“At Pipeline, it’s white when you’re underwater, and at Sunset it’s grey,” Hawaiian Dennis Pang said in 1990, comparing a wipeout at Waimea to other North Shore waves. “Waimea is black.”
Many years ago I was privileged to watch a growing swell at Waimea up front and personal. I was staying for the season in the house on the point at Waimea, and it was private access, so there were a select few there with us. Art Brewer arrived, and promptly climbed onto the roof of the house to find a unique angle. I sat on the wall for most of the day, fascinated by the scene playing out before me.
It was crowded earlier in the day, with some kids out there and some girls having a go as well. It was almost inviting out there, with a few big wipeouts in the warm water and bikinis and a feeling of everyone having fun. Until it was no longer inviting.
Out of nowhere a stacked set just unloaded on everyone. It caught pretty much the whole pack, and it was carnage.
Floating boards littered the bay, as well as a few board pieces. Surfers were swimming in, and one dude looked like he had pulled his shoulder. He was paddling with one arm, but getting swept across the bay towards the chaos of the far rocks. A few guys paddled over to help him, and they made slow progress towards the shoreline.
The lifeguards were on the loud hailers, directing traffic from the hut, while a jet ski trawled the inside, picking up people who asked for help, or who looked like they were tiring.
One guy swam to shoreline, but couldn't break through the shore dump, getting swept back out every time he swam for shore. The lifeguard on the loud hailer coached him in and he eventually swept in and lay on the sand, face down and exhausted.
A few surfers regrouped at the take off zone, but their numbers had been decimated. The sets were serious, the clouds had gathered in the North Shore evening, and we watched with morbid fascination as, for the first time ever, I literally saw the ocean go black. A set of giant, dark walls were approaching the surfers, and it wasn't going to be fun. They looked about 50% bigger than anything we had seen so far, and it seemed unfeasible that these waves weren’t going to wash right over the wall where we were sitting.
The first wave tore through the bailing surfers, but a few were safe in the channel as the lip line feathered in the middle of the bay. The second wave was the king hitter. It lurched over the take off zone, and the lip line spread across the bay as I saw my first Waimea Bay close-out. It was getting dark, and it was thrilling to witness. The third wave lined up, and also feathered a bit before backing off, as the swell peaked for the day.
That sort of drama can’t be manufactured. It can’t be scripted, and it can’t be made in a wave pool. To see these surfers face off against waves that looked 50 foot on the face was an astounding eye-opener at the time as to just what Waimea and big wave surfing was all about. It was the highlight of my trip to Hawaii. More so than watching the world title showdown at solid Pipe.
So it’s disheartening to say the least to read that the Aikau family and Quiksilver can’t come to an agreement over the event this year, with Quik pulling the pin.
All blame aside, the very ideology of hard-arsed negotiating besmirches the legacy of Eddie Aikau, and it tarnishes the incredible history of the event as well as the sacred and famous Waimea Bay.
Surf fans should be allowed to witness the drama of 30-foot Waimea, magnified by the performance of cutthroat competition, and not being told of a squabble that resulted in the tournament being cancelled.
The best big wave surfers in the world, invitees to the event, should get the chance to paddle out, to charge, and to have the chance of winning the high-status title.
As everyone works so hard to elevate the sport, as the World Surf League and the Big Wave Tour push as far and as hard as they can to get the sport into it’s rightful place in the world arena, and as we hear gratifying news that Mavericks has been successfully negotiated, it’s ignominious that we can’t get our shit together at Waimea.