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A Few Things to Expect When Surfing Hawaii’s Big Island

I’ve noticed the very utterance of the name “Hawaii” often sends surfers into either one of two reactions: pure froth or pure frustration.

Like that one who got away or that one you’ll never forget, Hawaii has a tendency to have these effects on surfers alike, although I’m no well Hawaiian-ized surfer gal. Yes, I have surfed Oahu’s Waikiki a few times, but never the famed and over-photographed North Shore. And more recently, I can now add the Big Island to my list of “have surfed there” spots, namely a not-so gentle break called Kahalu’u located in Kailua-Kona.
The Big Island is, so far, my favorite spot out of the three Hawaiian islands I’ve visited—Kauai, not included above because I did not surf there. As a pasty gal from the mainland innocuously asking random locals for a nug of info about surfing in Kailua-Kona, I was met with more discouragement than anything. At first, I wanted to blame it on the fact that they just didn’t want a mainlander to take their waves, but as I learned, the big island locals and I share similar sentiments about sharing waves and wave-hog tourists.
Here are some tips for fellow mainlanders and anyone else who thinks about surfing the Big Island.

1. It is reefy—not rocky, well, yes, razor sharp LAVA rocks make up the majority of the island’s beach landscape. However, once you paddle out, don’t forget to look into the water to double check for reef that is pretty much everywhere. Right up there with lava, reef can be ultra-sharp, so it is in your best interest not to eat it feet or head first on waves (see number “4”).

A Kona reef doing it's thing.

A Kona reef doing it’s thing.

2. Respect the locals
—as one local lady told me with some serious ‘tude to boot: “this ain’t Waikiki…the locals wait all year for their waves.” And, thanks to our LA-folks, out-of-town people have inherited a reputation for wave hoggery. Once again, LAliens, THANKS. This ain’t a competition…wait your turn on the shoulder or hang out in the channel and watch the locals put on a clinic. If you show some respect and not paddle straight to the peak, they will most likely let you catch a few, but don’t paddle out thinking you’re going to take every wave. When I checked Oahu’s surf report and compared it to the Big Island, I noticed Oahu gets far more (and bigger) waves, so these locals are HUNGRY. Let them gorge themselves before you start nibbling at the peak. Oh & avoid the “Billy Badass” attitude—pretty sure that gets you nowhere.
Show the locals some R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

3. Sit on the shoulder
—as I mentioned above, avoid the “Billy Badass” attitude. Billy Badass goes nowhere with Hawaiians. These are some of the hardest-charging surfers I’ve ever seen, so just because you’ve surfed double-overhead El Porto doesn’t mean you get to take everything that comes your way. The question is not whether you can surf, it’s whether you can take the time to respect the locals and the wave. During the winter months, Kailua-Kona is a little less exposed than it’s neighbors, like Oahu and Kauai, so the swell is little less consistent and, while it’s still pretty damn impressive, the size was not as significant as the neighboring islands. The locals need their waves and it would behoove you to let them gorge before they have to go to work or home. Nothing worse than a grumpy local, right? Take the back seat and let the locals have their waves first…and don’t be a jerk about it.

Cruisin' the shoulder.

Cruisin’ the shoulder. Photo: Kona Surf Photos

 

4. For the love of all that is holy: starfish

I played nice and the locals played nice back. Reaping the rewards. Photo: Kona Surf Photos

I played nice and the locals played nice back. Reaping the rewards.
Photo: Kona Surf Photos

–to state the obvious, if you are surfing over reef, which is a living, breathing organism/ecosystem, be sure to “starfish” when you eat crap. Unless you want French fries for toesies, or want to find out what it feels like to have your skull pierced, make sure to flatten your body or aim that bootie towards the water, if you can help it. I was specifically told by the locals to not eat it feet or head first.

Although they told me that there is a slight buffer between the white wash and the reef (apparently you are more likely to roll over the reef rather than straight down to the bottom), it’s always good to exercise caution and give the seasoned local a good chuckle and flatten out as much as possible. Take a page from that epic T.V. show ‘Sponge Bob’ and absorb your best Patrick impersonation. In the interim, try not to belly-flop.

