When we arrived at Sunset on that early Saturday morning it was firing. It was the first time that I had ever seen it going properly, at about 12-foot plus and offshore. As we arrived, the first thing I saw was someone swimming in the rip, aiming for the shoreline. My mate in the car was action sports photographer Grant Myrdal (http://grantmyrdal.com/), an old hat at the Hawaiian season. “Watch this,” he said, looking at our swimmer.

This guy was swimming powerfully. He was smashing the water around him, and he was putting his all into it. He knew how to swim, was breathing steadily and was using big arms towards the shoreline. The problem was, he wasn't really moving much. He kept at it though, persevering through it all, and gradually, ever so slowly started making some progress.

“That guy is fit,” said Myrdal, and I paused to think about my fitness, my approach to serious water. “He should just make it. No lifeguards yet.”

It was almost painful to watch, but after an eternity of full focused swimming he broke the grip of the rip, and swam through the shore dump to wobble up the beach. His board had been pulled out of the water and was waiting for him there. He staggered up to his board and just fell down on his face alongside it, heaving in lungsful of air.  

Basically, if you’re going to paddle out at Sunset and give it a solid go, it’s going to smash you. There is no way around that. Be prepared to snap a leash, to swim, to be out of breath, and to swim some more. You need to be strong to surf Sunset. In the words of Shaun Tomson, “It’s a beast of a wave.”


The inside bowl is where you can get barreled if you weave through from the outside and get the right wave connection over the bowl. You can also get your boardies ripped over your head with your bum tapping you on the back of your neck in a big wipeout here.

The west peak is the most notorious piece of real estate out there in that heaving lineup. It breaks wide, and offers some of the best waves ever, but mostly it offers deathly wash-throughs and ghastly hold-downs.

Some people surf the left off the west peak, and it’s not a bad option on a west swell. The only problem is if the swell isn’t west, and if there’s just a little bit too much north in it, you might get caught paddling back out, and it’s not a very cool zone to be in, between the west peak lefts and Sunset Point. You will not enjoy it one little bit.

When it’s smaller the attention is focused on The Point, where it is a bit shallower, and more waves break.  

Sunset likes a whole bunch of swell directions, from WNW, NW, NNW to north, with different sections of the lineup coming alive on different swells. It takes years of experience to figure it out. 

Master Sunset and master Pipeline, and you have the makings of a champion in you. Even if you become a champion out there, big west sets will still fuck up your day. 

The Vans World Cup QS 10,000 is set to take place at Sunset beach from 25 November – 6 December

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