Albee Layer Interview

A first-hand account of two monumental days at Jaws

Albee Layer, willing himself over the ledge and into some massive pits. Photo: Noyle

Just a few hours after what many have claimed to be some of the most perfect-yet-harrowing Jaws ever paddled, we rang up Maui’s own Albee Layer for some first-person perspective on the monumental session. From his own account, the world just witnessed 48 hours of the finest big-wave paddle surfing to date.

So not a bad start to the winter. Can you talk about the past two days?

Yeah, the last two days have been amazing. I'm pretty much beat to hell and totally exhausted. But the last two days have been the best days of surfing in my life. We were all watching the swell pretty closely and, to be honest, I didn't think that it was going to be that big. I looked at all the weather reports and buoys and I definitely knew that there was going to be waves, but I had no idea that it was going to be like that. Greg Long was telling me that it was gonna be firing and I was sort of doubting it. We were all watching it and then around midday a really glassy 10-foot set came in and we all paddled out. At first, the swell was about like I thought it was going to be; there were some good ones and it was a lot of fun. But around 3:30 or so, it really started to turn on and eventually we were surrounded by the most perfect, huge Jaws I've ever surfed.

And there wasn't a tow surfer in sight?

Nah, there was no one towing. Towing is pretty much done at Jaws. I think if someone showed up on a Jet Ski, we would have all told them to leave. It was too perfect. I think there will still be days when it's really windy when you could tow, but for the most part, towing is pretty much over. I mean, if you can paddle it, you should. And yesterday, it was about as big and perfect as it could get out there, and Shane and some of the other guys were paddling into 30 footers. There was only one set that came through that looked like it was unrideable.

What were you riding?

I was on a 10'2" shaped by a local guy over here on Maui named Sean Ordonez. It was pretty perfect for what I was going for out there. I don't typically sit way out the back, but more to the inside and west, and try and hunt the really bowly ones that come through. I think Shane was riding a 10'6" and he was sitting with Greg Long way out the back at the north peak. But for where I was sitting, I'd say that board worked pretty perfectly.

Can you give me a rundown of your best waves?

I don't even know where to begin. It was the best day I've ever surfed. It didn't even feel like a Jaws session, but more like a huge day at Backdoor. Every wave that came through was pretty much a giant, perfect barrel. I had one barrel yesterday that was definitely the wave of my life.

How do you push yourself over the ledge in waves like that? Just a few years ago, people didn't think what you guys were doing yesterday and today was even possible.

Well, I'm definitely scared. But every good wave I've ever had out there was a result of me pulling back on the wave before that. You'll be kicking yourself for not going and get to the point that it doesn't really matter what comes through next; you're going. And then you have all of the guys in the lineup yelling at you to go. That usually pushes me over the ledge.

You mentioned that the session didn't feel like a typical day at Jaws and that people were pretty much hunting barrels all day.

Yeah, that's pretty much it. Guys were pulling into everything. I mean, Shane had one of the most ridiculous waves I've ever seen for sure--it was crazy. I had a few that I pulled into and it's hard to describe what it looks like pulling into a 20-foot barrel.

How did the second day compare to the first?

Today wasn't necessarily bigger than yesterday, but it was a whole lot sketchier. It had some chop on it and some morning sickness, but it still came together a little later. By about mid day to early afternoon, the winds came up a notch and I think everyone was pretty exhausted and came in.

What's the vibe like in the water on a day like that?

We're all pretty much friends and know each other. And if you don't know someone, you'll be introduced to them pretty quick. It's actually pretty mellow. Everyone who's out there knows the etiquette of surfing Jaws so people aren't really jockeying each other.

Would you consider the last two days to be game changing?

For sure. People were really pushing the limits of big-wave paddle surfing. I've never experienced anything like it. Like you said, a few years ago, it would have been all tow-ins. But yesterday, guys were pulling into waves that we didn't even think were rideable.

There were also a few a girls out there charging as well?

Yeah, Keala Kennelly and Paige Alms were going nuts. They both caught some bombs and I think Keala got a huge barrel. They were really pushing big-wave surfing for women.