 

 

5. If you really want to surf, don’t give up

—Mini-story time! Despite the fact that I ran into a lot of discouragement from some locals, surfing was going to happen, come hell or double over-head high water. Kahalu’u had piqued my interest after I tried to paddle into the wave during a building swell and a dropping tide. At the wave’s peak during the low tide, the wave turned into a mutant exposing dry reef and the drop-ins looked damn near impossible. So, I sat on the shoulder, told myself I was being polite for the locals while my heart pounded in my chest and waited patiently for a small-ish shoulder to come through in between thumping well-overhead sets.

Kona Boys rented me this pintail beaut for my last day to surf Kahalu'u. Very stoked surfer girl. Photo: Dave DuPre

Kona Boys rented me this pintail beaut for my last day to surf Kahalu’u. Very stoked surfer girl.
Photo: Dave DuPre

Over the next couple of days, the swell climbed to double-overhead and all along Ali’I drive in Kona, the reefs were seen straightaway from the road firing on all cylinders while lifeguards posted red flag warnings.

I really wanted to surf one more time, even tho I was scared shitless of the wave. I just wanted to give it another go. I found another place to rent a board right in front of Kahalu’u, but “because the conditions were red flag,” the shop refused to rent me a board because they didn’t want to be held liable. In the meantime, I watched them rent a SUP to a 10-year old—an excellent way to make my blood boil.

I was so put off …I felt sized up…angry…discouraged…I tried to look beyond their blatant rejection and obvious “see you coming” attitude, but only saw red.

After some encouragement from my boyfriend, I picked up the pieces of my shattered ego and rented a stunning board from Kona Boys Surf Shop—polar opposite experience. In the end, I scored some great waves and the locals, who had come to refer to me as “Trestles,” were hooting me into sets. I left the water with the biggest smile I’ve had in years for surfing. Don’t give up.

 

P.S.
After a surf, I highly recommend trying out Da Poke Shack off Ali’I drive. It will ruin any inkling of “fresh fish” you’ve ever had, even if you live by a coastline…on a boat…or in the sand. I watched them slice and dice the fish, which (sorry vegans!), was a beautiful array of hues ranging from deep blood to bright red. On our first attempt to find the place, we arrived just in time for them to sell out–it was noon.

Maya Gabeira Surfs Biggest Wave by a Female Surfer…Gets Blown Off by WSL

On January 18, 2018, renowned Brazilian big wave surfer Maya Gabeira charged the mountainous peaks of Praia do Norte in Nazaré, Portugal. According to videographers, oceanographers and academics, her wave clocked in at 80 feet.

8-0, people.

Let’s take a moment to marinade on that number.

That’s eight stories tall…when the rest of us are shaking in our boots over 10 feet, multiply that by eight and that’s what Gabeira rode. The hard-charging waterwoman matched Garrett McNamara’s November 2017 record of 80-feet at the same break.

“Since 2013, I have been trying to bring the idea that we should have a women’s world record,” said Gabeira. “I started talking about it through emails with The Big Wave Awards, which, a couple years back, was bought out by the World Surf League. Since 2013, I have had very vague responses on it…nothing was clear at all.”

Aside from being one of the most decorated and pioneering females in the big wave arena, her 2018 wave was not Gabeira’s first record-breaker. In 2009, she broke the record for biggest wave ridden by a female at Dungeons in South Africa clocking a 46-foot ride, nearly half the size of her Nazare wave.

With her mind focused on riding the world’s biggest waves, Gabeira set her sights on Nazare’s massive size-holding capabilities, a wave that nearly ended the young charger’s life.

In 2013, Gabeira nearly drowned after wiping out and losing consciousness on a massive wave at Nazare.

“It almost ended my career with the complications I had with injuries and to come back and be able to surf, it was already my dream,” said Gabeira.

After five years of dedication, recovery and training coupled with her passion for big waves, Gabeira put pedal to the metal and caught a massive mountain of water–a wave large enough to put her in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Photo Courtesy of: Stephanie Johnes Maya would go.

