Ready Set......... UH-OH
A Practical Guide to Big Wave Riding from some of Oahus Local Northshore Girls
(edited version in Surf Life for Women Magazine)
(all wave height menitoned in this article are local surfer scale so double it for the face)
Surf contests, movies and photo shoots have given us images embracing a ballistic approach to big wave surfing, but for most of us its more of a lifetime endeavor than a short term event. Surfing big waves in a regular situation does not provide any organizers to monitor the swell for you or jetskis in the line up to save you, yet usually does offer a lot more surfers to contend with for the best waves.
Ready! Set!.... Uh oh would best describe the feeling of my first experiences in big surf. This is a great example of having the will without the wisdom, which would usually leave me feeling like oh God, why have I done this to myself again". However I had the bug so I kept coming back realizing that the more time I spent in the line up and knowledge I had about the ocean around me (tides, currents, bouys, maps and forecasts) the more the uh ohs turned into something like okay......here we go.
It was one of the first places I surfed when I moved here 15 years ago and I got one of my first barrels at backdoor before I even knew the name of the spot. Surfing it big and serious however, did not come until I moved to a house that literally looked right into the barrell of the beast about 6 years ago. I soon realized that the best pipe surfers were out there everyday no matter what the conditions (within reason), so my heart quickly became recruited as one the soliders marching down to the break every day. Although I cant say I have pulled throught the pack of 100 guys(all which are better than me) and thrown myself into a big one yet, I can say just watching those beautiful barrells in the line up at third reef(12 ft) have become some of my best surfing experiences; almost dream -like in some slow motion subdued state of being. On the other hand making bad decisions at Pipe can cost you your life or take someone elses. West is best! The west swell is organized and enjoyable, too much north and you get pinched into a close out which can slam you on the reef; if the sand is not set up right, the waves coming out to sea can be as big as those going in causing dangerous backwash. Getting caught inside or eating it on the drop can leave you right in the way of the other surfers and hold you there. Once you do get pushed in it will probably be towards backdoor where 4 and 5 foot waves are crashing onto the 1 ft shallow reef. I do everything in my power not to be in this situation even if it means paddling in without a wave. I dont go out to prove something, but to learn something; some days getting out to the line up and back in are a victory for me. Even some of the best surfers go through mental anguish about missing waves or pulling back at Pipe. I think every ride is a calculated risk and part of surfing Pipe is knowing when to go and when to humble yourself and know your limits.
Watching the women bodyboarders getting washed in by 15 ft sets at Pipe, was probably one my biggest inspirations to give it a shot. It showed me girls could do it in their own way. Yes, I know its easier with a bodyboard, but I dont know any women surfers who would see 15 foot sets at Pipe grab a bodyboard and go out because in all reality its still a 15 foot wave over a narly reef no matter what your riding so check out what these girls have to say.
As a girl, there will always be people telling you not to paddle out. Dont let anyone tell you what to do. If you feel confident to paddle out, just follow your own instinct. Katcha
I think so much of it has to do with mental determination and confidence that its possible.
your thinking too much or just go with it is what she says to me when I am having a bad day.
Sometimes when she is deciding whether or not to paddle out on a big day she says it feels like a war within myself, but then I just take the attitude to go out and see what i can get Emilia Perry
Banzai Betty pioneered the Northshore some 20 years ago. She has surfed big Sunset, big Pipe, but is the only women I have ever heard to have claimed 20 footers at Waimea. Here is an account of her approach to Waimea.
