Photos by Nate Lawrence
Out of Office Reply is Associate Editor Taylor Paul’s column on surf travel, big waves, and other manly bits.
The Maverick's parking lot is packed despite the darkness. Long, pointy boards stick out of pick-ups and sit atop small cars. People huddle in threes and fours to discuss the Giants’ World Series win and the buoy readings. It's big out front, but the northern buoys are giant — 19 feet at 21 seconds — and heading our way. We sip coffee and hold our hands vertically to gauge the wind. A strong northwest breeze has risen overnight, a variable that will play a major role today. When the morning's first light makes the tops of the eastern hills glow, we suit up.
The paddle out is easy thanks to a high tide and a swell that has yet to fill in. Twenty-year-old Maverick's local Colin Dwyer and I paddle out together, and we only have to duck under two waves. The few waves that break on the outside are lined up and running past Mushroom Rock. "Looks like a point break," Colin says to me, the only words spoken during our 25-minute paddle.
We reach the channel and I opt to rest and gauge the conditions. Colin paddles straight to the lineup. The sun is rising and the channel is already full of Jet Skis. Photographers. Filmers. Surfers. Would-be towers turned spectators by the paddle crew — and part of the crew actually brought their paddles. The first legitimate wave of the morning is tamed by a SUP, a 20-footer he bounces his way down, using his paddle for balance. Nuisance or not, some of these guys are fearless on those things.
Looking around the channel, it’s apparent that many blew off the Nelscott Reef contest to come here. Greg Long is on a ski with Mike Parsons. Shane Dorian with Ian Walsh and Mark Healey. Reef McIntosh is already in the lineup with Sion Milosky. These guys only show up when it's 20-foot plus — and they surf every bit as well as their reputations suggest.
I say hello to Greg Long, who’s patiently waiting for the "cheese grater" wind to die. He's so patient. When he finally does go out, he sits further out the back than anyone, just waiting for the one.
On my way to the lineup I see Nathan Fletcher, whose back bulges from beneath his wetsuit. He's wearing a flotation vest. A lot of guys are, actually. I looked around town for one yesterday, but couldn't imagine how you'd paddle with it. "I took out the foam in the chest," Nathan tells me. Oh. That's how you paddle with it. We stroke towards the bowl and watch the lip of a 25-footer hurl well past the bottom of the wave. "Looks gnarly. I'm scared," Nathan says.
He doesn't look scared. Once in the lineup, I see him turn and go on a few of the gnarlier waves of the day. Steep, deep, and on his backhand.
There are about 30 people in the lineup, riding boards of every color of the rainbow. Color on your board makes you photogenic, but also helps a Jet Ski driver locate it in a sea of white foam if your leash breaks. It helps Parsons find Aussie Ben Wilkinson's orange board after Wilko's wheels come off at the bottom of a thick set wave. And it helps a ski find New York's Cliff Skudin, attached to his yellow board, after he takes a common sense break and goes for a wave the rest of the pack is scratching over. He's held down for two waves.
Everyone is skittish. Every lump on the horizon causes the guy on the outside to frantically paddle out, which triggers the rest of the lineup to follow. Everyone knows the swell is filling in fast, and that these 20- to 25-foot waves will soon be 30-foot plus. Nobody wants to get caught inside. It doesn't help that Skindog hoots as the set comes in, chasing everyone away while he holds his ground on the bowl and paddles his thick 9'0" onto countless waves. He's collecting.
Healey is also collecting. After getting beat on his first wave, he gets four or five of the biggest waves of the day. Bucking bronco rides down textured, steep faces. He even sticks an air-drop.
The underground standouts of the day are Ryan Augenstein and Ryan Seelbach. Augi paddles out around the left on his 8'4" and doesn't stop paddling the entire time. Constant motion. Inside. Outside, Deep. Over. Under. Just stalking the bowl. He takes off under the ledge on some 25-footers and makes it look like he's cruising four-foot Pleasure Point. If he doesn't make it back in the contest this year, stinks will be made (not by him; he's too mellow for that. Skindog would probably take care of it). Seelbach uses his freakishly long arms to battle the current and stay deeper than almost everybody, and ramps his new Jeff Clark gun into some late, great ones.
There are others, but not as many as everyone had hoped. It's inconsistent and when they come there are 20-foot double-ups and cross-ups — only the narrowest of entry windows into these things. Add to that the wind chop and the A-team in the mix and it makes for a user-unfriendly day. Although I might just be saying that to justify my one mediocre wave. I paddle in after two sets feather on the outside bowl. Too big for me. I pass Derek Dunfee, who is paddling back out for seconds. Not too big for him. —Taylor Paul