Photo Courtesy of: Alex Laurel
Maya would go.

When Gabeira approached the Guiness Book of World Records, they referred her back to the WSL for certification.

But despite reaching out,  the WSL gave very vague and inconsistent responses to Gabeira’s amazing accomplishment. Every few weeks, Gabeira followed up with the WSL and still no confirmation of any progress. Frustrated with the organization’s lack of support or responsiveness, Gabeira let them know her intentions and in August 2018, started her petition.

Although, the organization did at the last minute ask her to present at the annual Big Wave Awards this past April for the Men’s Big Wave Award of the Year. To add more salt to the wound, during the women’s division, none of her clips were displayed.

“I had to hold my tears, breathe and go back stage to then present the men’s division,” said Gabeira. “I was kind of really baffled because I flew all the way to LA to not see any of my waves [displayed], to be celebrating the winter and pretend I wasn’t participating in the winter. While all my [male] peers had all their waves they rode on the same day exposed and won awards and records.”

After multiple backstage apologies from the WSL’s director post-awards, Gabeira sat down with him where he reiterated the WSL’s interest and dedication to her accomplishment. But radio silence from the WSL soon followed…again.

“I just want this [record] to be established because I think it’s important for women–it’s always been to me, at least” said Gabeira. “When Garrett [McNamara] discovered Nazare, it’s always left such a big impression on me to be able to see somebody credited with “The biggest wave ever” and have a number on it. Being in a sport that’s very subjective, it was something that I got attached to. I just want to finish it off so the next person doesn’t have to make it all happen from the beginning. They can just have the category established, surf a bigger wave and break the record and BOOM–it’s registered.”

With the WSL’s recent leadership falling under CEO Sophie Goldschmidt, Gabeira was hoping this would propel the industry and open a new chapter for women in the sport. The WSL gave this response via email:

“We have a huge amount of respect for all our big wave surfers. We have been in active discussions with Guinness for some time on the topic of reviewing Maya’s incredible ride from Nazare earlier this year for submission, and look forward to continuing to celebrate men’s and women’s big wave surfing with an announcement soon.”

The WSL got back to me within hours with this response, however, when I asked them specifically why the process took as long as it did and why the WSL couldn’t give Maya a solid answer, I was told…(am I surprised?)–> all they could say was just that.

“I don’t know if it’s just a lack of professionalism or if it’s just a lack of care for an athlete,” said Gabeira. “It’s my job, it’s what I’ve done for many many years of my life and to not take that seriously, it’s extremely disrespectful and it really hurts.”

To no surprise, after Gabeira’s petition launched and the world became aware of what was going on behind the bro-curtains of the surf industry, the WSL now crowds her inbox. :)

Best of luck, Maya. We are rooting for you! <3

Check out Maya’s video:

 

One Man’s Reflection of Two Separate Great White Shark Attacks

 

Royce Fraley, long-time surfer and Northern California local.

Royce Fraley, long-time surfer and Northern California local.

It’s no secret that surfing comes with its lists of risks. From drowning, bacterial infections, reefs and rocks, jellyfish and stingrays, crazy locals, to random freak accidents, the list can go on and on… There’s even rogue dolphins who miscalculate their beautiful leaps onto the unsuspecting surfer. Ouch.

But none other than one of our most widely whispered topics, SHARKS, are more associated with the risks of being a surfer.  Royce Fraley, a long-time surfer based in Occidental, California, is incredibly aware of this risk and has encountered our infamous grey suited landlord not once, but twice in the chilly Northern California waters.

“In both situations, it’s amazing how your brain kicks into a ‘fight or flight mode’ real quick,” said Fraley. “You automatically want to believe it’s not happening to you, but it is. All these thoughts happen within milliseconds.”

Like jelly to peanut butter, sharks and surfers go hand-in-hand by reputation, sans, well, let’s hope tastiness. In fact, based on my personal conversations, one of the most cited reasons why folks decide to not surf is because of our association with our oceanic toothy counterpart.

But consider statistics—for the average surfer who is in the water maybe not every day, but most days and is floating in the ocean for an extended period of time, what is the actual risk?

