When we see Internet-breaking clips from monumental big-wave sessions, we don’t stop and think about the cosmic alignment that needed to take place for a person to be in the right time and place to ride something truly groundbreaking. Guys like Greg Long and Shane Dorian, for example, will often wait the entire day for a crack at the biggest wave of a given super swell—sometimes they'll return to the beach without having caught anything at all. Even the most legendary chargers are just placing their best bet and then letting the chips fall where they may.
Such was the case in Fiji during the recent XXL swell, when Ramon Navarro waited two hours for his historic wave, even suggesting to tow partner Kohl Christensen that they cut their losses, grab their paddle boards and move inside—15 minutes later he got the wave of his life. But Ramon wasn't the only one who waited for that wave. Ryan Hipwood actually spent three hours on the outside ledge before Navarro and Christensen showed up, waiting for whatever monstrosity popped up on the horizon…and waiting, and waiting. Eventually, Hipwood figured the outside was a bust and headed inside to paddle. Two hours after that he was kicking himself watching Navarro on the wave of the day. So it goes.
We rang Hipwood after the swell to talk about the often-maddening nature of hunting the ocean's biggest game.
So you paddled that day, but you actually tried to tow as well, right?
Yeah, after Makua [Rothman] got his crazy one, he gave me his tow board and me and my friend waited out the back for like three hours. It literally just went flat, at least out the back. When you're towing, it's not like you can go on 12 footers. You gotta wait for those black ones. But nothing really came in. Then Ramon came out and waited another two hours or so, and that's when he got that huge one. In hindsight, I definitely should have just waited it out. But some days it's your day, some days it's not. But yeah, I was just spewing that I didn't get an opportunity to get one of those huge ones. Hopefully it's not another five years until we get another swell like that [laughs.]
Seems like in moments like that it can really go either way and you just gotta commit to a plan.
Yeah, its funny because even with Ramon, I guess he said that they were about to go over to the boat and grab their boards to paddle because he felt like they were missing waves inside, but Kohl was like, "Mate, you waited this long, you might as well keep waiting." And then 15 minutes after that the big black one came in. And it was a one-off. It was just one wave in the set. That was it. But yeah, Ramon nailed it.
It's funny because for every hero wave, there must be countless times when it doesn't come together. Either the ocean doesn't provide or you just make the wrong bet.
Yeah. I remember when I first started getting into the big-wave game I'd watch Shane Dorian and he'd literally wait all day for a wave. I had a session with him out at Himalayas, and a few others at different spots, and I'd just be baffled by how long he'd wait for waves. But his wave selection and the waves that he went on were always so good. To do that, you've got to have so much nerve and so much confidence, because you're basically throwing all your eggs in one basket. You might be putting the whole swell on the line for that one moment, and it only takes being a little bit out of position for things to not go your way when that moment comes. But I think from now on, I'm just gonna try to learn from the master and be more patient [laughs.] If there's a specific wave that I'm after, I'm just gonna wait for that and not settle for anything less.
At least you still managed to get some solid paddle-in waves. There's a silver lining here somewhere.
I actually had my best paddle waves the day before the big day. There was a little moment on low tide when there were a couple waves that broke on the outside ledge, and it was just so glassy and really clean. I think I got about a 12-footer that just ran the whole reef and was super fun. My paddle session on the big day wasn't as good. I had a pretty bad wipeout. Tried to paddle for a wave and there were heaps of guys in the way, ended up a bit out of position and got sucked over the falls headfirst. One of my canisters blew off. I got another one that was kind of fun, it ran down the reef but was a bit smaller. I just didn't really end up getting many opportunities to get the wave I was looking for, and I think a lot of people had that kind of session. Kind of a shocker, really [laughs.]