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

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Giant waves and Julia's big adventure

[ updated 4/15/2010 to add name of lifegaurd - Jeff Silva - who rescued Julia along with futher developments in this story ]

As forecast we just had two days of 15-24 ft waves breaking on the North Shore.  Hookipa was huge and closed out.  You could tell because Levi, Pascal, Jason Polakow and other Hookipa regulars were all down at lowers.  The north west buoy shows the swell taking shape...

Looks like 12 ft @18 secs was the peak. At around 18 secs the wave faces can be triple the swell height in the max sets, or so I've been told.  Anyway it was big!

Before rigging up on Monday and doing battle, we had a mini fashion show at Kanaha.  Here's Marge, Nick's mom (on the right), and Val showing off the latest in beach and surf wear.

I thought Marge's mini peace skirt and boots nicely complemented Val's flip flops and camo mini bikini.  Now this isn't just for fashion.  Val pretty much windsurfs wearing that, so clearly this is a fully functional suit!  And she, her husband Jeff, and Nick (all on Hot sails, and therefore known as the Kanaha Hot crew) , were out in Uppers all day both Monday and Tuesday, when the outer reef was at it's biggest and baddest that I've ever seen.  Unfortunately the outer reef is so far from the beach that it's hard to get a picture that does it any justice.  I tried... first a picture of lowers with a close out set (note just the tip of a sail showing on the other side of the breaking wave)

This shows a wave breaking on the outer reef at uppers early on Monday. I had my camera on max zoom so these waves are further out and bigger then they look.  Much much bigger

Fortunately we had just enough wind on both days to make it out and get some rides.  Mostly.  On my first reach at lowers I was almost out and barely made it over a giant wave.  I didn't have much juice and it was almost like a free fall dropping down the other side. I landed with no forward momentum at all.  Of course the next wave was even bigger and already starting to curl.  No way I'm making it over that.  You may find yourself in such a situation and my best advice is a) don't panic b) hold onto your gear c) consider what a great life you've had up to that point.  Besides that I made sure my mast was pointing at the wave and board  pointing toward the beach.  I crawled onto my sail, feet toward the wave, head facing the beach ready to body surf. Then I sunk the sail as much as possible.  Grab the boom near the mast with both hands and  hold on tight.  Take a few deep breaths before the wave hits.  Relax and pretend this is some kind of crazy Disney water ride. I felt the wave lift me up but I didn't quite go over the falls.  I think I sunk the sail enough that it more or less anchored my body.  As the wave broke it took the board and pulled me and the rig along - very hard.  It was almost like surfing the wave and I actually got pretty far inside on that one wave. About three more waves did more or less the same thing and I was inside in the clear.

And that was it!  I water started, headed in and up wind as much as possible and this time went for the channel.  I made it out every time after that.  As for the waves, I have to admit that some sets were so big I mostly went up the line to avoid the biggest section, and then took a few bottom turns while the wave still had some juice.  One great thing about my new quad fin Quattro board is it goes up the line really well and I can now make some hard backside turns and get to the lip.  My old single fins boards had a tendency to spin out in that situation, so if nothing else, this is something a quad fin board seems to do better (actually I think it does a lot of things better, but that might be in another post).

Tuesday the swell was a bit smaller but more northerly, which can actually make the waves at Kanaha bigger because there is no blockage from west maui and the swell hits the reef more straight on.   So the bigger sets were on a par with Monday, but everything seemed a bit cleaner. Perhaps because there was less wind.  And that was the challenge.  Maybe I was feeling a bit more confident, but Tuesday I had some of my best down the line, smack the lips ever.  I was particularly inspired on one pretty huge wave when I saw Bernd on the same wave a few turns down the line from me.  I tried to match his position and turns on the wave.  Right away he cut an  aggressive bottom turn and headed for the lip.  I could see his body position clearly, with head and upper body leaned forward and toward the wave, sail raked way back.  Now I think most of us Joe six pack sailors can always turn a little harder and lay the sail down a bit more on the waves.  Especially the bigger ones.  Having someone right in front of me doing this was really inspiring and I think I did a pretty close imitation.  So I ended up almost at the top of the wave as it started to curl, and I got a bit of air coming down and landed directly in front of the foam.  Which I'm pretty sure was my biggest off the lip ever.  Woo-hoo!  On the next turn the section was really critical.  I only went about half way up because I could see the wave pitching and I wasn't ready to get tubbed and crushed.  But Bernd was ahead of me and he shot up and got to the lip just as it was pitching and threw or attempted anyway, a ponch off the lip.  He didn't quite make it, the wave exploded, and I never saw him again. :(

