I know three Hawaiian islands really really well: Oahu, Maui, Kauai. Waves there average larger than our epic swells, almost on a daily basis so their surfers are definitely extremely competent athletes. Its amazing to watch them. I am extremely confident about my abilities in the water yet when I go to Hawaii, I know to be aware and when to say UNCLE! I've almost died there twice and never ever want to live through that again. It is not only humiliating on a deeply personal level but also embarrassing. I did not need to be rescued by anybody, it wasn't like that, but while it was happening, part of my brain wondered if I was going to survive. Hawaii is a very dangerous place if you are not careful and aware.
Late 90's at sunset beach. I paddled out with about three or four other guys already out. It's easy because there is a really strong rip current to the left of the wave. Take the rip out, surf back. Easy, right? I, at that time was a great surfer (in my head only), and had a 7' board and little experience. I waited for a while and watched as other guys took waves over and over. I decided to sit a little more on the inside to catch the waves that those better surfers did not want. As soon as I got to where I thought I wanted to be, a larger set came with the first wave about to land right on top of me. I ditched my board and dove as deep as I could (there was nobody behind me for my board to hurt). The too-short 6' leash was ripped out of the tail of the board leaving me in the turmoil at Sunset beach with no flotation device. I paddled up to get air after the wave passed by, an extremely difficult thing to do when the white water is 60%air and 40% water. Hands paddling mostly air just doesn't get you anywhere but tired. When I finally got to the surface, I saw that there was another wave looming directly over my head. I grabbed three really quick breaths and dove as deep as I could to avoid the freight train. Same thing happened- when the wave had passed, I struggled to get back up only to find yet another wave directly over my head. This happened four or five times. The fear, fatigue, breathlessness all added up to my saying to myself "this is the last one, I can't go down again, I'm just gonna stay up here and let the wave hit me. When I got back to the surface after the last wave I looked up anticipating a huge ugly wave face to be roaring towards me but all I saw was blue sky. I swam in to the beach and crawled up onto the pristine sand really really really glad that that experience was behind me. I grabbed my board that I couldn't use any more (because of the leash attachment having been pulled out) so I had to go buy a new one. I would say that if I wasn't the swimmer that I was and wasn't in the kind of shape that I was in at the time, It might just have been curtains for me. It does happen there, though, with less fortunate endings. One time I was staying there, there was a surfer's collection to get enough funding to send a young Ecuadorian boy's body back to his country so that his mother could bury him. Nobody knew what happened, they just found his body on the sand at sunset beach.
I don't know if it was the same trip as "incident 1" or if it was on another trip but this incident also occurred at sunset beach on Oahu's north shore, some time in the late 90's. I had been on the master's swim team for ten straight years, and I was in excellent shape. The surf report was really great, with the waves growing to 15' Hawaiian size throughout the day. I hopped in to the rip which zipped me out to the wave in seconds. That riptide was like the Niagara river after ten straight days of rain, violent choppy water. I sat in the lineup watching the other surfers take these enormous waves, and when the wave would pass under me, I would look back behind me at the guy who was surfing that wave and I realized at that time just how big these waves were. I felt like I was sitting on the top of a telephone pole looking down, that's how big they were. At that point, I realized that I was never going to surf any of those waves, they were just too big and mean, so I decided to paddle back in. To my left were the violent waves crashing toward the beach, and to my right was the Niagara river rip current. In between there was a strip of water about six or ten feet wide that looked swirly with no apparent current. I started paddling in and soon realized that I wasn't moving anywhere. I started to get concerned about how I was going to get back in. I couldn't go to my left because the white water was just way too violent, I couldn't paddle against the rip, and the water in between was not getting me anywhere. I remembered that the waves were growing all day and that's when I started to get a little panicky. I looked to my right and saw two girls paddling toward shore on their longboards (much easier paddling experience than my little short board. They had the very same looks on their faces that I must have had. All of it added up to "you're in trouble now, David!!!"
I paddled my ass off as if it was for my very life in my six foot wide strip of water, and it must have been about half an hour later that I reached the sand, happy to be alive. During that half hour, I wanted to stop two hundred times, but I didn't, knowing that any stopping would result in loss of recent gain. I guess I relied on my swimmer's training to keep going. I dragged my almost lifeless body up onto that beach for the last time, and never went into the water ever again at sunset beach!
Many of these scenes are shot on Maui at a state park right next to “Mamas restaurant” east of the airport. Jaws is right around the corner from mamas. HUGE waves all the time.
The wind surfers get the wave from noon on because that’s when the wind is at its best, surfers get it in the morning.
This is a big big wave with a shredding coral reef inland- you gotta paddle a channel to get out or you’ll be de-skinned, then come back in the same way.
Ive seen these superior athletes soar 40’ up off the wave- incredible! I’ve also seen them get crushed with their rigs reduced to trash by the huge surf. Nobody seems to windsurf anymore.
Hi, my name is
David Benjamin and I started swimming in Chappaqua, NY., swam for Badger swim team, Mercersburg Academy, NC State University, then Westport YMCA masters. I got bored of the ol' back and forth of competitive swimming and the high cost of skiing. Surfing took over and I never looked back.