Most Southern Californians aren’t ‘big wave’ surfers. It’s not that we’re not capable, there are great examples out there: Mike Parsons, Greg Long, Rusty Long. But for most of us, no matter what delusions of grandeur we harbor, the hard fact is that where we surf the waves are small.
The Challenge would not be given the green light unless Makaha point had waves that measured 20-feet on the face. Twenty feet on the face! Where I surf, it is usually two-feet on the face. I didn’t have butterflies in my stomach, no sir, I was breeding geese.
This helped explain my heightened anxiety as I arrived in Oahu to surf in the Quiksilver Edition Makaha Ku Ikaika Challenge, a Standup Paddle surf event. The Challenge would not be given the green light unless Makaha point had waves that measured 20-feet on the face. Twenty feet on the face! Where I surf, it is usually two-feet on the face. I didn’t have butterflies in my stomach, no sir, I was breeding geese.
In the early morning darkness, on Tuesday February 12, all the contestants gathered at Makaha. Titus Kinimaka, Leleo Kinimaka, Robbie Naish, Archie Kalepa, and Buzzy Kerbox are some of the outer island SUP experts that mingled under the trees. Californians Chuck Patterson, SURFER magazine editor Chris Mauro, Kyle Mochizuki and I lingered in the morning darkness. Australian paddle legends Jamie Mitchell and Mick Dibetta strolled about offering “G’days!” waiting for the sun to reveal the glorious swell. As the sun rose it quickly became apparent that the swell had not. Quiksilver’s Glen Moncata made the simple decision, the waves were not big enough and the event would wait for 20-foot faces. And in two days, on Saint Valentine’s Day, according to chart forecasts, a much bigger swell was on the way. The baby geese in my stomach attempted to fly away.
For Hawaiian surfers and forecasters, buoy #1, located off the NW coast of Kauai, has always been the confirmation buoy. Buoy 1 data validated chart forecasts and precisely confirmed length and duration of swells. It is the tried and true “go-to” data source. But this season buoy #1 has been off-line, no near island data to help decipher what amount of swell energy is in the water, when it is arriving and when it is leaving. This year Hawaiian surfers have reverted to old school validation – they wake up and check the surf and go with their gut instinct based on years of observation as a baseline.
Thursday morning rolled around, the swell and sun rose together and event organizers, after checking the surf, deemed the swell large enough. The first ever, and first annual, Quiksilver Edition Ku Ikaika Challenge was greenlighted. Wave faces of 20 feet and bigger were on tap, although the swell was a bit inconsistent and on average wave faces were in the 12-to-18 foot range.
The first heat of the morning found my name in it. Picture this, early morning Makaha, 15-foot streakers rolling off the point with the occasional bigger bomb set. After you negotiate the speed run from the point, you are then faced with an even larger and ledging Makaha bowl. Speed runs from the point, ledging Makaha bowls, vicious hold-downs and I hadn’t even stretched yet. I caught one wave in heat one. It was perhaps 12′ on the face. There was a surfer who hadn’t cleared the contest lineup yet. He took off and so did I. I was committed and I wasn’t going to kick out- taking a bomb set on the head was not an option. The surfer kindly kicked out and I rode straight and fast for the channel. That was it. One heat. One wave. One chicken skin haole moving into the main event.