I NEVER LISTENED TO ANYBODY WHO TORE ME DOWN, or SAID THAT I COULD'T DO IT, GOING OVER THE LEDGE WAS HEAVY. I HAD TO JUST PADDLE AS HARD AS I COULD BE COMMITTED AND DROP IN AND MAKE THE DROP OR DIE. SOMETIMES IT WAS FUN, SOMETIMES I HAD TO PROVE IT WAS FUN. Here is some of Bettys advice:IF YOU TRULY WANT A TEN FOOT WAVE GET A SOLID BOARD, REMEMBER THE WIND PUSHES UP THE FACE AND DON'T PLAN ON DUCK DIVING A 7'6" that has real PADDELING POTENTIAl. RELAX THrOUGH it NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS SAVE YOUR AIR. DON'T WORRY WHEN THE HUGH MONSTER COMES TO GET YOU DEAL WITH IT! IF YOU FEEL PANICKY DON'T GO OUT!IT ALL FELT NATURAL TO ME. THERE IS NO DETERMINATION OF THE DAY. YOU WATCH THE WAVES, YOU KNOW WHEN IT'S SUPPOSED TO PEAK, YOU WAIT TILL THE BIG SWELL GOES DOWN,. PAY ATTENTION AND MAKE A GOOD JUDGMENT BY HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT THE DAY AND DO IT! ONE TIME I PADDELED OUT AT THE BAY AND A HUGH SET CAME, CLOSED OUT THE CHANNEL AND I PADDELED STRAIGHT BACK IN CAUSE I FELT A TWINGE OF FEAR. YOU CAN'T RIDE BIG WAVES WITH FEAR. YOU HAVE TO KNOW YOUR PREPARED.
I HEAR GIRLS SAY THE OLDER GIRLS NEVER GOT TUBED AND THEY NEVER RODE PIPELINE AND ALL THE HOGWASH, ALL I CAN SAY IS I RODE IT ALL UNCROWDED.
Back when local Northshore girls were permited to compete in the professional Sunset events Karen Gallagher was one of the stand outs. She placed in the semi finals at many of the events and placed 5th at one of the biggest events held for the women in10 ft surf.
When I asked Karen what she would do if she got caught inside at Sunset she replied
WHAT DO YOU MEAN, IF? IT'S WHEN. THE BEST THING TO DO DEPENDS UPON WHERE EXACTLY YOU ARE. IF THE LIP'S PITCHING, GO DEEP AND THROUGH IT. IF IT'S JUST BROKEN AND IS REALLY GNARLY, DIVE OFF AND ALSO GO DEEP. CAUGHT INSIDE, BUT YOU THINK YOU CAN HOLD ON, TURN TOWARD SHORE AND HOLD ON, IT'LL GET YOU OUT OF THE IMPACT ZONE. ALWAYS HOLD ON TO YOUR BOARD IF AT ALL POSSIBLE, YOU WON'T GET WORKED NEARLY AS BADLY. I DON'T ALWAYS WEAR A LEASH OUT THERE, THEREFORE IF I'M SWIMMING, I ALWAYS STAY NEAR THE SURFACE AND LET THE WAVE ROLL ME IN. THE WORST THING THAT YOU CAN DO IS TO STAY IN THE WORST SPOT AND KEEP DIVING DOWN, YOU'LL EVENTUALLY RUN OUT OF AIR, BREAK YOUR BOARD, OR BOTH.
NEVER CATCH THE FIRST WAVE OF THE SET, EVEN IF YOU MAKE IT, THE NEXT ONES SEEM TO SWING WIDE AND NAIL YOU ON THE INSIDE, AND INSIDE SUNSET IS NASTY. The size of the crowd is what determines whether she will paddle out when its big I HAVE A DAUGHTER TO TAKE CARE OF, AND IT'S JUST TOO DANGEROUS TO BE OUT THERE WHEN IT'S CROWDED, As for being a girl in the line up she says this I THINK THE GIRL THING IS WAY OVERBLOWN. WE HAVE TO REMEMBER THAT WE ARE SURFERS. THE LINEUP HAS ALWAYS BEEN A DARWINISH PECKING ORDER, AND WE ARE GENERALLY THE WEAKEST OUT THERE. THAT'S IT, NOTHING PERSONAL. SAME WAY AS THE LEAST TALENTED OR LEAST AGGRESSIVE SURFER WON'T GET AS MANY WAVES. IF YOU'RE TALENTED AND AGGRESSIVE, YOU'LL MOVE UP THE PECKING ORDER AND GET RESPECT. Women ARE VERY NOTICEABLE OUT IN THE LINE-UP, HOWEVER, SO I'VE ALWAYS TRIED TO BEHAVE MYSELF, AND NOT GIVE WOMEN A BAD NAME. THE GUYS ARE STOKED TO SEE A WOMAN CHARGE BIG WAVES, BUT ONLY IF THEY FOLLOW THE RULES. DON'T DROP IN ON GUYS AND THINK THAT JUST BECAUSE YOU HAVE A SEXY BIKINI AND A CUTE ASS THAT THEY'RE GOING TO BE HAPPY ABOUT IT. SURFING IS PRECIOUS, AND EVERY WAVE IS, TOO. GIVE RESPECT AND YOU'LL GET IT BACK.
