In December 2010, I did an interview with Kai Lenny, reigning world stand-up paddle surfing champion, towsurfer, kitesurfer, windsurfer, surfer and all-round excellent waterman. I’ll be posting some of the audio files up on the bloggins so you can listen to Kai’s illuminating insights into life as a true professional waterman at the top of his game.
We covered a lot of ground including riding sharks (!) and surfing the left at Jaws but we’re going to ease in gently here with a quick chat about Kai’s love of fast food.
Click the link below to download or stream the MP3 file:
Been sitting on these shots for a few weeks, basically Reo Stevens (or Saint-Evens as we call him in Great Britain) had just signed with Cabrinha after a very cordial few years with Naish Kiteboarding, and the news was so hush-hush that Wikileaks didn’t even have any info on it. So, I kept these shots to myself until the cat was out of the bag on Reo’s Cab signing.
Here’s Reo then, bombing down the face of a rather spectral outer Bombora, somewhere on Oahu’s North Shore. This is a place closely associated with tow surfing, and in fact there were a few tow teams out that day, so if you’re at all interested in tow surfing or have access to the Stormerider’s Guide, you’ll be able to pinpoint exactly where this place is.
Run to (or more like from) the hills
I was shooting from a bluff high above Sunset Beach. Not everyone gets to shoot from up there, the land is owned by a family that I became good friends with out on Oahu and I was very pleased to be given the chance to go up there. All at once, you could take in the seven mile miracle that was the North Shore and the thing that struck me that you don’t see from sea level was the stacks of corduroy marching in from the horizon.
Don't see them kited much bigger that often
These are the biggest waves I’ve ever seen anyone kitesurf, it was a hell of a spectacle watching Reo take off behind a tow surfer, but afterwards he was very laid back about it, not in a too cool for school way, but in a genuinely modest way. Most people probably wouldn’t have slept for two days afterwards, but I guess growing up on the North Shore prepares you for these things.
Stunning views from up on the bluff
Anyway, this really confirmed to me something that I’d long felt to be the case after many adventures in Cornwall and that is that the kite is a legitimate and useful addition to any surfer’s quiver, be they wanting to shred the slop or pull themselves into sleeping giants such as we have here. Enjoy the shots and look out for an interview with Reo St. Evens in the forthcoming issue of Kitesurf Magazine.
This is the final evening of my Hawaiian Odyssey. I’ve been five weeks away from home, making some solid new friends, meeting a lot of new faces and surfing some great waves. Now I’m ready to get back home so I can consolidate and put into practise all the new things I’ve learned.
I briefly set out my aims for this trip in the current Editorial of Kitesurf Magazine. Basically I wanted to learn about different approaches and equipment for use in the surf, and then put it into practise in waters closer to home. Although I never took a tow surfing course, here are some of the new things I’ve learned:
- Outrigger Canoe Surfing. Sharpens your awareness in the line-up, and ability to deal with a ‘yard sale’ wipeout like nothing else!
- Regularly riding a gun. I have a ‘gun’ at home, but haven’t really used it. Towards the end of the Maui trip and here on Oahu, it’s been pintails between 7’10 and 9’1 the whole way through.
- Breathing exercises. How to improve your breath hold time, and feel more relaxed when doing it. This helps a lot when getting flogged in the surf!
- Rock running, use of swim fins, body surfing, snorkelling. None of these things require much skill, but when done properly they can improve your fitness and sharpen your ability in the surf. Seeing how people successfully combine these activities into their training has inspired me to do the same at home.
That leaves the tow surfing course to be undertaken when back in the UK. Handily, Ben Granata from K38 Water Safety runs tow operator courses in Cornwall.
Amongst the great new friends made, stunning places seen, amazing animals observed, new skills and theories learned and mindsets adapted, there has been one thing that happened out here that I had never dared to expect. Quietly and steadily over the last ten days, I’ve been making my way up the lowest rungs of a very, very tall ladder. A new love affair, or addiction if you like, has unexpectedly blossomed and the reason for this ardour is none other than Sunset Beach.
Oh really? Yes really! I surfed Sunset for eight out of ten days on Oahu, staying in a place with a very random crew of surfers all drawn together for the love of this wave. There’s a lot to learn about this place and the conversation about its peculiarities and stories of epic days swirl around into the evening.
