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Saturday, September 30, 2000

Holy Mother of God

I've been surfing three times since last mention (man-o-war), and it occurs to me that by mentioning these three, I have chronicled my entire Maui surfing career to date (not counting wind surfing, of course). Prior to surfing here, most of my surfing has been at Tamarak in Carlsbad, CA -- a sandy beach that only rarely gets head-high waves.

Maui is rather a sharp transition from that.

The first of the three days, Garrett* predicted from the buoy data on the internet that there'd soon be waves breaking at the Lanes in Ho'okipa, so we paddled out there when the water was basically flat and sat and waited (no doubt mystifying the shore-bound onlookers). Soon the waves came, but infrequently and only about head high. Maui guru jokes filled the gaps "Master, why are you paddling out when there are no waves?" "Grasshopper, if you are truly ready to surf, they will come." Despite the modest size, one of the waves pitched up a little faster than I expected so I bailed the board and ducked through. I came up clear of the wave and reeled in the board by its leash... or, at least, I reeled in the back half of the board, with some shreds of fiberglass sticking off the front. The wave had hit the board just wrong, and snapped it clean in half. It was a long paddle back on a small square of styrofoam. And now I owe Garrett* $200 for the borrowed board.

A few days later, the waves were about double head high, so we paddled out on the guns, once again luckily passing the rocks between sets. The west-bound current outside was only slightly slower than we could paddle, and the winds were up so the water was really choppy. All in all, not a pleasant experience -- particularly projecting forward to what would happen if I tired out and couldn't keep up with the current any more. Between the current and the chop and the large and somewhat unpredictable waves, I decided the odds of catching a ride back to the channel before I tired out were slim, so I just said hell with it and sprinted across the channel directly, with some fear I'd end up way out to sea by the time I got to the other side. But I was plenty warmed up by then and not yet tired so I made pretty good time. Rested outside of the Point for a while, then caught a good double-head high right, rode it 'till it closed out and then proceeded to get worked by all of its siblings. After all that paddling, I'd had enough, so I took the opportunity to go in before I got washed past the rocks by the current again (at which point I'd have to paddle the channel outside, back to the point, and catch another wave in...). I sat out on the rocks as it rained on and off, watched the sunset, and read more of Einstein's biography. Garrett* came in near dark, said he'd only caught two waves all that time at the Lanes, and then two more at the Point on his way in. Guess bailing on the Lanes early was a good choice.

Then yesterday the big waves came.

Middles looked better than the Lanes this time so we went out there. A huge set arrived half way through paddling out, and by the time I was getting tired of fighting the white water, I realized I had drifted way to the side of the bay and had been swept back nearly to shore. Somewhat embarrassing, since there are always people watching from shore. "Stupid ha'ole! Gonna get himself killed goin' out what he not ready for." But after a small debate with myself for whether to give up or try again, I played it cool and casually paddled back toward the center of the bay, paid mind to staying further left and inside the channel, and combined with a fortunate lack of huge waves for a short period of time I managed to get outside.

Even sitting conservatively outside, where I could rest and watch the waves to get a feel for how waves of this size work, I still had a couple moments of dread. More than once I looked outside to see a wall of water as tall as a house leaning over and headed my way, and found myself awing "holy mother of god" as I paddled my butt out to sea hoping to clear the crest before it peeled over, knowing full well there would be a bigger one behind it. Twice I cleared the top so at-the-last-moment that I was completely airborne as I fell onto the back side of the wave, smacking my board in a sandwich between me and the sea, and paddling like hell to clear the big brother of the one I just escaped. After one such set, I turned around to find I was all alone, as everyone else had been washed away. It was my chance to catch the perfect wave, nobody to compete with or to get in the way... but after those sets I was too chicken to paddle that far inside. Unfortunately, that was the game: if I stayed far enough outside not to get clobbered by the giant sets, then those were the waves I had to catch if I planned to do any surfing. This being maybe my fifth time surfing Maui, I chose survival and played it conservatively, edging slowly closer to the good take-off spots, trying to catch a few but never quite getting them. (The large waves move fast so you have to line them up just right and paddle like hell.) In the end, I gave up on catching anything and rode the white water in before it got so dark I couldn't find the five foot wide sandy gap in the reef which they call a beach. Sigh. Maybe next time.

(Simon to Garrett*: "How do you spell holy?" Garrett* laughs: "Only you would ask that." No, I'm not getting religion -- my brain's latent semantic analysis simply retrieves that as an appropriate expression in situations like that. Blame the movies.)

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com