North Shore Tow-In Championships

MARCH 8, AVALANCHE REEF, HALEIWA, NORTH SHORE-O'AHU – Grinding side-shore winds and a late winter mega-swell washing over the highway – all the ingredients for big wave surfing drama on O`ahu's North Shore. Twenty-five foot surf pounded all through the night along the Hawaiian islands, leaving a number of beach home backyards a sandy and/or coral-debris-ridden mess. But by dawn the swell had sorted itself out , with super-clean 15-foot faces, fanned smooth by an abrupt shift to southerly, offshore winds.

Ten tow-in teams assembled at Haleiwa's small boat harbor, heading out across Pua'ena Bay to "Avalanche”, an outer reef named by the early 60's surfers who had initially tackled it on 10 foot paddle-in balsa guns. The shoal is actually an extension of the island of O'ahu, running for what seems a couple miles from the coast, drawing in any and all sizeable winter swells. Avalanche eventually drops off the island plate into the bottomless abyss of the North Pacific, offering the tow-in teams a "smooth" staging zone.

The panel of professional judges opted for a land-angle vs. a boat view that they had tested weeks earlier, the boat view exciting as hell but didn't offer a clear view of any of the right-handers or the inside section after the swell had passed by the their water angle. ASP and North Shore resident physician Leland Dao provided a medical staff – just in case – and water safety patrol cruised along Avalanche's channel, with communication to the committee vessel staged near the deepwater drop-off point and the medical staff.

And the surf? It roared endlessly throughout the morning hours, some mega-sets actually capping at the deep water edge of the reef.

At the mid-day point it came down to a 40-minute battle between Honolulu brothers' Cully and Todd Kamasugi against a younger team of Haleiwa's Eric Fisher and 17-year old Matt Lozano with Team Fisher/Lozano the champs.

On the horn everyone charged back into the harbor for the awards, stoked for no injuries or close-calls throughout the entire event. Event creator Alec Cooke was still shaking his head an hour later, after the awards had gone out and everyone had loaded up their jet skis and gear for the drive home. "All I wanted from this contest was to prove my point – that Avalanche is an excellent wave for an O`ahu competition, that no one would get hurt if we 'staged' it correctly and that the contestants would be gung-ho to do it again next year."

On all three points the first ever North Shore Tow-In Championships score an A-plus. – Bernie Baker