Sorry for the long gap between updates. It’s a combination of lack of internet and writer’s block.
Mainly the latter, but I know what caused the blockage.
A good friend of ours died in September. A friendship forged in teenage years that survived in to our fifties.
It was suicide.
This was a huge shock and really shook up our lives in lots of ways.
In the last few months I have written my notes for the blog as usual but I just didn’t know whether to write about Nick’s death, or how to, or how not to.
So the notes all stayed unfinished.
After the funeral in New Zealand we spent two months in Hawaii and I surfed my way through the trauma. I had some extraordinary experiences and wrote about them. But it really didn’t feel right to be having a good time when my old mate had just died. His fiancee told me this is called ‘survivor guilt’. It comes after the first haze of shock, disbelief, anger, pain. Life goes on, Nick’s not here, and perhaps we’re starting to get used to the idea that we will never get used to it.
Four months have passed now and it’s time to unblock and start blogging again. I’m getting complaints about the lack of updates.
We’re back on Escapade by the way, in the Tuamotus, and we have found some internet! So here are the edited notes and photos of Hawaii.
Life is still pretty amazing, on and off the boat. Sailing to new atolls, learning new ways to ride boards. Nick would have loved it.
3rd October 2018
Back to Maui
It was that time of year again, Dawn’s role with the International Windsurf Tour requires her to be in Hawaii organising the Aloha Classic, the grand finale of the wavesailing tour. It’s a full time job for her during October, preparing for the contest which runs during the first half of November.
So that left me with quite a bit of free time in windsurf heaven. I tried to keep busy..
There was plenty of action on the North shore, riders arriving from everywhere to train for the contest, the world’s best windsurfers, the daily session at Ho’okipa.
There were also weeks of beautiful South swell, unusual for October, but well worth the drive to the South facing beaches. Warm, glassy surf on my 9’ longboard. Sitting out the back with the turtles, looking inland at steep green valleys, rainbows and sunsets. It has to be good for you.
Dawn’s folks came out to see what keeps us coming back to Maui. We showed them around the North Shore, sent them on the famous ‘Road to Hana’ and 3000m up to the summit of Haleakala. It’s a spectacular place.
The Hydrofoil Revolution
If you stick around Maui long enough the next board sport will be invented before your eyes.
Maui was where performance windsurfing started in the 1980s. It’s where kiting developed, tow-in surfing, stand-up paddling, downwind paddling. Now all of the above have been re-invented, on hydrofoils. Everything is ‘on foils’ these days, from Americas Cup boats to surfboards. I got involved..
I started sailing a windsurfer fitted with a hydrofoil on Maui last year.
Board and rig flying silently above the chop like a pelican in low-level glide. The wind flowing over the aerofoil of the sail and the water flowing over the hydrofoil beneath my feet, it’s a whole new sensation.
Like windsurfing re-invented, windsurfing on stilts! Flat water windsurfing feels dangerous! In 12 kts of wind!
Plus you have to re-learn it all, it was like being 15 again and learning to windsurf the first time around.
When the wind and waves are up, of course I’ll be back on the wave-riding windsurf gear, but on those light wind mornings, I was learning to fly out of gybes on the foil and trying to ride little Kanaha waves. It may not look like much, but It’s totally absorbing.
Stand up paddle foiling:
The next challenge. A couple of years ago I was towed behind a boat on the first SUP foil (and possibly still the only one) in Guernsey. Now I have got round to actually paddling one in to a wave. Quite technical! It all happens very quickly when the wave arrives, but if you can A) get the board facing the right way, B) paddle a few quick strokes to catch the wave and C) get both feet in to position as the board takes off, the rest of it is actually pretty easy!
(Mastering A,B and C took all day.)
Pushing down with the front foot to keep the foil in the water as you hover down the face, or even a few inches of broken whitewater, which is all you need at first.
Some of the lamest, barely surfable waves in Maui are now drawing a crowd of foiling wave riders looking for exactly that, a small mushy wave, without too much power. And these are the hard-core Maui locals more used to chasing giant waves!
One perfect afternoon the south swell was gently pumping in long, glassy, waist-high lines, softly breaking and reforming, right and left all the way from the reef to the beach. Foil heaven, I can’t imagine a better set up for the first foiling take-offs.
The locals were also levitating on tiny foiling surf boards (Kai Lenny now rides a 3’8”!) and just gliding around, banking into very stylish turns. Carving into the future. That’s how it felt, I’d just arrived in the future and all the kids are surfing on hover boards.
Then a guy showed up on an electric foil board! Not even paddling! Just carving up the waves like it was a sci-fi comic book.
