Tuesday, September 27, 2005


There's a break on the southwestern inner corner of Maui that has a perfect right reef setup. Unfortunately, its shielded from most southern ocean swells by the islands of Kaho'olave, Molokini, and Maui itself -- a big swell has to be pretty much perfect for Ma'alaea to even be 2ft. But this spot, because it's an extremely fast breaking wave over a shallow reef, is also called Freight Trains -- and once every five years or so, it earns that name. Two weeks ago, for one day, after the worst summer here for surf in many years, one swell came in just right and made Ma'alaea the best wave in the world.

C and I drove down the hill with my 7'0" in the car late that afternoon. I had been watching the swell march across the Pacific via satellite for the past week, and I knew it should be getting into Ma'alaea right about now and for the next day or two. We pulled up and the place was a zoo. Pro surfers had flown in from all over the world, and there were over a hundred guys in the water. I was flabby from the lack of surf all summer, but I knew I had to do it, so I crawled down the rocks and paddled out. At first it just seemed good. Pretty damn crowded, but good Ma'alaea, breaking better than I'd ever seen it. Then the horizon got a bit higher. Everyone, including me, started paddling like crazy, and in between spinning my arms I could barely believe what I was looking at. I managed to duck the first wave just as it was breaking. Another guy in front of me was taking off, and I managed to go under him. When I came out the back of that wave, the rest of the set was even bigger. Damn, my board was too small for this. (It was about to get smaller.) By paddling like mad, I managed to make it through. On the biggest wave of that set, I remember looking up the lineup to see someone actually catch it. He was coming down the line at a million miles an hour, his board chattering like crazy under his feet, holding on for dear life. I'll never forget his ride, and I doubt he will either -- he said when the wave finally closed out it was the most worked he's ever been.

I adapted as best I could to the waves being impossibly big for Ma'alaea. I set up a little bit further out on the shoulder, and watched for guys not making it. After fifteen minutes of trying, everything came together and I paddled like crazy to catch my first wave as it was closing out on another guy further up the lineup. I made the drop, cranked the bottom turn, and lined up for the nice little barrel forming up ahead of me. Sweet! But damn, I hadn't surfed anything but the longboard in 2ft surf for the past three months, so I was completely out of practice. I got a little too high up on the face, and rather than just drift up and over the wave, losing it, for some reason I thought I'd try a floater (which is when you skate over the top of the lip.) Well, I didn't have the speed and I just ended up coming over with the lip, like a total idiot. Next thing I know that same lip is bouncing my ass off the reef, and I come up to see just the last foot of my board attached to the leash. :( I swam in disgraced.

It turns out this day was the best Ma'alaea has broken in twenty years or so. I'm pretty damn pissed at myself for having so blown what was probably my only opportunity to get it so good. But, on the other hand, I guess I did ride that one wave that day, sort of.

This morning, on the way to teach class, I was thinking a bit about snowboarding in Colorado. About how I never had to hassle with other riders -- just lay down one turn after another. About how good making those turns feels. It's funny, I guess I'm starting to get the itch to hop back to the snow again. I guess in my ideal life I'd be hopping back and forth between these two places. And, well, I do try to live my ideal life.

After class, the wind and waves were good and I took the windsurfer out to Noriega's, which is a nice big point break that I think sets up better than Ho'okipa. It's hard to get out there, but there's never a crowd. And today was a good day. It was great to look forward to this winter here on Maui. Towards the end of the session, as the sun was setting behind the West Maui Mountains, I lined up a really nice wave, bottom turned while laying the sail down towards the wave, came up and turned hard off the lip just as it was throwing out, and came flying down the face -- the curve of the board exactly matching the curve of the wave. Everything worked, perfectly, just that once.

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