As for the two days I didn’t go out, they were board snapping, leash stripping, fear inducing, Baby Jesus prayer provoking days of thunder. In fact I spoke to none other than tow surf pioneer and legend Darrick Doerner as he was walking up the cycle path from one of those days at Sunset. ‘It’s wild. 12-15ft, I’m happy to get back in alive!’ And I was very happy not to have paddled out that day – 12-15ft in Hawaii means 25ft on the face.
My Sunset days were comfortably in the overhead bracket, enough to get the ticker going when you suddenly realise with a lurch of panic that you’ve been caught out, and enough to give a taste of what must be one of the most recognisable waves on the planet.
Farewell, I'll never forget you!
So that’s it. Hawaii is over for me. Expectations have been exceeded to the point of having to re-evaluate new expectations, and a full training focus is ready to be implemented when I get home. Aloha, mahalo, cheers and gone!
Two days ago the surf went crazy on the North Shore. It can get a lot crazier that’s for certain, but it was big enough that everywhere was closing out apart from Sunset Beach and Pipeline.
To understand why Pipeline and Sunset Beach are able to hold huge swells you need to turn around and look inland. The reef at Pipeline is an underwater extension of a huge rocky bluff that overlooks the place. On either side of this bluff you have deep valleys, and where these run into the sea, they permit a greater depth which creates the huge rips, most notably on the ‘Pipe’ side of the break which allows surfers to get out to the waves without getting smashed.
Sunset Beach also has a huge bluff peering down on it and the subsequent valley behind the Sunset Beach car park creates a very deep gulley that runs out along the west side of the peak. The water shoots out to sea here like a river and the current is part of huge gyratory system that must be understood, respected and utlised even when the swell is small if you want to ever touch land again.
Needless to say I wasn’t in the water the day I took these shots, and I’ve never surfed Pipeline, probably never will do, but in my few go outs at Sunset I’d say this is definitely a place like no other I’ve surfed. You can go from moments of absolute bliss as you kick out from a screamer to moments of ‘wishing you were a trout’ when you realise that the current has taken you too far inside and the horizon is turning black…
Pipe. The jetskis are part of a 3D filming process that was underway that day.
Sunset Beach. Here comes the good or bad news, depending on where you're sitting, be that on land or in the water!
A local hero charging Sunset
Whole bag of pain will make you wish you were a trout
No idea who this is, but you wouldn't blink if you passed him on the street. Look at him here though, commitment!
Swell dropped a bit today, got a few mellow rides at Sunset but it was getting a bit crowded out compared with the last two days. I suppose my opinions on busy line ups have been warped by the last few years kitesurfing with lots of space and not many people around me (i.e., there is another way to do this!) so I thought why not take the chance to snap a few shots of the local hotties doing their thing?
I wandered down to Rocky Point, a fast breaking hollow wave that cracks along a shallow reef to see the new generation tearing up the 2-3ft sets.
A simple frontside 180
Who am I to criticise, but a grab would have really set this off!
Whipping it round like a windscreen wiper
Hand drag, butt stall, it's all happening here
He actually made the landing
She would put most of us to shame!
Was landed cleanly, is if it were even up for question!
As always, click on the photos to enlarge and kindly post any comments in the box at the end of the post. Cheers!
Day one on Oahu is nearly over. I arrived yesterday and the swell wasn’t up to much, but through the night the swell picked up a bit as the internet had predicted.
I’m staying in a house very close to Sunset Beach. Sunset is one of those places that has a reputation that preceeds it, and this morning when we walked around the corner to approach the beach, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Signs such as these pepper the North Shore regularly
I was greeted with a rippy lagoon with a large looking right hander breaking out the back. After paddling out and sitting quietly on the edge of the pack for forty minutes or so, I found myself in light conversation with a couple of people out there. Everyone was on a pintail and with my borrowed 7’10 Dick Brewer gun, I was somewhere in the shorter board length demographic.
Unknown surfer makes a nice bottom turn at Sunset
The reason you need such a long gun at Sunset is because the wave is hard to catch and there’s a lot of paddling involved. By using the rips, you may never have to duck dive your entire session so the extra board is never a compromise. If you do get caught in the line of fire, just turtle roll the board or slip off and let the leash to the dirty work – but look behind you first!
