Windsurfing, surfing, Maui, The Gorge, and random rants.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Long Swim at Lowers, Helped by a Kiter, Huge Waves are Coming!

The forecast called for north waves 12-16 ft with gusty NE trades in the 20-30 range.  So when we got to Kanaha we were very disappointed to see the wind was not at the advertised speed.  In fact it was light and onshore - NNE (30 deg) at about 15mph or so (though Kihei was trying to make up for this by blowing 30-40 - thanks a bunch!) .  Here's the day's iWindsurf graph for Kanaha to better illustrate our situation..

We patiently waited in the parking lot for the wind to come up.   Nick Warmuth actually didn't need no stinkin wind - he slogged out on his 5.3 and OES 75 lt board.  And by slogged I mean board completely under water, no chance  of planing, SLOG!  We watched in amazement as he slowly worked his way up to weird wave, caught a little ride upwind, and eventually got to upper's outer reef where he promptly started catching big rides. Well that's Nick for you. The only other person out was Sven Zedlick on a 7.0 and a 115 lt slalom-ish board.  He wasn't slogging but no one else has gear like that.

[ BTW - Sven's son Bjourne is intervied in the latest November 2009 Windsurfer International Magazine - see the Future Forms feature.  Or just check out the entire issue, great stuff as usual.]

Now where was I?  We waited to about 2:30ish when the wind came up a bit.  I rigged my biggest kit, a 5.3 Ice North Sail on a 90lt Goya custom wave.  This board is sweet on a wave but is not an early planing machine.  Now I should mention that this board is a 2007 model and I have taken the latest 2010 Goya 89 twinzer out for a spin (see pic on right), and that board is IMO improved in many ways.  It seems to plane sooner, stick on the waves a bit better, never spun out on me or did anything weird, and it was fine for doing what little tricks I can do (fwd loops, heli tacks, etc).  I wanted to be on that again, but today I was back on the 2007 and a very underpowered.  I slogged out anyway to see what the waves had.

And they were big, much bigger then I thought.  Seems that the white water on the inside was big enough to make the waves outside look not so big from the beach, but on closer inspection the channel between lowers and uppers was often closing out with a 10ft + wave, and lowers itself was throwing down something that looked 16ft or maybe even 20ft at times.

And these waves were different then the usual lowers waves.  They seemed to have more force.  Maybe it was the size, maybe it was the direction, or the combination of swells, maybe it was the full moon and rising tide, or maybe just the fact that the wind was so onshore.  Either way I noticed a few things 1) the inside breakers tended to pitch harder and slow me down more then usual 2) there was almost no wind in the impact zone (onshore wind again) 3) there was a lot of current 4) the swell was pretty big.  Let's turn to the Waimea buoy to see if this is imagined or not...

Note the sudden rise of a 12 ft 12 sec NW swell right in the middle of the day.  Another N swell was hanging around 10ft and looks like it bounced down and back up again.  Not sure if this is exactly what we experienced on the water but a 12ft swell at 12 secs is likely to produce something close to 20 ft waves, and who knows what that other swell was doing out there. 

I continued my slog out through the channel and caught a decent mid sized wave back in.  I was only really moving when on the wave.  I tried to get back out through the break and was rejected not once but twice. At this point I noticed that the life guard was buzzing around on his jet ski keeping an eye on me (and others I presume) as I barely water started and headed away from the waves.  This time I went back out through the channel (with some wave take downs to make it interesting) and then caught a nice sized wave.  Managed a decent bottom and top turn or two and then rode up the line back to the channel.  Feeling good about that, I headed back to the outside.  This time I noticed that Julia had joined me (see pic).