Actually I looked back and saw Bernd swimming for his gear, but not too far. And I know he got a lot of good wave rides after that.  So my lesson, as in so many other situations, is you have to go for it.  I also slogged out and over some huge waves, and along with a some opportune chicken jibes, I managed to mostly escape mayhem, until about my last reach when the wind nearly died and I got caught inside by a big set while slogging. But even that wasn't so bad (I really really try to hold onto my gear no matter what now).

Ok, so Julia had a much more interesting adventure on Tuesday.  I'm going to turn the narrative over to her, but before I do, let me show the end result.  Here is our 4.7 north sail with a new radical twist away feature that Julia added mid-sesh.

As it turns out, the cut out might have been a bit too much, and, well Julia's story to follow...

Julia's Big Adventure

As I was sailing back out through the Lowers channel, I lost speed getting over the wave sets and was taken down by a curling wave.  Though it wasn't an intense maytag session, when I cleared my sail to waterstart, the entire sail was torn almost in two.  Bummer!  The dragging sail pieces made it impossible to ride back or even fly the sail, so I began swimming.  I thought that the current would push me in towards shore, but the rip was actually carrying me out to the notorious Weird Wave.  At this point a guy dropped in the water with me and shouted that I had to get out of there (no kidding) and insisted that I try to fly the shredded sail back to shore.  While proving that this was not possible, a lifeguard, Jeff Silva, suddenly appeared on his jet ski and my real Lowers session began.

Our hero instructed me to pull my board onto the sled of the ski and climb on top.  With all the drag and need to proceed slowly, we were quickly overtaken by a logo-high wave.  Jeff shouted to ditch the gear, and I had the surreal experience of speeding in front of the crashing wave while my gear rode on top of the wave right behind us.  We had to circle back out to get around to the gear.  If you've ever had the opportunity to ride a jet ski over an 8-foot curling wave, you'll understand the thrill of the speed, the gut-wrenching impact after the drop, then the whipping of the sled as we outran the next wave.  The lifeguard's eyes were shocked and pleased that I was still on board (and grinning) after a few of these.  Some of my friends caught the show as they rode in, and I don't think they've ever seen me performing so many off the lips and aerials on a wave.  Jeff maneuvered the jet ski by my gear a second time (the first one was a miss, followed by a round of wave jumping), and he held my board while I lay on my sail and held the boom with my foot on the sled.  We made it back to shore and Jeff rode off to rescue the guy he was originally sent out to help.  Miraculously, only the sail was damaged in the whole wild ride.

My rescuer, Jeff Silva, was unbelievably skilled on the jet ski and showed amazing patience waiting for an opportunity to get my gear when he could have simply brought me back to shore and let the current take my rig down to the beach in front of the waste treatment plant. Instead, there we were, riding giants like Dave Kalama and Laird Hamilton. Kudos to all the Kanaha guards!


Anonymous said...

Hi Ben & Julia:

I just read your stories about Maui. Very entertaining. Glad to hear you are both still in one piece and having such a great time.
I am looking forward to sailing with you both in Maui some day.
Soma and Anton are doing well. We had a great powder weekend on the Mountain last week. Keep hittin' the lip! David

Pete said...

So glad to hear you survived the monster wave Julia! Thank goodness for all those years of swimming back in the day, eh? Enjoying the vicarious life while typing away so it sounds like I'm actually working...

See you in June - enjoy Maui! :)

Catapulting Aaron said...

Wow -- what a wild story for Julie...

Also I loved the

"You may find yourself in such a situation and my best advice is a) don't panic b) hold onto your gear c) consider what a great life you've had up to that point." part...

Hilarious. Excellent, engaging writing. I need to stick this blog on my roll...

Unknown said...

Very exciting read especially from the comfort of my couch.... (someday I'm going to be out there with you two!) love you guys! Sis Bet

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