Here Today, Gone to Maui
It was a glorious summer, but now autumn has arrived in Guernsey, I’m in a thick wetsuit with the first numb hands of winter.
Escapade is waiting for us in a Curacao boatyard, but it’s still hurricane season in the Caribbean. Not quite time to go sailing yet, we could squeeze in a windsurf trip..
Tradewind was the title of a very early windsurfing film starring Mike Waltze and friends, pioneers of the waves on Maui.
In those days I was sailing longboards on cold gravel pits in the suburbs of London, Tradewinds was a rented VHS tape. It was powerful stuff, the newly evolved short board scene on Maui, wave riding in technicolor.
In an opening sequence of the film Mike Waltze rigs his sail on a lawn under a coconut tree, the camera follows him through a garden gate, across a strip of white sand, he jumps on and sails off to the glorious Hawaiian waves outside his backyard.
That vision of a ‘windsurfer’s paradise’ stayed with me. My first pilgrimage to Maui was in my twenties, camping in a ridge tent in an upcountry field and sailing a dinged up old custom board from the swap-meet.
Now I’m back, and this time we’re living in the North Shore house with the lawn on the beach. If Mike Waltze didn’t rig in this garden, it must have been one of our neighbours along this strip. A few beach houses looking out to the reefs of Upper Kanaha and Camp One. Thirty odd years since that film flickered out of a tv set and blew my mind. Now here we are, those trade winds are blowing side-shore every day, I smile every time I rig a sail on the lawn!
Difficult, crowded, dangerous. Why would I sail here?
Ho’okipa Beach Park is kind of a big deal in windsurfing. It has always been the elite wave-sailing spot. Training ground for the pro sailors, legendary surf conditions, easily the most photographed wave in the windsurfing world. For the visiting sailor it can be intimidating. It’s a pretty technical place to sail, the launch can be tricky with strong currents and the surf is fast and powerful. There are ‘the rocks’ which lurk just inside where the waves are ridden, a nasty rinse-cycle of white water and currents. Every day sailors emerge from ‘the rocks’ with broken gear, bleeding knees and bruised egos. Oh, and a surfer was bitten by a reef shark here last week.
Then there’s the crowd. The standard of sailing here is ridiculously high. The locals are so dialled in to the conditions and there are regularly 30 or more sailors, all hungry for waves and nothing goes unridden. Would I even get a wave?
My first few sessions were all about the crowd. I am used to sailing alone, or with a few of the Guernsey crew, so the hectic scramble for waves was hard to adjust to. But after a few days at Ho’okipa, I just started to really enjoy it. Yes it’s busy, but there are plenty of great waves and I am sailing with the best windsurfers in the world. I might learn something!
The Aloha Classic
This is really why we’re here.
All our friends from the windsurf contests in Baja were going to be in Hawaii for the final event of the American Windsurf Tour: The Aloha Classic.
I was persuaded to compete in the AWT amateurs and Masters divisions again, but I think what they really wanted was Dawn’s organisational skills to help run the event.
This is also the last contest on the PWA pro tour, so the whole wave-sailing world is here to compete.
The main attraction for me to enter the contest was that you are likely to sail 20 minute, 4-man heats. Uncrowded Ho’okipa!
My friend Brice arrived from California and we decided to enter the ‘Pro-Trials’ (a chance for amateurs to qualify for the Pro bracket). Neither of us expected to go through the first heat, but we thought it would be a good warm-up.
Brice and I have windsurfed together all over the world and this was his first time on Maui, so it was pretty special when we were drawn to sail against each other in the same heat in the Aloha Classic.
Brice rose to the occasion, throwing his trademark one-handed aerials and took first place!. The energy continued from the beach all the way to the Halloween party..
The swell has been building for a couple of days but Ho’okipa looks like a different place this morning.
Yesterday was impressive, the Pro men and women sailed heats all day in firing conditions, but today is huge.
My daughter Jemima just arrived! She has been sailing on various yachts around the Pacific and was able to make a quick diversion from Vanuatu to fly in and spend a few days with us in Maui. Now we are sitting together at Ho’okipa watching the best sailors in the world pushing their limits in giant waves. All the stars are here, every heat list looks like a final, the crowds on the hill are cheering the moves and gasping at the wipeouts like Romans at the amphitheatre. We sit and watch the performance in full wide-screen reality.
