This mission was up to Mavericks. I’ve been up there a number of times and looked at it, but have never had the chance to surf it for one reason or another… too crowded, too windy, not enough swell, but last week the stars finally aligned for my opening day out there. I was fortunate enough to have been put in contact with Grant Washburn, one of THE guys, who agreed to take me under his wing and show me the ropes.
I pulled up to the lot mid-afternoon on Wednesday, as he had instructed. The forecasts were all calling for the swell to arrive that evening, peak through the night, with “the day” being Thursday morning. The lot was relatively empty, only a handful of cars which seemed to be of the non-surfer type. As I hop out of my truck, Grant, this 6’8′, 250lb beast of a man approaches with an excited demeanor but with hushed delivery tells me “I think we’re out there! Ocean beach just doubled in size, buoys are 12ft @ 16sec. The swell is here baby!” Without checking it, we quickly suit up and make the hike out to the jump-off rock. No one is around and things look relatively quiet out where I am assuming the wave is supposed to break. “O well, we’re here early. Grant can show me the lineups, there’ll be some good conversation and maybe we’ll get a wave or two just before sunset.” We make the jump, thread our way out through the rock garden and begin the long paddle out. As we’re about three quarters of the way out, all of the sudden we see corduroys stack to the horizon and right before our eyes, this four wave, 18ft, oil glass set marches through the bowl. Our cadence of paddle doubles and Grant yells “That’s real deal!” We make it out the back and within minutes another stack comes through. Grant, with zero hesitation, turns for the first and goes. (I found out later that the first ridden wave of the season is a big deal, so I am glad I didn’t disrupt.) We spent the next three hours trading all-time Mavericks with, by the end of our session, less than half a dozen guys. I could not have asked for a better intro, although this is not where the story ends…
As the session came to a close, I started to get cold and the calf cramps began setting in. No good. At this point, its time for a wave in, so I irrationally turn for the first wave of the next set, a bad move on my part. I make the drop and get to the mid section of the wave that tends to be a little bumpy and frothy. Before I know it, the whitewash mows me over and I go down. The wrists of my wetsuit get blasted up to my elbows, the ankles up to my knees, and I almost lose my left bootie. After a violent couple somersaults , I come up to see the rest of the set detonating and stacking to the horizon. Great. I took four whitewash steamrollers on the head, each one with a little more punch than the last. Finally, the set subsides, luckily with everything ending fine. Thankfully I didn’t get pushed into the rocks, but it was definitely a nice little “Don’t take me lightly” spank by miss Mavericks herself. I am hooked… what a wave.
This next photo might have been the most exhilarating wave of my life, which was followed by one of the most intense beatings I have ever had to withstand. I am glad my fitness is where it is, otherwise things might have unfolded differently.
It was mid afternoon with a bit of texture on the water, low tide and scary. I hadn’t caught a wave in a few hours and finally saw this monster on the horizon. As I’m paddling down the face and go to stand up, I see the bottom drop out and I’m thinking “Oh $#!+, do I hit the eject button or try to pull the airdrop of my life on a 9’4″?” I grabbed my rail, felt myself go weightless, and before I knew it, I’m at the bottom of the wave still standing.. As I bottom turn up into the wall, the spit blasts me in the back like a firehose and I’m completely blind. I did my best to hold my line and as the spit cleared, I found myself going mach 10 towards the shoulder, only to hit a chop in the flats and sprawl out into a graceful belly flop.
