safety of the outside waters.
Each time I was pushed inside I began to swim with the current at a 45 degree angle to try and break out of the current line and also get away from the sunset left but it was no use. I was getting hit again and again with my energy fading quickly.
After 20 to 30 minutes of swimming of being stuck in the same place I found a small window of opportunity in the sets and I swam as hard as I could with the current to make it to the outside!
I lay in the water conserving my energy until the ski arrived to get me.
The Sunset life guards all came to me and said that this was one of the most gnarly situations they had ever seen and congratulated me for staying calm and swimming in the right direction when I could.
From this experience I learned 2 things:
Always try and go out with someone else and don’t forget your safety gear when you know it’s going to big.
Other than that, just keep charging !
Thanks to photographer John Bilderback.