What happened in Fiji this year will be remembered forever. We saw Cloudbreak as we never had before, and the big-wave community pushed the limits of paddle-in surfing once again. Barrels were threaded, boards were broken, and Dave Wassel got the cover of our magazine on the first and only wave caught that day. Below are just a few of the stories from the monumental day in surfing. To read more, pick up a copy of our September issue, available on newsstands now.
I'd been out in the lineup for a while, caught a few good ones, and even went to the boat to take a rest. By the time I got back out, it had already been one of the best sessions of my life so I decided that I was only going to go for the really big, mutant waves out the back. I wasn't going to mess around with anything on the inside—I just wanted one of those really, really solid ones way on the outside ledge.
Then that set came in.
I tried to catch the first wave, but didn't get into it and turned back around to see that the next wave out the back was straight up the heaviest wave I've ever seen. I put my head down and paddled as fast as I could to the horizon. There was so much water moving around that if you were to just sit there, you would be whipped out to sea. I was trying to make the most of that momentum and hoped that it would carry me out over the lip of this beast heading toward me. It felt like a tornado just paddling out to the horizon. That's how powerful this wave was.
I was just trying to focus on getting out past the wave, and trying to time all my strokes and focus on my breath. As I got farther out, I realized it was going to be close so I timed my strokes so that my left arm would be my last stroke and I could rip off my leash with that hand to make sure I could get away from my board. And that's what I did. But right before I did that, I took one click glance to my left to sort of take in the view. Might as well, right? And oh my god, I've never seen anything like that in my life. It was the most radical thing I've ever seen—ever. It defied everything I thought waves could do.
I dove under and hoped for the best. I was terrified that when I came up, there was going to be another bigger one out the back so I just started swimming freestyle out to sea as fast as I could. When I came up, I realized that was the last wave of the set and I had a chance to take in just what happened. It was totally unlike anything I've ever seen in the ocean before. That wave was so heavy that it created a 4-foot shockwave of backwash that was pushing out to sea, knocking guys off their boards and everything. That wave broke so hard that when it hit the reef, it literally tore chunks of it off and they were flying in the air. At that point, the water turned brown and sandy—keep in mind how far out to sea Cloudbreak is. When that wave hit the reef, it churned up all this sand and literally tore off all the little critters that lived on the outside reef. Guys were getting stung in the water as all those creatures were washed away. It was like a Finding Nemo Holocaust. At that point the water started to reek. It smelled like a harbor at low tide. I took a moment to take in just what the hell had happened with that wave. It was a once-in-a-lifetime wave for Cloudbreak I think. After that, I called it a day and headed back to the boat, just feeling lucky to be alive.
There are a lot of different types of fears that people have. Personally, I think fear is a good thing. If you can control it, I think it makes you a better surfer. It'll raise your senses and get you fired up.
At that session in Fiji, I wasn't particularly afraid, just focused and excited. That being said, you also need to be smart about things. On some days, you just aren't feeling it and you need to know not to push yourself because you don't want to put yourself in a bad place. But overall, I think if you can control your fear and use it to your advantage, it'll make you a better surfer. I think that's why a lot of us—especially that crew out at Cloudbreak that day—are so into surfing big waves—because of the way fear makes us feel.
Patrick and I were flying by the seat of our pants trying to pull equipment together for the swell. Big thanks to Greg Long, who brought us some paddle vests from Kirk Presley at Xcel and an 8’6". Channel Islands also sent down a big board with Alex Gray and Kelly’s boards.
I broke a board on the big day. It was my first gun, hand-shaped by Al Merrick when I was like 16. It rode really well on last year's swell, so I was excited to get back on it this year. On my first wave, I straightened out and the white water ate me. Once I saw it was broken, I was laughing because I knew Pat and I were going to be sharing the 7’4" and 6’7" all day. A bigger board would have been optimal, but we were so stoked to be there an in the moment, so we just tried to make the best with what we had.
Pat got a wave that was so rad that day. I saw him put his head down and paddle from the moment he saw it. It looked super critical, especially considering that he was on the 6’7". Watching from the back, I was scared for him, but was stoked to see him pushing it at the same time. Once I heard he made it and that he was safe, I was over the moon. When we saw the video and photos, we were both tripping. It took a lot of heart and guts to pull that one off.
Looking back on that session, I was just really stoked to have been there to witness everything that went down. Everybody there was rushing so hard. The boys on the farthest outside ledge were legitimately looking to go on the biggest waves that were coming through, and the performance levels reflected that. There's no way there was only one "wave of the day," I'd say there were like 6—or maybe 12. Who's to say? Everyone was catching the best waves of their lives.
I got the best wave of my life when I was in Fiji. I knew about the swell before hand and I was thinking that if it was like last year's swell and the conditions would be the same, how could they not run the event? Of course, they may not have the equipment, but that was such a historical session last year and it created so much buzz around the world, so I felt like they would definitely run it if the conditions were like last year.
I was debating going, but I called Kala Alexander and he said, "Are you kidding me? Those guys don't even have the equipment for those waves. They're biggest boards are 6'8"s." Then I heard that Mark Healey, Greg Long, Kohl Christiansen, and those guys were going. I knew I had to go, and if the ran the event, we would all miss out together. I actually missed that swell last year and it was something that really ate me up. My entire life I've been striving to ride waves like this and I didn't want to miss it again.
I ended up catching the best wave of my life on that big day. I had never gotten barreled on a 9'6". Something happened that day where it cleaned up in the afternoon and had this 3-hour window where every wave that was coming in just peeled flawlessly off the reef. It was like a more inviting Teahupoo where you could actually paddle into waves.
I had a wave earlier, and I ended up going straight and getting so pounded. I took like a two-wave hold down and it sent me to the boat for a second and I had to kind of reevaluate my whole situation. I saw Greg Long get this amazing wave, and then Twiggy, Ian Walsh, Ramón Navarro, and Healey got numerous waves. I had to get back out there. I went back out and every wave that was coming looked absolutely perfect, but at this point you have 30 of the best big wave surfers in the world out there jockeying for position. I didn't really want to try to battle to be the deepest guy, and then when a 25-foot black one comes you just have to go. There are heavy consequences out here.
I ended up getting the first wave of a set and thought I was right into it, but I kind of got stuck in the lip for a second and had a more dramatic drop than I expected. I got to the bottom and I almost thought I was dreaming because it felt so foreign—I'd never been in a barrel that big. Honestly, if I tried to compare the best wave of my life before with that one, they would even in the same realm. Just to be in a barrel that big for that long on that big of a board was just absolutely incredible.