Classic looking "fun sized" Sunset
I caught four waves this morning and I couldn’t have been happier, definitely one of my most cherished session of all time. I went out again after lunch and got caught in the lip a couple of times, took a left, and made one more big drop.
A local getting tubed off of his nut!
Before I get too ahead of myself, today was what they call 6ft Hawaiian, baby Sunset. Still, it deals out a heavy, rolling, long wipeout and there’s plenty going on to keep you on your toes. More swell is forecast for the week, hopefully I’ll get my hands on an even bigger board and will be getting amonst it again.
But what a magic way to kick off ten days on the North Shore, who knows what’s coming next, but whatever, today’s fun certainly paid for the airfare!
Here’s a quick summary of my surfing experiences on Maui. I’ve spent about 18 of the last 26 days surfing – something I didn’t expect.
Last day on Maui yesterday and I was particularly happy to find decent peaks at Ho’okipa looking fairly under-subscribed for a change. Previously I’ve been trying to tackle this place on a skinny 6’6 step-up surfboard and although that board was good for some other spots like the right hand point at Honolua, I’ve found Ho’okipa to be quite a fat take off that requires a thicker board to get you in.
A set breaks at Lanes as seen from Ho'okipa
Luckily I was able to borrow a 7’8″ pintail which hardened pros would break out when the wave height reaches 20ft on the face, but I didn’t mind being a little over-gunned. Not by much though it seemed, since a few of the people I got chatting to out at Ho’okipa on Boxing Day were all riding bigger boards.
Boxing Day at Ho'okipa
On Christmas Day, I surfed at the spot in front of the house I’d been staying at in Napili on the west side of Maui. There was one other fella out and the waves were a good size, it really couldn’t have been better. After the surf I was able to soak in what must be the world’s most ideally placed hot tub: the house has it’s own overlooking an infinity pool which over looks the surf spot.
Took this before paddling out on Christmas Day. Only one other out.
I’d got quite used to surfing this place after a couple of great sessions there in the outrigger canoe with Archie and Kiwi Phil. Compared to Ho’okipa or Honolua Bay it’s a slower wave, but it can get very ‘tall’ and you have a great big face to carve about on, and a deep channel to paddle back out through.
Archie and Phil dropping in on the outrigger
I left Maui very surprised and impressed at the variety and quality of surf breaks in a short striking distance. Although Molokai and Lanai block some of the swell, just about every wind direction is catered for and you can choose from short, sucky barrels, mellow A-frame peaks, powerful large reefs and point breaks all on the same day.
Honolua Bay is a big drawcard on the island
The crowd pressure can get a little intense at the main spots but every now and again you can catch it with just a few people out and the atmosphere is great. I’ve definitely had more conversations in the surf here with people I don’t know than anywhere else, and despite what you might automatically assume, the locals can be willing to let you in on some juicy bits of inside info to help you get the best out of the swell.
Honolua Bay on an OK day. Hassle free waves on Maui can be a thing of the present.
So there I was, 8am om the 24th December, lounging in my bed and booking some flights to Oahu and Kauai when my phone rings and ‘Archie Kalepa’ comes up on the caller display. I don’t even need to answer the call to know that the day is about to take off in an entirely different direction.
‘Hey Dom, you’re coming with us. We’re going to the back side of Molokai. In ten minutes, swim out to meet us. Oh, and bring your camera.’
The camera’s not waterproof, but five bin bags, ten minutes and a nervous swim later, I’m heaving myself up onto the bathing platform on the back of Archie’s custom built fishing boat. We aren’t even five miles off shore from Maui when we spot a whale breaching close by.
A huge tree lined bowl on Molokai
Life on board the boat was pretty special. We had a huge ice-chest full of beer, fruit juice and food, and a good crew of people all sharing the outrageous joy of this unexpected adventure to a place that not many get to see. The boat was bang up for the task – loads of space and grippy flat surfaces to clamber about on.
You can only access the back side of Molokai by boat or helicopter. We dropped anchor and body surfed a pefect small point break. On the shore, an empty wooden surfshack stood waiting for the locals who built it to come back and live amongst the timbers as they surfed the perfect point break. Archie explained that here is a place that srangers don’t just roll up and paddle out at (not least because you’d need a boat, and a guide) because people will shoot at you, and not with airguns.