Since this swell was so long period, instead of “X” number of waves per set, it was more like “X” minute long sets. With that many waves slamming into a beach break, the water needs somewhere to go and thus, creates these river-like rips that trash the face of most of the waves you might have had a chance of making. When the opportunity arose in which a wave with a shoulder focused itself within your sphere of possibility, and that had a runway unhindered by the rip, it was imperative that you went. At this point, you really aren’t considering whether or not there are waves behind it because most likely there are, and you are going to have to take them on the head if you don’t make your wave to the beach. Lastly, Puerto has a way of pushing you right back out to the impact zone, as opposed to blasting you towards the beach when you’re caught inside. This is why the flotation vests are a necessity out there on any big day. In my case, I had a flotation vest for the morning session, but after being mowed over by a right I rode (photo attached), my vest was ripped square in half down the chest and off my body. Without a backup, I foolishly paddled out for the afternoon session vestless, and found myself in the exact situation described above. So after “belly flopping” in the flats on the left, I came to the surface to find myself being sucked out and right into the impact zone. I took ten waves on the head, no exaggeration, and each time struggled to the surface only to get a mouthful of foam and a glimpse of the next one looming before being sucked back down into the soup. The soup in Puerto has about an 18 inch layer of foam that seems to pull you down like quicksand. Finally, the set let up and I barely wrestled up onto my board, and with the weakest half paddles, slapped my way out past the impact zone. I was seeing white blotches at this point, completely drained and realizing that if there had there been three or four more waves, I seriously might have drowned. As you can imagine, I was relieved but then quickly realized, “$#!+, I’m out the back again.. which means I need to paddle for another one of these?! And actually make it!!” Needless to say, I kissed the sand when I finally touched land.
Here is a fun left from the following day as the swell began to fade.
I always love going to Todos Santos. Maybe it’s the added excitement that comes with crossing into the “dangerous” territory of Mexico, or maybe it’s the adventure of just getting to this remote sanctuary.
3:15am: The alarm buzzes and with hazy eyes, nervous excitement, and a strong cup of coffee in hand, our journey begins. As we cross over the border and into foreign land, we feel a loss of safety and comfort that comes with being on home soil. Down Baja’s Highway 1 our hearts stop as our lone vehicle strapped with surfboards passes a parked Policia. We watch anxiously for any sign of disturbance, but are relieved as he allows us to continue on our way.
5:45am: Upon arrival at the harbor, out of the darkness comes Jorge, our captain for the day. He presents us with a choice of boats; we opt for the larger as we know this will be an all-day affair. With the help of our guide, we eagerly load the gear with hopes of being the first boat out of the harbor and better yet the first guys in the water.
6:30am: As our vessel trudges across the 10 mile channel to Todos Santos Island, we wonder how big will it be? 10 feet? 20 feet? Dare I say bigger? The sun is now beginning to peek over the mountains to our backs as the Todos Santos lighthouse comes into view. Almost there. The boys start restlessly turning wetsuits inside out, with the knowledge that every second will be valuable when we arrive. Our boat lurches over the open ocean mountains as we come around the southwest corner of the island. The swell is big.
7:30am: We reach the beloved Todos Santos, aka “Killer’s”, drop anchor and within moments dive off the bow and into perfection. 10-15 feet turquoise bombs, blue skies, and oil glass. As we stroke to get to the lineup, a set stacks to the horizon. Adrenaline pulsing, one of the boys whips at the last second and disappears down the vertical wall. Spray from the wave blinds the rest of us as we look back to see if he’s made it. Into the channel he emerges, successful.
2:00pm: The day is filled with hoots, hollers, air drops, broken boards, and a shared camaraderie. With tired arms, sunburns, and smiles on our faces, we head to the boat and start the trek home. The boat ride back consists of a beer or two, 80’s jams (courtesy of Jorge), and reminiscences of the day’s session. “Bro, you were so late on that one!” “No way, I couldn’t believe you packed that tube!”
4:00pm: The car is loaded and we head north, back up Highway 1 to the safety of the United States. With little hesitation, we decide to enjoy one last piece of Mexico, a couple pastor tacos. The boys wolf down half a dozen each, stoked from the day’s execution of another big wave mission. We are content… until Poseidon awakes again.
Wow. Jaws is heavy. Below is a clip of a wave I got out there on Sunday January 19th… working on getting a better angle to see the whole wave.
