When a local explains the secret code, riding a slab can become a cinch
Granted there were some spitting, left-hand barrels, but I wanted nothing to do with them. They were breaking over a super-shallow reef, at a remote location, in an area world-famous for sharks. To alleviate my shame, I decided to paddle out and hang on the shoulder, just to have a look.
The first thing you’ll notice when surfing a genuine slab, is that you can’t shoulder-hop. It’s probably the most certain method of sending you over the falls. The shoulder does the big ledging suck; there’s no way down the shoulder of a slab.
The second thing you’ll notice is that, when it comes to a slab, if you are a metre or two on the wrong side of the take-off spot, then it’s also a no-can-do situation. There might be a fold, it might be too steep, and if you’re not on the sweet spot it’s almost impossible to take off.
When we paddled out, there was one local out, and as I pushed out past the kelp and made it into the channel, I watched him getting pitched on the peak of a solid six-foot set wave. He hit the water hard, and by the time I got across to where he was, he was groaning.
“Just a bit winded,” he wheezed out. Most of the locals in this part of the world are hardened sea-folk, either fishermen or poachers or contract diamond divers or saturation divers. Not nervous of much.
I paddled across to the peak with him, but when the first set approached I quickly scuttled to the safety of the channel. I paddled gently for the second wave of the set, and discovered rule number 1, (see above), regarding trying to shoulder-hop a slab. It wasn't going to happen.
After a few fairly shaky attempts at catching a few waves, I put my head down and went for a smaller set wave. I then learned rule 2 above, being on the wrong side of the peak. I went down, skipping out on takeoff, and not really getting to my feet.
Challenging take-offs and square barrels ensure Slabs deliver a unique sense of satisfaction – when you make it.
This happened twice, three times. The wave was too heavy for me and I was over it. The other guy I was with picked up a few but was also struggling, with some sketchy half-rides the best that we could do. Basically, it was too scary, and we couldn't settle down and figure it out.
The local guy eventually paddled up to me and started talking in earnest. He explained to me that he was going to tell me a secret and that I needed to keep it a secret. Then he pointed out a chimney on a house in the distance. Then he pointed out a bay window on another house. Then he demonstrated that at a certain angle, and at a certain distance from shore, the chimney perfectly aligns with the edge of the window.
He explained that as you paddle for a wave you watch the chimney, and as it aligns with the bay window, you’re on the precise corner of the reef, the tiny little suck-spot that would give you a perfect, clean entry. As it starts sucking you need to paddle two quick strokes, maybe three, and you’re in. Make sure that you paddle hard, get as much momentum as possible, and be prepared to grab your rail as you get to the bottom because you’re most likely going to be in the barrel.
I was stoked. It didn't make these six-foot waves any less scary – I’d still need to face off with six angry feet of dark water spitting over a barely submerged ledge – but at least there was a possible in.
I saw a smaller wave. “This one,” he said.
I did exactly what he said, and found the reef’s corner. Paddled hard, three strokes and jumped to my feet. I flew over the reef, gliding in perfect trim, angling down the line. It wasn't a big wave so it didn't barrel but I rode the perfect line from take off to kick-out. I gave a little shout of exhilaration when I kicked out and gave the thumbs up to the boys on the peak. I had it!
I caught three more waves like that, before foolishly hesitating on a set wave despite being in the sweet spot, and going straight over the falls, finally getting washed in onto the inside rocks.
It was still cool though. With a little bit of knowledge, of a chimney and window, that spot was no longer intimidating to me, and never would be again.