“No one plans to paddle out and hit a rock,” said Sean van Sommeron, Founder and Director of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, California. “Of course, every time you paddle out, you’re taking a risk. The statistics on shark attacks on surfers is very low on the list of possibilities. Surf board accidents are much higher on the list.”

Surfer Magazine did a lovely and realistic calculation for California surfer folks and concluded that California surfers have a 1-in-25,641 chance of being the victim of a fatal shark attack.

We’ve heard it all before—“you’re more likely to get struck by lightning.”

But sometimes lightning can strike twice for those special outliers, although they are few and very–VERY far between. For Fraley, who has logged more than 40 years of surfing around the world, charging double-overhead mysto reefs smack dab in Northern California’s “red triangle,” a little “brush” with our toothy landlords may be expected. However, for Fraley, not once, but twice did he pay rent and came out relatively physically unscathed.

Royce Fraley charging in Northern California. Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography

No hesitation or barrel dodging–Royce Fraley charging in Northern California.
Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography

Northern California’s got a reputation among the salty-haired to mean two unpleasant things with one tempting caveat: cold and sharky…but lots of uncrowded spots! For Fraley, 10 is a crowd and spots are most often protected from wanton commercialization by thick blooded locals, that is if the break and pirate-like foggy coastline doesn’t scare you off first.

I got to know Fraley over the interwebs and he shared both stories of his attacks, which were covered by the SF Gate in 2006. More than 10 years has passed since his latest attack in 2006 and I was curious to see how he still manages to charge the crazy Northern California surf.

First Attack: September 1, 1998

Royce Fraley hacking a little off the top in Northern California. Photo by: Patrick Parks

Royce Fraley hacking a little off the top in Northern California.
Photo by: Patrick Parks

A smallish surf day brought Fraley and a few of his good friends to surf Russian River, a spot located north of Bodega Bay, which is known for beautiful scenery, abundant wildlife and draining barrels. The trio were the only people in the water. Just as Fraley’s friends caught a few waves towards the inside, Fraley laid down on his board to rest from paddling along the sandbar.

Out of nowhere, he was launched around four-to-five feet into the air and disappeared into a giant burst of whitewater.

“If you took both palms of your hands and slam them on the hood of your car as hard as you can, that was the sound of this incredible impact,” said Fraley.  “All I could see was whitewater all around me.”

Luckily, after that shocking launch, Fraley landed perfectly on his board in the water. The nose of the shark left a half-inch imprint on the bottom of Fraley’s board, even leaving behind a little skin.

“I think that shark was very surprised it hit something that was so damn hard, which was my fiberglass surfboard,” said Fraley. “That strike was like an ‘okay, I’m going in big time’ attack.”

After he landed, Fraley did not hesitate to paddle his 6’10” Campbell Brothers pintail towards the beach, his friends waiting on the sand, when he saw the water close to him swirl and watched as the shark drew up alongside him and chase him in.

“All I saw was the shark’s back and it’s dorsal fin,” said Fraley. “His dorsal was parallel to me and I was like ‘are you kidding me?!’ And before I knew it, I was in super shallow water and the shark just turned off.”

Royce charging big cold water A-frames, sans crowd. Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography

Royce charging big cold water A-frames, sans crowd.
Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography

Once he reached the beach, Fraley collapsed while his friends quickly checked him for wounds. A little shaken, Fraley and his friends decided to conclude their session with much needed tequila shots and local Indian cuisine to celebrate his most interesting, rare and harrowing encounter.

“If you’re tracking the shark, it will be eyeing you, too and eventually it will take off,” said Dr. Chris Lowe, director of the California State University, Long Beach’s Shark Lab. “If you lose track of the shark, the first place you should look is behind you because that’s what a predator, like a shark, will do–they’ll move out of view.”

Dr. Lowe explained they often see this tactic while tagging great white sharks off of Southern California’s coastline. The smaller, more juvenile great whites are more easily scared off, however, the bigger guys and gals will often move off to the side and sneak up from behind. Dr. Lowe recommends that if a surfer loses track of a shark, to do a 10-second count and look behind. Sharks can identify an animal or person’s head and might often consider the surfboard’s nose as a person’s “head,” therefore recommends a surfer to also track with their board, too.

