What a week of action on the North Shore of Oahu. The circus was here and all eyes were on Pipeline for the past week. We had the biggest swell of the season bomb the buoys just in time for the Billabong Pipeline Masters. The westerly direction funneled into the Banzai Pipeline and produced gaping monster barrels with wave faces reaching 20 plus feet.
Contests are a double edged sword for locals. If you are in the contest, then you are stoked because you are surfing your favorite break with only a few guys out, but if you are not in the contest you are left drooling on the sidelines watching perfect barrels. However, one benefit to this is most of the circus is hovering around the scene waiting for their heats, while other spots are left uncrowded.
Two days in a row before the contest waiting period began; a swell snuck in and was big enough for my favorite outer reef. The first day it was just me and my friend Trevor trading big waves for 3 hours. We were getting into some of the waves really easy, and we both were stoked to see Rob Machado cruising on a jet ski hooting for us from the channel.
My best wave was about 20 feet on the face and was one of the bigger ones of the day. When I saw it coming I paddled out a few strokes and then waited for the steep wave to approach me, swung my board, paddled five or six times and began the vertical descent. The wave had a lot of power and broke like Pipeline, going top to bottom. I made the drop and saw Trevor in the channel screaming at me with his hands in the air. I let out a yell and raised my arms, then quickly realized a million gallons of water surrounding me as the wave exploded just behind my board. I took a good breath of air and assumed my rodeo stance. The white water blasted me forward and then I came unglued. I got tossed around pretty good and when I came up I was thirsty for air, but sucked in some foamy water. Not to worry, I paddled out with a huge smile on my face. These uncrowded moments do happen on the North Shore.
The Pipeline Masters started on Thursday morning. The swell was maxing out almost all of the surf spots on Oahu. If you wanted to surf waves over 3 feet your options were the outer reefs, Waimea Bay, and Haleiwa. I opted for an outer reef. After a restless night of anticipation, checking the buoys, and making sure my boat on the beach didn’t get washed away, dawn finally came. We paddled out early in hopes of finding lighter wind.
What we found was a tricky lineup, with hard side shore winds making 3 to 4 foot side chops coming across waves over 20 foot on the face. Trevor, was able to pick off an inside one in the beginning, while I was a little tentative and sat out the back to figure out what the set waves were doing.
Fifteen minutes passed as we watched the breaks to the east and west of us light up with huge sets leading us to believe the energy was focusing elsewhere. The current was pushing us out and our lineups were hard to see with the saltwater mist combined with the golden sunrise blocking our view of the shoreline. Another 20 minutes passed, and we noticed some dark bumps on the horizon. Our instincts kicked in, and we started scratching for the horizon, slow at first, and faster and faster as we realized we might be caught inside.
Then we saw the first one. A spike of adrenaline pulsed through my body as I tried to take a couple deep breaths and relax. It started feathering about 20 feet in front of us. The side shore wind was holding the lip up as I scratched vertically up the face, barely making it over, and becoming air borne for a second as the wave quickly passed under me, and my momentum kept pushing me up like a dolphin jumping out of the water. The second wave was just as big, and we did the exact same thing. The third one was a little smaller, about a 25 foot face, and I was in position. I swung around and paddled hard. I figured the first two would have cleaned up the chop a little on the inside.
As I jumped to my feet and started the vertical descent, I realized that theory was wrong. I tried to stay low as I launched over a 3 foot side chop. The tail of my board came out, and I got thrown slightly sideways launching head first down the face. I penetrated through, but got sucked back up and over. Luckily, I didn’t get tossed completely over the falls. Throughout the pounding, I felt my leash rip off my ankle and I was just thinking to myself, “Ok, here we go, stay calm.” When I popped up, I looked around and to my amazement my board was right next to me.
I had to make a quick decision to either paddle for the channel and try to out race the next wave heading right for me or try and put my leash on before it mowed me over. I paddled leash less towards the channel and barely skirted around it. That’s how my sesh started.
We saw a group of other surfers paddling out after that and it felt good to have a few more people in the lineup. I recognized one of them as Grant “Twiggy” Baker, a renowned big wave charger from South Africa who has won several XXL Big Wave Awards. Twiggy has a history of big wave accomplishments, and when I saw him surfing, I was stoked to watch every move he made.
He had a very good sense of how to stay in position, which was very hard because there were not many waves coming in between the big sets. Eventually, we found the peak and I saw him pick off a few of the smaller ones. Another good sized set popped up, and I went for the second wave. The same thing happened as the first wave; I started to make the drop and went airborne. Somehow landed on my board, but was off balance and went down hard. I punched right through the back of the wave and looked up to see 20 feet of white water coming at me.
After diving under a few more, I scrambled to the channel and regrouped. Just then a solid set was headed right for the bowl, Trevor and Twiggy were both caught. I watched the carnage go down from the channel. Trevor’s board was tombstoning after the first wave, which meant he was down at least 20 feet below the surface. This was not a good sign as the second wave was just as big and coming right for him. I saw him surface, he got a breath and dove back down just before the second wave hit. Meanwhile, I didn’t see any signs of Twiggy. I thought maybe his leash broke and was getting mentally prepared to paddle in to help him out. After the second wave, I saw him pop up 200 yards away from where he started. He got on his board and headed for the channel on the opposite side.
Trevor was pretty shaken up. Wide eyed, he paddled over to me and retold the story claiming that his impact vest played a vital role in getting him back up to the surface. I made up my mind to listen to the gut feeling telling me to call it a day, and we paddled in humbled.