When It’s Big It’s Big


O'Neill World Cup of Surfing on hold due to large surf

By Matt Skenazy

Hawaii is confusing. The day before a swell every conversation is full of rumors. "Tomorrow's gonna be huge." "The swell is dropping." "I heard that (insert hyperbolic prediction here).

Then you add in the confusion of machismo—the game where no one wants to call a wave by its face value—and you never know what the waves will be like. One website says the surf today is 18-20 feet, with an occasional 25 foot set, another says 20-30 foot, and a 'CTer told me the waves were 12 feet as he pulled his gun from the rafters and began preparing to paddle an anonymous outer reef.

The surfers don't play dumb to all of this. However big you think it is, I've been told, cut it in half when you describe waves. It's better to call it too small than too big. It all seems a little silly, but there's history behind it.

Way back, when the North Shore truly was country—in its original sense, before Starbucks at Foodland and contests every winter—waves were judged from the front, the way you see them from the beach. The locals slowly realized that when the waves were forecasted to be big, more people drove up from town, more people crowded the surf, and more people had to be rescued by the lifeguards. Slowly they began calling it from the backs of waves, effectively halving the size.

Result: fewer people came to the North Shore beaches, the lifeguards made fewer saves and had more time to surf, and the locals had less crowded waves when it was pumping.

Of course, though, this is America. And if there's one thing we love to do in America, it's sue people for our own lack of intelligence. Like when people burn themselves on coffee from McDonald's, or, in this case, when people would come to the North Shore when they thought the waves would be six foot and manageable, but broke an arm in 12 foot shore pound. Ah, freedom.

So people started calling it from the front once again, they way they did years ago. At least officially. Don't get caught calling the waves by face value if you're trying to impress.

Whatever the size, today is big, too big for the contest and everyone is bustling about in a terrific dance to ready their Jet Skis, dust off the guns, and psyche up for some charging. All while photographers and videographers orbit around them trying to get The Shot. The morning saw a bunch of local chargers paddling into bombing lefts at an outer reef. Guys like Aamion Goodwin, Daniel Jones, Nathan Fletcher, Kalani Chapman and Sean Briley. Waimea Bay had around fifty guys on it. A few guys caught last minute flights to Maui, hoping the swell would be groomed and pumping. Everyone you see looks very serious, and for good reason, a North Shore swell is not something to be trifled with. The ground thumps with sets and men pay their bills by chucking themselves over the ledge. It's just another north shore day.

The contest is off today for Thanksgiving. Check back in on Friday for more news on the Vans Triple Crown.