Sasha Stargazer choks it up to a zen like state of being totally one with the wave. A state from which she says strips her memory of the wave approaching, the take off or the ride itself. Here is what she does remember from one of her big wave sessions:
My friends constantly nag me not to go out alone at big wave spots. I
finally have a story that proves surfing alone can actually be safer. I was out at a place called Paradise(outside avalanche, the left next to Haleiwa) where I can see a bird on the red buoy which is almost a mile out to sea. It was really huge for me, maybe 15 feet (30 foot faces). I sat out in the channel and watched scared as two sets come through. Then I moved over and forced myself into the line up by sheer will power. I told myself "three waves, Sasha, three waves" The first one was so fast it was over before my brain knew what was happening. The second one, well, I stood up but it was so steep I couldn't be sure if I was standing on the board or just hovering over it and my stomach felt like I just jumped off a 30' waterfall on Kauai. But my feet stayed connected to the board and I kicked out with my heart in my throat. That's enough, I thought. But no, I was committed to three waves. Another set loomed on the horizon and I picked out my final wave, as steep and thrilling as the others. I paddled back to Haleiwa feeling very proud of myself. Got into the line up to catch one home (I was tired). I caught a small ten-footer, glanced back and saw a short boarder had snaked me. Instinctively I kicked out, as I rose over the lip I looked back and saw four more monster waves feathering outside. I got pummelled, somersaulted, bounced off the bottom, dragged, and worried about breaking my board. All because someone snaked me. I had just rode three much more treacherous waves alone without incident. So tell me, where am I safer, surfing alone or with other people? To ride big waves takes a certain mind-set. What's worked for me is the motto: "sometimes the ride is on top of the water, sometimes the ride is underneath the water, both are equally exciting." (this helps overcome the fear of being pummeled in the washing machine)
While almost everyone who rides big waves considers it some sort of science, Gypsy Ann Russ accuses Newtons law for her addiction to riding big waves. The fact that all matter is neither created nor destroyed, but merely transfered from one mass to another(mass)'is quite simple to relate to surfing massive peaks.The bigger the wave, the more energy I receive. That's why riding big surf is so addicting." Gypsy who has been amongst 20 ft sets at Waimea, out of control Haleiwa, and through many adventures at big Sunset. She also surfed the swell of the decade(Big Wednesday) at Makaha. She describes why so often it is worth making the trip from the Northshore: "Surfing Makaha at ten feet is like surfing Sunset, except there's hardly anyone around; therefore, one can sense the mana all about them. There's a warmth out there that I've yet to feel at any other break, and I've traveled all over."
A Lifeguards perspective
numb with fear she exclaimed when I asked lifeguard Sue Steward how she felt before making one of her first real big wave rescues. Being that she is the 1st woman to work all the stations on the Northshore, Sue says she had no choice but to go out there and prove her capability. After being hit by a wave which seemed to be six times her size in shallow shore pound and doing about 4 backflips she then relaxed and went deep enough to get under the next 3 waves of the set and then sucessfully bringing the victims to safety. She comments that it took several years of surfing and getting familiar with the northshore before she could even think about being in such dangerous surf. Since then, she has gained more and more confidence allowing for many more big wave rescues at Pipe, Sunset and Haleiwa with honorary awards from the state. Sue says she trys to follow a mindset once explained to her by legendary waterman Brian Keaulana to be in the water you have to move like the water
I hope that these accounts of big wave riding from local northshore women will help you to feel more comfortable in big surf whether your idea of big is 3 ft or 30. I feel that being able to relate to other surfers (especially other women) about your experiences in big waves is very comforting.