Barely moving this time I made it to the outside, just as a really big swell passed under us.  I could see a large wave closing out the channel up to weird wave, and watched the swell that just passed rise up and throw down what looked like a 20 footer and a wall of spray on the inside.  This was followed by three or four equally large swells. We both did slog jibes though Julia was a bit more powered up and passed me headed in.  I was hoping to catch a larger wave this time, considering the swells we just saw.  But I was really slogging and as I got closer in I was nervous that a large set would break outside and catch me in the dead zone.  I tried to catch a medium-ish wave but had no juice at all.  Julia manged to get on this and I saw her ride up the line into the channel.  I was still slogging bad, there was really no wind in here!  I looked over my shoulder and sure nuf, there was a huge wave pitching up behind me, rising about 18-20 ft or so, and looking to break about  on my  head.  I pumped hard and the wave broke just behind me. For a second or two I thought I could stay in front of the white water which was over my head but it out ran me and next thing I knew I was tumbling trying to hold on to my rig.  Which was then almost instantly ripped out of my hand.  I continued to tumble and when I came up I barely had time to catch a breath before the next wave was on me.

This continued for three or four more waves and by the end I didn't care where my rig was, I only wanted to get out of the white water and survive this.  I wasn't trying to swim as much as just relax and catch my breath.  This was my first experience with 1) really losing  my gear (I rarely let go and if I do I'm usually not too  far away), 2) being in breaking waves large enough to leave me short of breath 3) feeling a wee bit of anxiety as I considered where my gear might be.  I floated on my back and rode the inside break until the waves were no longer thrashing me.  Then I looked for my gear and it was a long, long ways away.  The wave first caught me almost at the channel and now I could see my gear was about down to kite beach.  I wasn't even sure if it was mine - just assumed based on that it was the only rig in the water I could see.  I stated swimming but I was still sucking wind from the beating I just took.  Didn't take long before I realized that I was not closing the gap at all.

There were a few windsurfers around but they really didn't look at me. Honestly there wasn't much they could do.  There were also a bunch of kiters and I waved at one dude and he dropped next do me.  I asked for a lift to my gear and he said no prob!  I grabbed his harness handle (which now seems pretty convienent to have) and held onto his directional board as he basically body dragged me down to my gear in what seemed like 30 secs.  Sweet!  About this time the life guard circled back and I gave him the thumbs up and got going.  Kiter dude - whoever you are - thanks much for the lift and hopefully you will get some good karma for that.  As for me, I'm going to smile at every kiter I see for a long time.

After that the wind seemed to have come up a bit but I was in no mood for more beatings, so I headed upwind staying on the inside working on tacks until I got back to our usual location (upper parking lot).

So an interesing day.  Hopefully not the last wave sailing day for us but we are scheduled for departure on Friday and right now the forecast looks light for wind.  However there will be waves, lots of waves.  Here's the last part of Pat Caldwell latest surf forecast ...

In the northern hemisphere, models show the Aleutian low from the surface to the jet stream forming a huge gyre centered just east of the dateline starting this weekend. A broad area of severe gale to hurricane force winds to within 1000 nm of Hawaii should equate to giant surf locally starting around Sunday night, lasting several days from 300-340 degrees. Local winds to vary day to day from around the compass.

And the rumors have already started that HI could be getting one of the biggest swells in many years from this.  In fact Pat made mention of the famous Dec 4th, 1969 storm 40 years ago that up until now is known for creating the largest swell in modern times.  This swell also helped to cement Greg Noll's fame. Watch the movie Riding Giants (2004) if you want more on that story.   What Pat said is basically the weather set up looks similar to then.

I'm curious what the models are actually showing for this period so I snuck a peek.  Check out the giant storm predicted for Sunday 6th December with a fetch from Siberia almost all the way to HI.  Wow!

1 comment:

gary boates said...

Nice story Ben! Great outcome. Will look to see you at the beach again. Julia looking VERY brave and sure on her Mistral Twinfin sailing what looks to be a pretty lumpy looking inside. Glad to see that I was not the only lightwind Kanaha near-casuality out of our gang this year. Hit or miss with the OSO's to be there when needed? I wave at kiters too as they rescued my complete rig at Camp One a few years back... a windsurfer brought in my board and a kayak came out for me. Keep that karma shining - it CAN BE SEEN! (MERRY XMAS TO YOU BOTH)

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