Big Wave Riding Goes Nuts!
by Corky Carroll
Riding really big waves has always been an awe-inspiring feat, exciting to watch and thrilling to do. Lately they are taking things to a whole new and extreme level as far as sheer size of waves and just how they are approaching riding them.
Just in the last couple of weeks we have seen footage of Kai Lenny and Makua Rothman riding behemoth waves at “Jaws,” on the island of Maui, that have people actually tossing out the “100 ft” thing. And this morning I just saw a shot of Peter Mel at Mavericks, near Half Moon Bay, on a wave that scares me just to look at the photo of it.
It’s mind boggling to see just how massive these waves are that these guys are putting themselves into. And even more mind boggling is the way they are going about it. Not in the legendary big wave “stink bug” stance that was made famous by early big wave riders on the North Shore in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Nope, not in the “ride for your life” thrill seeker stance either. These guys are riding these waves close to the same way guys ride smaller surf. They are going for big turns, air drops and getting full blown “shacked,” (riding inside the barrel, curl or whatever you want to call it.). Doesn’t anybody get scared anymore?
I can still vividly, well ok….semi vividly, it was a while back, remember my first times riding big surf on the North Shore of Oahu. Back then they called big waves “heavies.” It was so different than what it had looked like in the movies or even from the beach. Just the sheer volume of water moving around and the massive thickness and power of those things made me feel totally insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Like a flea on a leaf heading over Niagara Falls, or something like that. The first day I was out at Waimea Bay when it was big George Downing looked at me and asked me if I was scared. I wanted to say no, but I was too scared to lie. “Heck YES, it’s b b baa BIG out here George!!!!”
Back then the deal was to under-estimate the size of the surf. If it was six times the height of a six-foot guy they would call it six feet. Totally wrong, but it made whoever was making the call seem braver by blowing it off as it was nothing big. I took the other road, I called it sixty feet. I swear my first big one at Waimea was 300 ft. And I was not going for giant turns, air drops or trying to get shacked, it was pure adrenaline survival thrill ride straight for the channel.
When Laird Hamilton and his crew started getting towed into waves that were too big to be able to paddle into it broke new ground. Waves bigger than ever thought possible were getting ridden. Laird was playing with them; the guy was absent on the day they handed out the fear cells. We were all blown away. It seemed like the limits were being reached with exactly what could be done.
But nooooooo. They just keep finding bigger and gnarlier water monsters to ride. They really are getting close to somebody reaching the sought after 100 ft all time biggie of biggies. So, this brings up the question: what is the limit of just how big a wave a human being can actually ride? And it appears there is, at this time, no answer to that. They are riding them as big as they come. Going to the ends of the Earth to find bigger and badder ones. Guys are sitting next to glaciers in Alaska waiting for giant ice chunks to fall off and make a wave. The only issue there is they have no idea just how big the chunk is gonna be nor how big a wave is gonna come racing at them. That’s pretty insane. Rocks, reefs, ice bergs, sunken ships, sharks and killer krakens in the lineup, no problemos. There are NO LIMITS, it seems.
This is one of the few times I am glad to be old and planted nicely in my Lazy Boy with no expectations to ride anything life threatening. Sure is fun watching these dudes like Lenny, Rothman and Mel charging these monsters though.