Anticipation meets reality in an anecdote about an Hawaiian paddle out.
It was late in the afternoon in Hawaii, and my mind was at rest and contemplating a beer and a long and hard session in front of the box. That morning had seen us getting a few at Backyards (out behind Sunset) on a growing swell that had jumped from 2-foot to 4-foot while we were out there. Those chilling stories of able-bodied surfers paddling out at Velzyland on a 3-foot day and coming in through 40-foot faces at closed out Waimea Bay still resonated, but it wasn’t as bad as that. Surf done, pressure off, a bit of work under the belt, it was beer o’clock.
I was hanging out with an Eddie invitee, and he had been watching the swell all day, waiting for it to be deemed worthy of a paddle out. At about 4pm he said to me,
“It’s happening now. Let’s go.”
As part of my work detail that year I had promised to go for a surf with him in decent conditions, and sit in the channel, safe under his wing and guidance – it was an opportunity experience a bit of what it’s like to challenge the North Shore. Being a 3-foot beachbreak kind of surfer, this was going to be a session that would help to round off the North Shore experience, but I was nervous.
“I’m not really into it now,” I said, hoping that truthfulness would be the quickest route to a solution.
“Come,” he said with a smile, “Let’s just do this thing.” He handed me a 7’2 blade, of which I was instantly skeptical.
“Don't you have anything a bit fatter and wider?” I asked. “More foam under the chest? What about some more meat in the tail? More tail? This board doesn’t have a tail, so to speak. Do you have a board with a bit more tail?”
We walked down the path to the beach and alighted behind Backyards and started walking west towards Sunset. The sun was in decline, rolling down towards Kaena Point to the west, but we could see movement in the ocean. He stopped just ahead of me and gazed out across Sunset.
Sunset, like Waimea and Pipe, has a whole history of drama, of two-wave hold downs, of near drownings and shorebreak nightmares that are part of surfing lore, imprinted into the subconscious from the time when magazines and movies were the only real medium, when journalists reported with awe, when surfers were demi-gods who walked the earth, when surf photographers were kingmakers and when the drama of the North Shore was unparalleled in a year’s worth of surfing around the planet.
As more and more of the North Shore was revealed by the Internet and by thousands of smart phones, and as young kids started paddling out at macking Sunset and Waimea, so the imagination slowed down a bit and reality set in. The imagined thrill of the North Shore, of the so-called ‘life and death’ situations happening daily in the water, were supplanted by more trivial content about bumping into hung-over surfers in Foodland, chats in Starbucks queues, of Instagram and of surfers going ham at parties,
Underneath it all, if the truth be told, I was still attached to the giddy times of Hawaiian big wave surfing romanticism. An era when every surf session pushed a surfer’s physical and mental limits. When surfers confronted fear and demons daily. When to simply survive a session was a feat. Of sets closing out across The Bay, and of a surfer popping his shoulder and getting tag-paddled across from certain doom on the west rocks.
So when this fellow I was with told me that he knew of a channel between Sunset and Backyards, I felt a bit like Mike Stang having to paddle out at Waimea behind Greg Noll in 1957 into absolute uncertainty. I was absolutely uncertain.
My heart was pounding. We walked along the coral until we could go no further, and launched into the turbulence. Instantly I was on a hell ride of a rip, being sucked out to the big Sunset peaks while grazing my knuckles and holding onto the blade. A few little push-up style duck dives and I was in clear water.
“Paddle,” said this dude, who I was starting to loathe. “There’s a set coming from the north.”
It could have been coming from the fucking Sea of Okhotsk for all I cared. I put my head down and paddled, straight out. I cleared the set, and saw another set coming from the west. So I continued to paddle out. Before long I was far out to sea. I turned around and got perspective: I was too far out. I paddled in a little.
I paddled for a couple, but didn’t get close. Then I caught a decent-sized shoulder and rode a bit. The blade went fine. I caught a few more, chatted to two other guys in the line-up, and then I got caught inside. Took two solids on the head before catching a whitewater in.
The reality of it was that it was all a little anticlimactic, and not that heavy at all. It’s as if the suspense of a wipeout is worse than the wipeout itself.
The Vans World Cup at Sunset Beach the final QS event of the year, starts on the 25th – event site here http://www.worldsurfleague.com/events/2018/mqs/2854/vans-world-cup