Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Junior Take Makaha: Part Two

Paraffin Chronicles
This is next installment of Paraffin Chronicles that looks at how the Juniors did in the big surf and how important the famous Hawaiian watermen can be when the waves are big. And they got big, and then they got bigger...

Francis Thompson became a close friend that day. He was experienced and so damn funny and relaxed about it all that it helped me forget my fears. There were lifeguards out in the water. Big Hawaiian guys on huge tandem boards. Some were in the channel and some were out on the point. They told us where to go, and what to watch for on the horizon.

I listened to them and managed to paddle out around the bowl. I didn't want to go way out on the point, my plan was to sit as far outside as I could get and then paddle in when the heat ended. Good plan. But then a set came cranking around the point. I just remember these huge green walls. I paddled over the first one. There were a couple of guys outside of me and two of them swung their boards around to take off. I thought the wave was going to break on me, which wouldn't have been a real bad thing. Hey, if I survived the wipe-out, I could swim in with no shame.

The guys paddling for the wave couldn't catch it, and one of them yelled at me to go. I don't know what exactly happened except that I was suddenly turning my board around and stroking in to the biggest wave I'd ever even seen. That out-of-body thing again. A little terrified voice inside of my head screaming "what are you doing?" Then the body just taking over. "All hands on deck...battle stations."

I couldn't believe the feeling of catching that wave. The speed, the wind. I did my Peter Cole stance, this time it was entirely appropriate. The drop was iffy. Like jumping off a two-story building and trying to keep your balance through the air. My trusty Jet board hung in there and I made it to the bottom of the wave in tact. I turned and was flying--I mean it--flying across this big wall. A few seconds of pure ecstasy. Oh what a great feeling. Then I see the famous Makaha Bowl waiting for me at the end of the line like a big cat, ready to reach out and smash me with its claw. I slid down the face and made it as far as I could before straightening off.

Makaha Rules

The rules of the contest, Makaha Rules, took points off if you touched your board so I remained standing and widened my stance. The soup hit me and knocked me back, but some how I made it out still on my feet. I could see the calm water of channel ahead so I leaned in and bombed the whitewater in that direction. Somehow I emerged on this really nice eight-foot shoulder. I made a cutback, then a bottom turn and another cut back. Hey, this was fun!

I rode that baby all the way to the shorebreak and even walked up and hung five before the end of the ride. It was the greatest feeling. I stroked back out the channel, actually hoping to get another ride. I was about half way to the bowl when another big set came through. One of the lifeguards in the channel looked at me then told me to paddle over toward him. I did, and then he instructed me to cut across the break a little and pick up one of the shoulders if no one was on it.

That was scary, but I followed his instructions and sure enough I got a nice big shoulder and rode it in. Drop-knee cutbacks and big bottom turns. It was great. I got one or two more just like it and never did get back outside again. At the end of the heat I came in and was very stoked.

A couple of the guys came up and I told them all about catching the inside waves. At the end of the day, we got the heat results. Four of us had made it into the semi-finals: Francis Thompson, Curt Slater, Mark Hammond and me. It was pretty cool, for a brief moment there, actually about two days, we were the kings of the juniors. No one was making fun of my Jet board anymore.

On the morning of the semis, I remember waking up and thinking about what I was going to do. I was laying in my bunk when someone came in to the room and said that the surf had come up. Come up? Oh man, how big was it? It was big.

When we got to the beach, we saw solid 15-foot point surf. They were talking about postponing the juniors, which I was all in favor of, but I'm pretty sure Fred Hemmings talked the judges into running the heats. It was his kind of surf and he was a local boy.

I'll never forget putting my jersey on and waxing my board that day at Makaha. I had to piss really bad. Nerves? Heck yes. I peed my pants and it was all I could do to try and hide the big wet spot as I was running down the beach to jump in the water.

This time I wasn't even going to try and make it outside. I didn't want any part of those monsters out there. Francis Thompson was with me again, and I had told him about my plan. I was going to hang in the channel and when a set came in, I would cut across in front of the bowl and catch a big shoulder. Good plan, right?

Well, Francis thought so. We were there straddling our boards when this huge set comes around the point. We made our move, but miscalculated the size and power of the waves. When surf gets big, the whole line-up can change fast. So, here's Francis and I paddling across in front of this big set. We were smiling and all stoked. Then the first wave looms out of the deep water. I looked over at Francis and his eyes are bugging out. I'm sure I had a similar look on my face.

We both realized that we had made a huge mistake. The wave exploded about 20 yards in front of us. We were definitely screwed. There was nothing to do but dive off our boards and get as deep as we could. The classic move for that was to stand up on your board and then dive off. Francis was about 20 feet further out than I when we both stood up on our boards preparing to dive. The last thing I saw was Francis standing up and then tripping on his foot. He fell on his board and got eaten alive by the soup. I dove and swam as deep as I could. The soup was killer. It was like a monster with huge arms coming down from the sky and grabbing me. Then I was being tossed about and dragged. My lungs were exploding. The pure violence of nature.

After an eternity of being thrashed around, I flailed up to the surface. I looked around and no Francis. Then a couple of seconds later here comes this brown head popping out of thick foam, and it’s Francis. Man, you should have seen his eyes. Like silver dollars! Then we both laughed. The next soup got us again, and it wasn't as bad as the first. I guess we'd been swept in a good distance. We made it to the beach, and saw both our boards being swept out to sea in a huge rip. They were headed for this big point south of Makaha called Clausmeyers.

Somehow we managed to swim out and get our boards, but that was all for the contest. We were out, but we had some stories to tell. The surf kept coming up and up.
In the next installment, we will see who the real men were when it came to riding big waves. The Juniors get to go to the North Shore, shave ice, and more…

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