For big-wave surfers chasing purple blobs, this winter has been relentless. But when your goal is to make it onto the big stage of the Big Wave World Tour, you've got no other choice than to put yourself in the biggest waves, during the biggest sessions, where the best in the world are charging and where stacks of cameras stay steadily focused on the lineup. This requires determination and dedication, and for New York's elite big-wave rider Will Skudin, he has proven that he has both. From Jaws to Mavericks, Puerto Escondido to Mullaghmore, Nelscott Reef and beyond, Skudin hasn't missed a beat the past twelve months. Oddly enough, it was the summation of these missions that led to one that was hidden behind the veil of The Eddie that turned out to be his best of the El Niño season. It was a session at Jaws' fabled left, paddling alone, as jet skis and towropes took over the lineup. As fate would have it, this session went rather unnoticed, until now.
What led you to Jaws on the day of the Eddie?
I've been putting in a lot of time at Jaws this year - I think I've missed one swell - and I fell in love with the left. It's such a beautiful wave. There could be 70 people surfing Jaws, but only five on the left. So these sessions I've had have been with a select few people. When I saw the Eddie swell, aka the Brock Swell, I knew that it was going to produce the biggest waves I've ever seen. I've never seen the buoys read that big, so I decided, "I'm just going to go."
I was on Oahu at the time, but I knew the North Shore was about get crazy with traffic and the boys were going to surf the Eddie. As much as I thought about staying to catch a few waves before and after the Eddie, the voice inside told me to get back to Jaws and see how big it could actually get.
What was it like rolling up to Jaws that day?
We met at Maliko in the morning and you could feel a different vibe in the air with the whole Brock Swell stirring about and the Eddie going on. Everybody was going over their checklists a few more times than normal, making sure everything was accounted for. You could feel the energy in the water, and I was really fortunate to team up with the Skullbase guys and get on a ski with them. My plan was to paddle, but I had a tow board lined up on another boat if it was too big for that.
You were the only guy surfing the left that day, paddling it. What was it like being out there when everybody else was towing?
Trevor Carlson was the first guy out, paddling around and sniffing out the right. We pulled up next, and as I sat in the channel I saw the most beautiful left roll through. Huge, but perfect.
You can easily get mesmerized in the channel at Jaws and get stuck, per say. I have this thing that, if I see a good one, I'm out there. So that's what I did. I paddled past Trevor, said "Good morning," and paddled straight over to the left. I positioned myself wide and outside - as safe as possible, while still being able to see what a set was going to do - so I wouldn't get cleaned up. A couple of the tow guys drove by and greeted me, but ultimately I was over on the left by myself.
So you were sitting by yourself at Jaws' left, on one of the biggest days of the year, and sets start rolling in.
I remember thinking, "Why am I out here? Should I be out here?" I closed my eyes, prayed, and as soon as I felt this answer that I was exactly where I needed to be, that's when it all started. The first set rolled through and came straight to me. I picked it off, rode it out, and within 30 minutes I was catching another set. The second one was even longer, just a huge long runway. The wave seemed never-ending. After that second one, I remember asking Curtis of Skullbase as he drove by, "Am I crazy, or is it perfect out here?" "I think both, bra," he said. I paddled back out, caught one final wave, and rode it all the way through. As I was turning around after kicking out of that wave, Albee was dropping into that insane barrel he got on the right.
So you caught three waves in about three hours. The wind picks up; paddling is out of the equation. But you just had the best session of your life.
I was riding the biggest high of my life. I got back over to the boat after those waves and was given the opportunity to tow into a couple on a friend's board. As I thought about my session, I was already done. I knew that was what I came for. That's what I wanted. For myself, the whole El Niño season led up to that session. If El Niño in the Northern Hemisphere ended now, that would be such a nice way to go out.
You've mentioned that this session - one of the best of your life - felt rather invisible with regard to the rest of this season.
Everybody has had a session where they've paddled out in the fog, but they know the waves are clean and nobody is really going to be able to see them. It felt very much like one of those sessions. To have that feeling of solitude, but knowing my friends were somewhere in that lineup, was really cool at a place like Jaws. Most of the sessions I've had this winter have had much of the big-wave brotherhood on hand, pushing each other throughout. But this session felt much different: Me vs. Me. That was special.