I don’t know how else to say this but I’m scared of big waves. My ‘big’ is double overhead and up. I’m less scared on the South Shore and more on the North Shore because the waves are so much stronger. The part that really bugs me is getting held under the wave after wiping out. It’s not that bad in head high waves but when it gets bigger and especially on the North Shore, I don’t like the flailing motion of not knowing when I’ll pop up to get a breath.
I’m not sure if that makes me a wus but it’s just reality for me. A couple months ago I paddled out in 20+ mph winds and massive chop in Mokuleia on the North Shore of Oahu. My friend who is not afraid of big waves convinced me to paddle out in double overhead waves and some sets larger than that. I ended up sitting in the choppy channel and decided that I was not comfortable going right in big waves because I’m goofy foot and like to go left so I paddled to another break called Day Star.
Day Star is a point break that bowls up nicely and has a channel on the side. The problem I ran into that day was that once caught in the bowl area, it’s hard to get out. I saw some prone surfers catch some nice waves and thought that it looked ok for me and that if I ran into trouble I could paddle to the channel. I paddled for the first wave of the set and just missed dropping in. Once I got my balance, I looked behind me to see that the next wave was much larger and there was no way I could get out of the way…WIPE OUT. I got pounded and held under for much longer than is comfortable to me and once I got out of the pummeling I paddled back to the channel and paddled in with my tail between my legs.
On the way home I thought about getting a wake vest, like the tow in guys wear. Then I thought, “Am I a kook and wus if I wear a life jacket in waves that others have no problem in?” I ended up buying a low profile Billabong competition wake vest and it sat in my car until a few days ago. This vest is thinner than normal wake vests and the area under the arms doesn’t have much padding so my arm doesn’t get a rash from rubbing against it.
I decided to use it on Tuesday because the surf report was calling for 8-12 feet (Hawaiian Scale) which is 16 to 24 feet on the face. I went to Puena Point which was between head high to double overhead or so and some larger sets on the outside. I just didn’t want to get stuck out there in a freak huge set and get wasted. I am soooo happy that I wore it. It made a night and day difference in my session.
I paddled out and took off on a wave a couple feet overhead. I made it ok and pulled out to paddle back out. On my way out I got stuck inside a set and got wiped out. What normally would be a toss and turn session under water was only a 5 second dunk and I popped right up to the top…no getting dragged by my big board.
The vest came in handy in a stand out moment during the session. There were about 20 guys in the line up and about 10 more spread out across the break. A freak set came in and everyone started paddling out as fast as possible. I got on my knees and paddled out as fast as I could. There were only 2 surfers in front of me and they made it out. I made it over the first wave in the set and fell off because I barely made it and it was a steep face. I wasn’t as lucky on the second one that started breaking about 20 feet in front of me. This wave looked like it was triple overhead. Without the jacket I would have felt like I was in a washing machine and then have to do the spaz swim to get a breath. With the vest I literally only got held under for what felt like 5 seconds. I popped up to the top and then got blasted by the third wave in the set. Everyone else but the 2 guys that made it out got wasted. Again, 5 seconds under water and back up…almost like nothing. I was in pleasant shock at how I popped up to the top.
Even if it makes me a wus, when I go to the North Shore and it’s over double overhead I’m definitely wearing this vest. It just makes me more confident and that repetition of riding larger waves is helping me to get better and isn’t that what it’s about anyway?