We took the boat through this cave; exact timing was required between sets
We pullled into a bay where we spied a couple of cars on shore. There are no roads connecting that tiny town to the rest of the island, the tanker comes once a year with heavy goods and machines, so that’s how the cars got there. I reckon they don’t bother with MOTs or road tax. The reason for entering the bay was to see a pod of dolphins cruising about. We slowed the boat down and they took turns to swim in front of our bows before peeling off.
A dolphin swimming in front of the boat
I couldn’t grasp the sheer enormity of Molokai’s sea cliffs when we passed them for the first time. It wasn’t until the return journey that the perspective sunk in and the incredible scale of the 2,000ft cliffs (the highest sea cliffs on Earth) can be appreciated. Watch Jurassic Park, during the intro, the helicopter sweeps over the valleys on the back side of Molokai.
When we got back to Maui and trailored the boat to a petrol station to refuel it felt like we’d been away for months, funny how short, sharp shock trips give you that feeling whilst I bet when I get back to the UK from Hawaii in 3 weeks time it’ll feel like I’ve never been away.
A helicopter flew through here, it looked like a toy
I can’t answer that from a scientific standpoint, but I will say that they know which side their bread is buttered when it comes to doss down for the night. Below is the front room view from a typical turtle home.
The view from the turtle family room
You see even though they make their migrations to lay eggs, turtles seem to like to hang around comfortable spots where the fishing is good and the threat of tiger sharks is low.
I spotted this family of turtles having a sleep in the early evening after a hard day’s swimming about in high seas. Despite their formidable underwater ability, turtles need to breathe fresh air like the rest of us, and since they’re not fish, they get tired of swimming all the time too.
Nearly tripped over this fella
The first time I saw this lot, I almost tripped over one of them, thinking it was a rock. They sleep just where the water laps them and let the sand bury their flippers and the edge of their shells, giving them a rocklike appearance.
Becoming rock like
Although they don’t seem to mind people getting a little close, it’s best not to disturb them as they will wake up and slide off into the sea, which can’t be pleasant after being disturbed from a peaceful rest.
You know it's a good life when this is what you see last thing at night.
Today I had an insight of what goes into becoming a lifeguard on Maui. Archie Kalepa was running a course on spinal injury and jetski rescues for the ‘guards at the Makena resort, and I was beyond stoked to be invited along. The beaches around Makena develop truly frightening shorebreaks in huge swells, so have no doubt that the lifeguard trainers here are leading the way when it comes to rescuing victims with spinal trauma in the surf.
All the crew from Makena knew each other, but I was blown away by how welcome and included they made me feel through the whole day. There was a lot of laughs amidst the learning, and once again I was impressed by the Hawaiians’ knowledge of what we’ve got going on in our little corner of the Atlantic on the other side of the world. Here these guys are, at surf central ground-zero, the true source of it all, and they’re still keen to find out where you’re from and what you do.
Archie put us through a fast but brutalising warm up (that I will remember and dispense on any clinics I run in 2011!) before getting straight into the spinal injury rescue. I’ve done these drills in the UK, and the technique required a four man team for it to work. Out here, the Hawaiians have developed a system that uses just two people, they’ve been using it for the last ten years and it works.
Another fella and I managed to remove a strong 235lb (17 stone) man playing unconscious deadweight from the water, with complete immobilisation of his neck, and then set him down above the high tide line, secured and ready to await medical assistance.
Knowing this system gives you a lot of hope that a) you would know what to do if you had to make a rescue, and b) that you or someone you know would have a good chance of surviving and recovering from such an injury in the sea.
As the day ended, Archie told us that lifeguards all over are part of a team and that everyone should share the knowledge and experiences as they learn. He even showed us a special handshake that the lifeguards use where you clasp each other’s forearm – it symbolizes the way a ‘guard comes to pull another person from the water. Thanks and respect was handed out to the staff from Makena and the local crew on the course for sharing their beach, to the Maui County trainers (Archie, Craig and Zac) and even to yours truly for being there from England. Like I told you, humbling!