I switched the 7’ sup for a tiny 5′ foiling surf board. But to make the take-off easier, my buddy Scotty towed me into my first tiny waves behind his jet ski.
Just amazing that you can ride on a wave that is hardly even there.
But that brings us to another whole new experience for me, and the most exciting thing I’ve done in a while, tow surfing.
A few years ago we were on our way back from Pe’ahi in a boat, the big swell was breaking on the outer reefs off Sprecklesville, we stopped to watch a couple of guys towing in. The waves were big, but so perfect, and it looked easy, (we were watching Jason Polakow and Kevin Pritchard – picture above) I thought I’d like to give it a try.
Well finally I got my chance, thanks to Scotty and his massive new 4-stroke WaveRunner.
I have never really liked jet skis. Noisy, obnoxious machines.
But this is an impressive new toy with a 1.8L engine. That’s bigger than Dawn’s Mini. It’s been modified with a high torque impellor for whitewater and fitted out with all the safety gear for big waves.
We did lots of training laps on a small day, high speed pick-up drills to quickly extract the surfer from the impact zone.
Now we wait for the first of the real winter groundswells to arrive on the North Shore.
It’s getting scary already.
My first time out in real waves. Here I am getting dragged behind Scotty at Spartans reef. In the straps of his Kazuma quad tow board, holding on tight as he guns the ski over the swell lines, knees working hard to soak up the bumps in the wake.
We’re flying along with Scotty trying to position us for the approaching set. He holds up two fingers, we’ll take the second one. We turn into the trough and the big blue hill starts to catch us up, there’s almost no wind, the swell faces still have a slight texture out here, this one looks perfect but Scotty has caught a glimpse of the wave behind, he makes the ‘going round again’ hand signal, one more lap of the break. Now we climb up and over that swell and I can see the next one, Scotty points straight at it, ok, I’m in his hands! The wave is building fast as he guns the ski down the slope. I cut to the right of the wake and can feel the face smoothing out as I whip around it on the end of the rope bringing me up to the peak at high speed.
I drop the rope and dig my heels to carve the board down the face. No more ski, no Scotty, no rope, now it’s it’s just me and this wave. I start to drop. The board is slicing diagonally down the wave at speed, but the wave is changing shape in slow motion. Rearing up to its full size, the flat water out in front of the wave is erupting in large circular boils as the wave sucks water off the shallow reef. I seem to be at the top again. I’m still trying to drop down the face but never reaching the bottom, screaming down the shining blue wall that just keeps on standing up. This is pretty rad.
The Aloha Classic 2018
Meanwhile the windsurf contest was a great success. Spectacular conditions for the Pro riders, a breathtaking display of wave-riding.
Triumph for Camille and Antoine, the super stylish riders from Guadeloupe who finished 1st and 2nd.
Dawn worked long days and nights keeping the show on the road and it all ran smoothly from first heat to closing ceremony.
14th November, more towing… Big Wednesday
High surf advisory, NNW 6-8’ 13 seconds. (It’s ok Mum, it was only a High Surf Advisory, not a High Surf Warning.)
That means waves on the North shores of the Hawaiian islands with 12′-16’ faces, what a windsurfer would call ‘mast-high’.
Scotty made the early call, we’re going towing!
Once again, I had my mind blown. The waves were so perfect, and there was not a breath of wind all morning.
Today Scotty was dropping me right at the critical part of the wave, just behind the peak, letting that rope go and flying down a huge, smooth face, eventually flexing into deep carving turn off the bottom and a satisfying hack off the wall. The best surfing, by miles, I have ever done. We start with some long lefts (I’m goofy), then at the top of one he shouts at me to “Go right!” Ok there’s the biggest, longest, best backhand ride of my whole life. Until the next one, 5 minutes later.
My confidence is growing. Slightly less intimidated by the sheer size of the waves and starting to understand what is make-able on this crazy little knife of a board.
I said before that tow surfing looked kind of easy, and it is. There is no way I could be paddling out here (it’s half a mile offshore for one thing) but it would be so difficult to be in position, so dangerous if you were not in position, plus the take-off would be way beyond my level.
But with the ski, you are delivered to the peak early, already on your feet, with a perfect view of the wave as it builds, all you have to do is drop the rope and surf like you do in your dreams!
It was almost as though I had been training for this, although I never expected to be actually doing it.
