Casey, 44, editor of O magazine, traveled the world experiencing waves close up and personal. Casey, who wrote The Devil’s Teeth, a 2005 best seller about white sharks, didn’t want to write a book just about surfing. She was driven to write about waves, some almost mythical in stature. To do this, Casey needed a guide to “open up his world to me” and provide a “glimpse of the ocean with its gloves off.” One of her guides to waves, like Jaws on the North shore of Maui, was the waterman, Laird Hamilton. Her encounters with the famous Jaws were described so vividly, it felt as though I was there as I read. Even accompanied by big wave surfer, Laird Hamilton, (another cool video) would I charge the face of Jaws in a jet ski or dive below and witness the sea-floor configuration that causes that incredible wave? I certainly hope so!
Casey told Hamilton about a freak North Sea storm in 2000 that battered and nearly sank a research ship — the opening scene in her book.
“He wished he had been there,” she recalls.
Have you ever been schooled by a wave just a degree or two (or 3) above your skill level? One that held you down, knocked the tar out of you and was fodder for stories for weeks after? For some, that wave is calf high, for others a triple overhead at Pipeline. I found my limit one cold October morning doing dawn patrol with my husband, Ed, and our buddy Randall.
After a 40 year hiatus from surfing it was the third fall I’d been SUP surfing, 2011. We’d only planned to sit on the beach at Pacific City (Oregon) with a coffee. Out in the light fog about 1/2 mile offshore a set of big fat and beautiful glassy waves wrapped around the point at Cape Kiwanda and solidly marched through the deep water. Rather than crashing or closing out, they simply diminished before re-building on the more shallow reef onshore. A setup that rare had to be experienced. Wetsuits donned we paddled out.
Holy cow – heart in throat time…what was lurking under the glassy beds of seaweed out by the rock? Would I have the nerve to really go for a wave that seemed to swallow up Ed and Randall as they disappeared behind the overhead walls they took? The third swell of a set loomed up. I was bit further in than the “safe” zone – having sort of tried for the first wave. That made the wall and takeoff a bit more steep – but something made me dig for it an GO!
My skills are very limited and bottom turns – not so much. Yet something clicked on that wave, I dug my KIALOA paddle hard into the face and powered a nice right that lofted me up the face at a speed that I’d never felt before. The board vibrated under my feet with a shattering sound that serenaded with whistling wind, and filled my ears. “Wooooohooooooo!” Yeah! There was nothing but an amazing rush. In a few seconds when time stood still that was a ride to remember. Then the shoulder flattened out in a deep water channel close to shore and I cruised over the top and paddled back out. I caught two more waves before reaching the edge of my “courage”envelope. I went in way before anyone else – but it was enough.
Totally amazing and I haven’t ridden anything like that since. Yet, it is cool to have some experience so that when I see someone tackling a nice sized waveI I can have a small sense of what’s so incredible. The photo to the left shows Brit Oliphant, a Surftech team rider, ready to dig her KIALOA Hulu GL Ultralight paddle to backdoor a section on her backhand.
Imagine the sounds and feel of the speed and wave power as Brit maneuvers across that overhead face. Surfers everywhere and at every ability level share a common set of awe and experience for the waves they’ve ridden and waves they been thrashed by. The most important thing about the ocean is that we explore it. It’s our source and where we’ve evolved from — it’s spectacularly beautiful, and it’s really, really powerful. Whether we ride the big ones or live extreme moments vicariously, we share a common energy.
Respect your skill and respect your ocean – love your moments and your abilities on your waves. A very wise surfer, one whose spirit of aloha graces all he does, is Gerry Lopez. In his book, SURF IS WHERE YOU FIND IT, he shares five rules. The fifth and final Lopez rule, “The best surfer in the water is the guy having the most fun.” Like Gerry, we can all try to remember that one.