“If their prey know they can see them, there’s a chance that the predator won’t be able to take them down and may get hurt in the process,” said Dr. Lowe. “Your surfboard’s ‘head’ will make them sense they are being watched.”

Second Attack: December 10, 2006

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A pack of dolphins catches waves in Northern California. Photo: Royce Fraley

Eight years had passed since Fraley’s Russian River encounter, and surfing was still on his to-do list. Fraley was itching for an evening session at Dillion Beach at a spot the locals like to coin as “the shark pit.” About 1,000 yards off the beach awaits a perfect and incredibly long A-frame peak that used to produce 3-500 yard rides in the 90’s. The spot is still filled with it’s fair share of big wave action as, according to Fraley, they will often see Mavericks crews and tow-in folks cruising the out-to-sea style lineup. If the location doesn’t make you flinch, then maybe a nice long paddle over the deep channel will.

“At this point, I had been surfing this spot for 15 years, had done this many times before,” said Fraley. ” It was a beautiful sunny December evening, right after a storm. A big set came through and I caught a couple of waves, which pushed me over into the channel.”

With the increasing swell, Fraley took his time getting back to the lineup, pacing himself for more waves. He rested on his brand new 7’6″ big wave board and as he was gliding over the channel, the water around him began to boil like a cauldron, the right side of his board lifted out of the water and Fraley rolled off the board.

“It was almost like the shark was a submarine surfacing,” said Fraley. “His bottom jaw hit the underside of my board and I started rolling off as the shark bit down.”

Fraley felt a sting in his right  hip as the shark dove down with Fraley’s 10-foot big wave leash wrapped around it’s mouth. As Fraley instinctively grabbed ahold of his board for flotation, the shark dove even deeper beneath the surface with Fraley in tow. In the time spent below the surface, he experienced a gamut of emotions beginning with strong denial, anger and pain–to acceptance.

“There’s a part of me that accepted what was happening, I felt peaceful,” said Fraley.  “Right when I felt that, I bumped off the side of the shark. It felt like someone pushed my whole right side up against a school bus.”

Royce shows relatively minor cuts after his attack. Photo: Royce Fraley

Royce shows relatively minor cuts and board damage after his attack.
Photo: Royce Fraley

When Fraley reached the surface, incredibly shaken, he paddled towards a surfer, who immediately paddled away from him towards shore, and Fraley was left to make the long paddle on his own. A lifeguard, Brit Horne saw the commotion and quickly came to Fraley’s rescue where he found three imprints from the shark’s teeth on his right hip, which did not require stitches.

The University of California, Davis’ Bodega Marine Lab estimated the great white shark Fraley encountered to be about 15 feet long and weigh about 3,000 pounds.

“Not all bites may be predatory, sharks may be sending signals saying ‘you better back off,'” said Dr. Lowe. “Surfers often don’t even know the shark is in the area, and the shark hits and takes off. We just don’t know what the motivating factors are prior to those bites and it’s very rare that people actually witness those behaviors happening, so we have no context.”

Post-surf/attack session, instead of tequila shots and yummy food, Fraley was greeted with a barrage of news media at his front door when he got home. Even Good Morning, America! wanted an interview, but Fraley preferred to keep the news media’s often jarring sensationalism out of his evening and simply reflect on the greater lesson.

Reflection

"The shark pit" looking good enough for a surf. Photo: Royce Fraley

“The shark pit” looking good enough for a surf.
Photo: Royce Fraley

Since his latest shark attack, Fraley has had time to contemplate his extremely rare attacks. Although from time-to-time, he understandably experiences a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Fraley still manages charge big waves, but, seemingly remains more vigilant and paddles out with friends, on most days.

“The biggie for me was to actually go back out at the same spots,” said Fraley. “I had that need to be around other people and even now, I’ll be surfing any spot and sometimes I have a mini-panic attack, It’s almost like PTSD, but I usually tell myself to calm down and breathe and that definitely helps.”