I think that having windsurfed on waves for half my life, I’m used to going quick, and of course I’m right at home in the footstraps, I’ve just never ridden a wave this size without a rig in my hands. Maybe also drawing on some snowboard experience, pushing that front foot down the steep slope as the whitewater avalanches behind me. And those windless weekends at Hayling Island, towing surfboards and wakeboards behind the RIB. That free-diving course was useful too..
So you can be ready for the ride, but are you ready for the consequences?
If you’re lucky you can get wave after wave and no poundings. The further inside the reef you finish the ride, the safer you are.
But sooner or later, it is all going to catch up with you and down you go! With a few tons of turbulent white water on top of you.
A real ‘which way is up?’ rag-doll, hold-down, rinsing.
I see the light above and the buoyancy of my vest pops me through the top of a sea of boiling whitewater.
I have surfaced facing the next wave which is reaching its full height, feathering white at the top of a blue mass, far above me. The resulting explosion of water will reach me in a few seconds.
Scotty appears, grinning, at about 40 knots.
I’ve never been so pleased to see a noisy jet ski.
He stops it inches from my head, I turn away from the ski’s blinding spray, reach for the sled with my left hand, Scotty’s handbrake turn swings the sled towards me, left hand grabs sled, slide chest up on it, right hand finds a grab-handle, ‘GO!’
The ski roars away from a standing start and the wave crashes over the place we just left.
Now it’s time to hold on tight, engine blasting, blinded by spray, legs and feet planing on the water behind the sled, first in to retrieve the board, then find a way back out through the surf.
Mind fizzing with the wave I have just ridden, replaying the turns, the hold down, heart racing, white knuckles on the sled handles, radical sinus drains!
The noise stops. We’re back outside.
Scotty calmly calls over his shoulder “Great set coming JP. Get back on the rope.”
No time to process one experience before the next, I’m just layering up my sensory overload with wave after wave.
After four hours of that I really had to spend the rest of the day in a darkened room.
Oahu: Town & Country
After two months on Maui we connected through Honolulu on the way back to Tahiti, so we decided to stop for a few days to see a bit of Oahu.
We started our tour on the last day of the big North swell that had been closing out Maui’s north shore,
Here on Oahu it was producing world-class waves everywhere we looked.
I was surprised at how low-key the whole area was. Apart from the WSL circus at Sunset Beach, where we watched a few heats, the North Shore seems amazingly untouched. Green hills and beaches along the ‘Seven Mile Miracle’. The most famous waves in the world are not signposted, we parked up in a random beach park and went for a little walk, there a few yards away was a pack of about 50 surfers sitting in one spot, just off the beach.
A set came through, two guys made it, one went right, one went left, the lip threw them both into breathtaking barrels. We’re standing in front of Pipeline!
I don’t know what I was expecting, someone selling T-shirts maybe, but there’s nothing there, just a few coconut trees.
The waves all along this coast are way out of my league, powerful and heavy, strong currents, shallow reefs. Even if I made it out there, the pack of locals are also powerful and heavy, so I would be unlikely to catch a wave.
The next day we called in at Brice’s beautiful house on the beach just along the coast. The waves were much smaller, I guess all the good surfers were having a day off after all that big swell. This was my moment to surf on Oahu’s famous North Shore!
I borrowed one of Brice’s boards and joined the handful of mellow locals (mainly girls and old men actually, I know my moment when I see it).
Anyway, I made the steep drops that morning rode the perfect waves at Velzyland. Ok small, but as Brice would say, ‘legit’.
Thanks B, I’ll try to make sure you’re home next time I visit!
I was looking forward to seeing Honolulu and Waikiki, but the place I was looking for probably got swept away a few years ago.
I was hoping for a bit of faded Hawaiiana, mai tais in seedy tiki bars, backstreet Japanese diners, somewhere Jack Lord would hang out in the 70s.
Well that’s all long gone. Old Waikiki has been replaced by shining malls of Gucci, Chanel and Louis Vuitton, all doing a roaring trade selling this season’s winter coats even though it’s bikini weather. It’s a bizarre place. The hotels on the strip are doing big business in Chinese weddings, a production line of stylists, photographers and limos.
Happily the famous waves of Waikiki are still gently rolling in. We rented 10’ boards and paddled out to join the fun one morning.
That’s one busy line-up! Tourists, locals, surf lessons, SUPers with dogs on the front, even a 20’ outrigger canoe dropping in and ploughing through the break! But it’s still wonderful, the postcard view of Diamond Head in the background. So no backstreet bars, no sign of Jack Lord, but we had a great time.
Back to Escapade
A quick hop from Honolulu to Tahiti and the start of a new sailing season.
Tuamotus update coming down the unblocked pipeline soon!