“Sure, what thickness do you want?”
“What thickness do you want?”
Upon my return a friend said to me ‘It’s like a whole new sport you’ve never participated in’ and he nailed it right there. The above is the response I got in a surf shop in Haleiwa when I asked for an 8 foot leg rope. What fucking thickness!!?
In the weeks leading up to my inaugural visit to the islands my fellow first timers and I were exchanging texts almost daily with updates of the next impending monster swell to hit the North Shore. It was incessant. Days to go and they give the green light to the Eddie. The Kam is closed ‘cos waves are sweeping across it. Frantic texts highlight a window of opportunity. We arrive on a Tuesday the Thursday is forecast to drop dramatically, only 8′-10’. Fuck.
We watched people (I was gonna say guys but honestly, the women were representing) drag comically monster boards out of comically monster trucks and then spool their legropes up like a tradie winding up his lead at the end of the day. We watched them stand in the North corner of Waimea bay facing condo sized walls of white water and that was just the shore break. We saw a guy coming in that lost his board right at the last moment. The wash took his board up into the rocks where a couple of fellas jumped over the barrier off the road and rescued it. He got pulled back out by the backwash and spent the next 7 or 8 minutes getting hammered by the shore break and being pulled backward for a repeat over and over. He had his head down and a stroke like Michael Phelps but he was still going backwards. Eventually a lifeguard strolled down the beach with two pairs of fins. He pulled one pair on and hooked the other to his belt, dove into a maelstrom, popped up next to the surfer and handed him the spare pair. They both cruised into the beach. A high five and a return of the borrowed fins and he went off to collect his board. I swear I would have been on my hands and knees kissing the sand and the lifeguard alternately until dragged away.
We sat in front of Pipe. Surfers falling from the sky, occasionally into barrels, rarely making it out (too much North I heard one say). A young lad, it’d be touch and go to say a teen, walked down with his board under his arm. Luke, sat next to me, a father himself to a boy a similar age, started looking around for the irresponsible parents that would let their son near this ocean unsupervised let alone to go for a surf. Of course there was none. Of course he was out the back in no time and yeah of course he was local.
We’d surfed the East (everyone was telling us how lucky we were with the wind) and the West (everyone was telling us to be careful). Eventually it dropped enough to surf the North. We looked at Velzyland, a small take-off and a bit of crew out. Freddie’s the inside fun wave looked just that. A small crew and nothing above head high, it’d be nice to have a relaxing surf. Three grown men none younger than 40, we arrived in the line-up and found ourselves surrounded exclusively by girls, mostly pre-teen. We kept paddling to Velzyland. So much for a relaxing surf.
We did get a window. Sunset was always on the ‘to do’ list. I was on my back from Ted’s with coffee and doughnuts and as I drove past I saw a drop in size, a handful out and light winds. I got back to the house and grabbed Luke and Steve and our biggest boards. We sat wide and watched a few sets. We crept in a bit and watched some more. I shoulder hopped one. We crept in a bit more and a proper set came. As I scraped over the biggest one I glanced back and saw Steve, you know those little wind-up scuba divers you put in the bath? That was Steve. He would have been generating electricity if he was plugged in. He’d just turned 40, I’m sure he was thinking he wasn’t going to see 41. We all made it and when the adrenalin started wearing off we all started laughing hysterically. We all got some in the end. Highlight for me was a duck dive. Facing impending doom and having to have a word with myself (‘just fucking breathe Gazza!’) I pushed deep as I could, I felt the impact of the lip above me and had one of those miraculous moments when you get slingshot straight under and emerge like a torpedo behind the wave.
You always hear about the power. You always hear about how heavy it is. Over and over, 25 yrs of the annual ‘Hawaii issue’ had told me all I needed to know about ‘swell travelling all the way from the Aleutian’s arriving uninterrupted from the depths and unloading on to the North Shores beaches and reefs’. So standing ankle deep, board under my arm the slack of my leg rope safely in my hand (well I wouldn’t want to trip on it and look like a fool), I shouldn’t have been surprised when the surge from the broken wave washed up the slope and skittled me like I was the number one pin at the bowling world champs. Probably the highlight of Luke’s trip judging by the laughter.
This is me feeling the sand under my feet after ‘that’ session.