Even still–it certainly hasn’t deterred him from charging full NorCal swells. In fact, he and a few friends will often search for lonely peaks along the less traveled areas of the north coast.

“Since the shark attacks, it really made me look at the way I carry myself and the way I am with others,” said Fraley. “The sharks taught me to get over myself, be humble, be considerate of others in and out of the water, to have a reverence for every moment you have, and to get over your own bullshit.”

Similar to how Native Americans often associated these experiences with predatory creatures, Fraley relates to this school of thought and sees both encounters as blessings.

“That’s how I have to look at my situation,” said Fraley. “It taught me to have a little bit more respect for yourself and life. It helped me realize how precious things are. So much of our society is ‘dog-eat-dog’ when we should be giving waves away, hooting someone into waves–bottom line: don’t be freakin’ selfish.”

Another Royce NorCal nugget. Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography

Another Royce NorCal nugget.
Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography

 

Patrolling the Dawn, Vol. 2

February 25, 2016 // Dana Point, California //

Off-shore winds lightly rattled my windows while crawling out of bed and rubbing my puffy eyes to the sound of a 5:30 a.m. alarm. My board was already tucked in my car the night before, just needed to throw my wetsuit in the trunk, in case I decided to actually paddle out into the forecasted huge surf. :)

The view from Strand’s parking lot made any question in my mind about paddling out a definitive ‘no.’ Large sets could be seen from the top of the stairs rolling through, lurching and then mercilessly pounding the sandbars.

Later that morning, for the first time in seven years, the 31st Annual Quiksilver Eddie Aikau big wave invitational was held at Waimea Bay on O’ahu’s North Shore.

I CONFESS: I’m so glad I brought my camera.

IMG_3929IMG_3949IMG_3930IMG_3974IMG_3955IMG_3960IMG_3966IMG_3940IMG_3983

#HurricaneMarie

If you were held captive inside an office like me during one of the biggest swells in 20 years on August 27th, 2014, your only outlet was: ###SoCiAlMeDiA.### As I arrived to work a bit embittered, random Facebook, Instagram and Twitter checks ensued. With every epic media update, my stomach twinged, my jaw dropped and mouthed in the stereotypical surfer fashion: “No waaay.”

I’ve never felt like such a social media stalker as I watched thick wedgey peaks plow through all corners of the California coast.

*Repeatedly bangs forehead against desk while the drone of the computer mocks all senses*

Some popular hashtags:

  • #hurricanemarie
  • #hurricanemarie2014
  • #bigwednesday
  • #thewedge
  • #waveporn
  • #purpleblob
  • #newportbeach

Despite the fact that I didn’t shoot the coveted Wedge pumping out 30 foot walls or Newport Point doing it’s best Pipeline impersonation, I managed to squeeze in some quick photos of certain spots before and after work…sans carnage…sadly.

The line, yes there was a LINE, to get onto the Newport peninsula was comparable to the city’s popular Fourth of July or Christmas parades. My terrific ‘love’ for crowds and parallel parking combined with the setting sun left me in a time crunch, so after one U-turn , my wheels were rolling towards Laguna and Dana Point. Newport be damned.

After narrowly escaping a park ranger’s citation (but not her lecture about possibly killing an endangered pocket mouse), the sun set over the corduroy-ed Pacific and I finally felt like my freelancer-self, again.

I’m alive!! I said, as I skipped to my car with blurry photos in tow, the park ranger glaring behind me.

Big Wednesday 2014 not only woke up the Pacific, but also reminded me of my passions that no amount of social media or any computer/smart phone can replicate.

 

The ‘Oh Shit’ Files

It’s great to see photos of perfectly shaped waves that make you salivate and re-think jobs, relationships and other potential long-term life investments. This is not the case…just big, not-so-gnarly walls of water mowing over some brave weekend warriors at Trestles last weekend.  I just happen to have my camera, albeit not the right lens, however, I caught some closeout fun at Upper Trestles on this last swell. Jobs, relationships and long-term life investments saved.

Enjoy the sorta-carnage. For real carnage, get your butt to The Wedge on the next south swell.