That day was unreal. 18-20ft, glassy, light offshores, bluebird skies, a manageable crowd… “pleasant” by Jaws’ standards. I would not describe Thursday, January 23rd’s session, which was apparently much more normal, in the same way. Gloomy, rainy skies, rogue 25ft bombs coming through, about a two foot wind swell in the face from the heavy side onshore winds… scary. I’m thinking wow the consequences are serious out here, you had better be on your game, and as I’m paddling up this mountain I look over to see Dorian whip it at the last second and stroke his 10’6 down the face of what looked like some double black diamond run peppered with moguls, which he makes of course. This is all once you’ve made it out to the lineup. Getting in is just as scary if not more so than actually surfing the wave. The jump in at Jaws is comparable to Waimea shorebreak, only it detonates onto car sized algae-covered boulders. And don’t forget there’s about a thousand people with cameras watching to see how gracefully you can pull this one off.. no pressure. I saw guys who timed it wrong get picked up, slammed and pin-balled through the rocks, ruining their boards, and needing to be rescued by onlookers before they had even gotten out there.
As stressful as each and every session was, I will have to say it was all worth it for that one wave though. When I found myself alone out the back and saw that one stack on the horizon, I knew it was my time. I glided right in on the 10’6 Rusty, made my way down what seemed like a forever face, was able to put all that board on rail and drive up the face of this bowling wall. Before I knew it, the lip starts feathering and within an instant goes horizontal over me and I’m inside this school bus barrel. At this point I’m thinking alright, be ready for it to clamp and take the beating of your life, but that beauty stayed wide open and let me out safely into the channel. I’m still in shock and get chills every time I rethink that view. Wave of my life, hands down.
This was an amazing moment for me. I had never surfed Pipe before and getting this wave on my first day out there was a dream come true. Here is a little story about the lead up to this wave:
My good friend Danny Ecker, who works for Billabong and coordinates their North Shore operations, invited me to come stay at the Billabong house at Backdoor for this most recent swell. We got in Thursday night, and woke up to bombing surf. We first looked at Phantoms, one of the outer reefs, but conditions weren’t right so decided to paddle out at empty Sunset on my new 9’4″ Rusty(board rides amazing!) to what guys were calling 12-15ft. Got some good ones, got really cleaned up by some shifty west bowls, but all in all, had an awesome, adrenaline-packed session.
The next morning pipe was perfect size, but overwhelmingly crowded, as always.. I paddled out for a morning session and fought for scraps and closeouts with fifty of my closest professional surfer friends (not fun)… After two hours of good beatings, a couple closeouts and a handful of kisses from the reef, I went in humbled and with my tail between my legs… welcome to Pipeline, haole. I sat on the deck all day and watched as a handful of the greats cycled through the pack, getting spit out of the most ridiculous barrels I had ever seen. Everyone who was anyone was out, Jon Jon, Jamie O, Slater, Bruce Irons, Mark Healey, as everyone was claiming it was the best pipe they had seen in 10 years. I decided I had to paddle back out at least to be amongst it. Due to the direction of the swell being so west, the magic was happening on the left and thus that’s where the crowd was focused. There were very few makeable ones at backdoor, but I decided I would dodge the crowd, sit there, and hope one came to me.
I made my way out on the left (where you have to in order to make it out without getting completely drilled), paddled wide around the pack, and prayed that no one would yell out and roust me… I slipped past and over towards backdoor/off-the-wall undetected and sat out the back by myself hoping a stray one might come before sunset.
Within 10 minutes, I see this deep deep west one stack out on the horizon where one hadn’t come all day, headed right at me… Sure enough, it stood up right in front of me and let me in perfectly. I popped up and as I was making the drop, I saw this thing standing up beautifully and bending down the reef, looking so surreal. I bottom turned, grabbed my rail, and let the wave slot me and grind down the reef right past the entire pack. I came out into the channel with chills and couldn’t believe what had just happened. I had actually gotten a wave out at Pipe, a set wave, and to myself, on my first ever day out there…
I went in immediately, had a beer and didn’t surf the rest of the trip. People were saying that when it comes to surfing Pipe, it’s a total love/hate relationship. I definitely saw both sides of that, extremely frustrated after the first session, but completely mesmerized after the second. That place is amazing. I now see why guys devote their entire lives to surfing it.
See it here as well on Rusty Surfboards.