To get an idea of the conditions click here an edit of the day’s action by Kevin Pritchard and Joey Sanchez.
Yes it’s great to watch the pros but we also want some waves!
Brice had heard of a spot on the west coast, so while the pro event continued at Hookipa, we loaded up the truck and snuck off in the other direction.
The waves we sailed that day were unforgettable, for a couple of reasons.
1. They were about a mile long.
2. We were alone! There were a couple of very stoked kiters out at first, but then we had the place to ourselves.
Pe’ahi Swim Club
We motored out of Kahului harbour in the dark, the 20′ motorboat rising over the swell. A few miles along the North shore we came close in under the cliffs and saw our first wave breaking at ‘Jaws’. The sun rose and we sat and watched the swell lines roll in from deep water, then rise up into a dark wall, reflect a flash of pink sunrise and then throw a huge pitching lip. The sound of the wave breaking was a deep and powerful “whuump” that you could feel as well as hear.
This was a bit of a bucket-list trip for us. A few friends who wanted to see the wave up close, from the water.
Jaws is another Maui wave that has been so well described and photographed that it’s hard not to write in clichés. So here we go: The wave is generated when swells arrive from distant storms in the Aleutians. The swell travels through very deep water approaching Maui and only starts to form a breaking wave as it travels over a deep ledge, so deep that only a huge swell will actually stand up and break.
Our skipper was a veteran tow-surfer and Jaws regular. He was happy to bring his boat right up to the wave. He was also happy for us to jump off the boat and swim around the waves! Sam led the way, leapt off the boat and swam towards a wave breaking a few feet away. Everyone had big grins on their faces, being so close to this power. I really hadn’t expected to be swimming on this trip, which is how I came to be duck-diving under the white water of a set wave at Jaws in my underpants.
Soon we were all in the water. We had Pe’ahi to ourselves that morning, beautiful waves and misty cliffs, it was glassy, no-one surfed it, there was not another boat or a single ski. Just 5 idiots swimming, shouting, laughing, taking photos of each other and feeding from the energy of the wave. Mindsurfing.
We were only playing on the shoulder, close to the boat, then the skipper called out for us to swim, now. We looked up to see the boat speeding away from an incoming wall that was wrapping wider than the rest, it looked as though we were now in the wrong place. We all swam for the shoulder, all got hit by the white water.
Diving under it you can hear the ocean tingling with the sound of a billion bubbles popping, our bodies getting tugged by the power of the moving water column as it passed. We looked up to see the next wave, even bigger, keep swimming. I think there were 5 in the set. Our skipper reminded us that this was ‘Baby Jaws’, any smaller and it wouldn’t even break. It gets much bigger. But these were still pretty impressive waves, and really not a suitable spot for a morning dip.
So that was our month in the Maui bubble. I windsurfed almost every day. The contest eventually ran through all divisions, the Pros completing an epic double-elimination which delivered all the drama and action a sports event could hope for. Meanwhile down in the mortals’ divisions, I sailed six heats, got knocked out of the Masters in the second round and made it to the semi-finals in the Amateurs.
Dawn was busy helping the AWT and PWA with the event and worked full days at the beach, keeping it all running smoothly and making sure everyone showed up for their heats. The Aloha Classic was a huge success sailed in firing conditions. Great job by all those involved and especially the pros who had to compete in those massive waves.
Weeks went by, we reconnected with windsurfers we had met all over the world, had some quality beach time with Brice and family, spent a precious 10 days with the elusive Jemima, we watched the sun set from the volcano crater, we survived Jaws, Halloween, the Aloha Classic and a US Election!
Time to move on.
We have a few jobs to do in that boatyard..
Thanks to all our friends in Maui for looking after us. We’ll be back,
Many thanks also to photographers Si Crowther, Jimmy Hepp, Joey Sanchez, Kevin Pritchard, Fish Bowl Diaries, Dawn and Jemima.
Also thanks to pritchardwindsurfing.com for organising everything.