The Coast News Group
Big Blue Wave with Sun and Clear Sky, Epic Surf

Waterspot: Big wave season

It’s been over half a century since my brother Dave and I moved to Maui with the intent of riding Honolua Bay. That summer we stayed at a place in Lahaina called “Animal Farm,” where in return for 10 bucks a week we were given a floor to sleep on, along with kitchen and bathroom privileges.

The best part of the deal was that out front of Animal Farm was a decent reef wave called Shark Pit. It was a coral-rich break and after slamming into the bottom headfirst once, I received a scar on my face and lacerations on my feet that led to a severe staph infection.

Lahaina was nice, but it was south facing, and without any surf reports, there was no way of knowing when the swells had turned northerly and caused the bay to break.

By early fall I moved to Maui’s North Shore where north swells poured in like waterfalls and gave every indication that Honolua was coming to life. We surfed a few head-high days at Honolua, and while the waves were good, it was nothing like I had expected. This, I would later discover, was not “real” Honolua, but a mere warmup for the liquid mountains about to descend on the island chain.

On the morning of Dec. 5, I drove to the beach to see that the Hookipa Park pavilion was gone. The result of the damage was clear; the biggest surf I had seen in my life was breaking far out at sea and exploding like a nuclear bomb test. I can still recall a wave cresting while counting off six seconds before it hit the trough. To this day I have never seen a larger slab of saltwater in motion.

Paddling out for anyone less skilled than, say, Kai Lenny, who was still years from being born, would have been suicide. I raced to Maui Community College, broke in on a class, whispered about what I had just witnessed in my friend Chris’ ear and we were off.

By the time we arrived, the bay was at capacity with waves standing five to six people high and a crowd of some of the best surfers in the world out to ride them. On hand were the legends of the day: Jock Sutherland, Billy Hamilton and Jackie Baxter, who had flown in from the North Shore. Paul McKinney and Les Potts were the local standouts. I sat on the cliff with Chris and Skip Frye, who was under-gunned with the small California eggs he had built for the trip.

My psychology teacher showed up and asked me if I had been out. I lied and said I had, even though I was too frightened to leave the safety of shore. Moments later a friend of mine asked me why I hadn’t paddled out and I made some lame excuse while my teacher silently psychoanalyzed me.

I returned to the Mainland a month later and was greeted by perfect waves at Sunset Cliffs and Swami’s. While that was more my speed, I thought for years that I should have paddled out when I was young and fit and had the opportunity.

As I write this on Dec. 5, 2020, the surf on Maui has again reached epic proportions. We are getting the tail end of nature’s rage. And hey, that’s okay by me.