A few months ago, big-wave charger Paige Alms posted a photo of herself flying down the face of a perfectly-groomed Jaws A-frame. Not far in front of her on the same wave was 17-year-old Annie Reickert–a local Maui ripper who Alms has recently taken under her wing to show her the big-wave ropes, so to speak. Alms had recently told me about this Jaws session, explaining how Reickert–a talented all-around waterperson–had expressed some interest in charging XL waves. Alms decided to take her out to Jaws, but first put Reicker through the training she thought was necessary for someone new to the big-wave game. I recently caught up with Alms to talk about that process, why she thinks that mentorship is so important in big-wave surfing and how it can shape the future of the sport.
Tell me a little bit about how you met Annie and how her first Jaws session came about?
I first met Annie about 4 or 5 years ago. Her family and I have a lot of mutual friends in common and, obviously, with the water world here on Maui, you cross paths at a certain point. I think she was only 13 when I first met her. Over the past few years of seeing her at my gym and out at Hookipa, we sort of formed a friendship. There aren't that many women here on Maui who surf when it's bigger or go foiling, so we started surfing and foiling together. In the past year she's shown more interest in surfing bigger waves. She talked to me about it last summer and I was super fired up to help–she's not only a really talented athlete but I knew she'd work hard towards her goal.
So what’s the process of showing someone the ropes when it comes to big-wave surfing? What’d you have her do?
Basically, I lent her a board at the beginning of winter–a 9'4"–and gave her the rundown on getting used to riding a big board like that and surfing at Hookipa and the outer reefs. Andrea [Moller] and I took her out when it was bombing and she put in her time doing it the right way–not just going from a 6'0" to a 10'0″–from Hookipa to Jaws. That was something I was pretty adamant about because that's how I was taught. I think that's the best way to work yourself up to surfing giant waves is to go from a 6'0′ to a 6'6" to a 7'0″ to an 8'0 and a 9'0″ to work your way up to being more comfortable on bigger boards.
Then I told her she had to do the BRWAG [Big Wave Risk Assessment Group] event in December because it would be good training and also she'd be able to get the Patagonia vest if she did the course. Then she bought the vest, I got her a spring-suit impact vest from Patagonia and basically right around Christmas time I was like, “OK, now you're ready.” She spent 4 months surfing my board and putting in the training, so I decided the next glassy day at Jaws we would paddle out. She was so fired up.
That day must’ve been pretty special.
In January, there were a couple of little swells that popped up and one of them had a few days of glassy, fun waves. Keala [Kennelly] and Bianca [Valenti] came over and we launched the ski and it was gorgeous and sheet glass–it was only 12 to 15 feet, the perfect first day. It was cool to show her the lineup, show her where we were sitting then versus where we were sitting for the Jaws event, letting her get used to the power of the water out there. I think it was more exciting for me than her [laughs]. It felt super good to share the knowledge that I've learned over the years with an up-and-comer. Because, first of all, there aren't many women growing up wanting to surf big waves. And second of all, it was someone who I think is going to be the shit. Her very first wave, I was deeper than her and I was yelling for her to go and then at the last second, I caught the wave too so we party-waved her first wave there.
Do you think in big-wave surfing it's especially important for the older generation to mentor the younger generation of future chargers?
For sure. In big-wave surfing, there's so much to learn and the knowledge that all of these amazing surfers have is a result of putting years and years of time in the water. That's something we can share with the next generation before they have those experiences. We can give them input and make them think a little differently by sharing the knowledge that might’ve taken us so long to learn and they can learn it quicker and faster and ultimately be better than us. It's definitely something I had when I was 15–I was taken out to an outer reef by my shaper here. He basically lit the fire and made me realize that I was meant to ride big waves and that was something I loved. Without him helping me, I don't know if I would have ever gotten into it. It's the same with the guys—they're all helping the younger guys and you have these younger guys who are getting better faster–what may have taken 10 years now happens over the course of a winter.
Then there’s the safety aspect of it all. It seems like passing down big-wave knowledge could keep younger surfers safe.
Yeah, when it comes to your skills and knowledge out there, you're definitely on your own–but as far as learning lineups, conditions, tides, boards, you need to be able to feed off people for that. When I go to a new spot, I'm asking them about the lineup, etc. Knowledge is power, especially in big waves–you don't want to just go under the gun. It's using the older generation or locals as an advantage.
You don't see a ton of overt mentorship of young kids out in the water–maybe it’s our competitive nature. Did showing someone the ropes feel natural to you?
For me, it's always felt natural. I think times are a lot different than they were when I was 16. It's a different generation. I was definitely on the tail end of some pretty heavy hazing–especially being a girl among a pretty male-dominated group. I didn't like getting picked on, it didn't feel good. There's definitely a time and a place where giving groms shit is appropriate–showing them the ways, how to show respect [when you're traveling], but I don't think you need to do it in a way that's abusive or mean. I definitely feel natural just trying to help rather than trying to belittle the next generation–especially as women. We have to empower other women, not put them down. We need to support each other and that's how the sport is going to grow and get better. Annie could totally become a big-wave surfer and become better than me without my help and I'm stoked to be the person to give her some help.
Do you think the younger generation of women might have a more inherent drive to try big-wave surfing because they’ve seen you and Keala and Bianca achieve these awesome things?
Maybe. I think knowing that it's a job opportunity helps. Our group is still trying to make a living off surfing. But I think the next generation might see it as a job. Annie is such a well-rounded water athlete–that's something that's really cool because she's surrounded by so many powerful women in her life, not just surfers. But definitely being able to see other women and see the platform that we have now–for sure that's helped pave the way for the next generation.