It was the eve before this colossal XXL swell on Saturday and the Maui trade winds were a whisper, the lineup empty of Hawaiian heavies and water patrol. At first-light, two tow-in teams featuring Maui’s hardest charging adolescents commanded the west bowl.
Steve Roberson, just 12-years-old, was being whipped in by his father, Kaleo. Also, Chrislyn Simpson-Kane, 13, was riding shotgun behind women’s world record holder, Andrea Moller.
Their mutual friend Ramóne Rode, 18, paddled out with characteristic nonchalance. While the waves weren’t as death defying as the waves Roberson would ride the following day, it was far from child’s play. Big enough to make any seasoned watermen take stock.
During that Saturday session, Roberson was pulling into waves the likes of most surfers only dream about – whether a nightmare or not depends on your mileage. Meanwhile, after putting the work in on Friday, Chrislyn rested up at home on that mammoth day – but is now even more fired up after seeing Justine Dupont's crazy barrel.
After surfing Peah’i like it was their playground, we caught up with Steve and Chrislyn to answer our questions of what it's like to be Jaws' youngest locals.
Can you describe the first time you ever saw Peah’i?
Steve: Yeah I was really young but I still remember it. I was 4-years-old and all the uncles from Oahu would come and surf it. I woke up really early in the morning and I went to the cliff and watched Nathan Fletcher, Makua Rothman, and Bruce Irons surf it. Everytime I told them they got a sick one, they would tell me that you are going to be the one surfing it one day and we will be the ones watching you. Last time Nathan came, it was the opposite where he was the one going to Honolua Bay and I was the one going to Jaws. That was a really cool feeling.
Chrislyn: First time I saw Peah’i I and was super nervous. I watched from the channel with Andrea Moller and she explained the wave to me and what it was capable of and what to expect. She towed me into my first few waves before the wind picked up and I was super stoked.
Who are your role models on Maui to surf big waves?
Steve: Kai Lenny, Ian Walsh, Albee Layer, and Billy Kemper. I’d say Tyler Larronde is my favorite Jaws surfer from Maui. I also look up to Torrey Meister a lot. Well, really everyone out there from Maui I look up too but those guys started surfing it when they were 16 and to know I went out to Jaws when I was 10 pushes me to try and be better than them one day.
Chrislyn: My brother Ty Simpson-Kane, Paige Alms, Andrea Moller and of course Kai Lenny and Ian Walsh. They’ve all given me a lot of advice. Andrea and Yuri Soledade both broke down the north peak and west bowl to me which has been super helpful.
What would be your advice to other groms that want to surf Peah’i or other big wave surf spots?
Steve: Get out there as much as you can, be confident, and train.
Chrislyn: Work hard, be safe, know your limits and there is no rush. The wave isn’t going anywhere and there will always be another swell. Most importantly is to expect the worst and prepare yourself physically and mentally for those moments.
What did your mothers say when you expressed the desire to surf there?
Steve: She thought I was crazy at first and didn’t really believe it but eventually she was cool with it. Now, she’s confident in me because she’s seen the videos and knows I can handle it and stuff. It scares her to watch it though.
Chrislyn: My mom is super supportive but she was nervous as well. She told me “if you want it, you have to work towards it and there’s no rush if I feel uncomfortable.” It helped having Ty surf it first because he helps me a lot with gear and breath training.
Chrislyn, your brother, Ty, was 13 when he paddled Peah’i. What did you learn from his experiences out there? What did he tell you before you went out with Andrea Moller?
Chrislyn: Both Ty and auntie Andrea have been giving me a lot of feedback and what to expect if things go wrong. It’s always about remaining calm.
Having Andrea drive the ski makes me feel comfortable because she’s very experienced out there and my brother was on the cliff watching me and screaming which made me motivated to ride waves.I’ve towed Peah’i but haven’t paddled it yet but plan on doing so when I feel stronger and more comfortable on bigger boards. I don’t have a date of when I want to surf it by. When I feel 100 percent confident, I’ll do it. There’s no rush.
Steve, while many have seen your towing exploits, you have also paddled Peah’i and had a two-wave hold down doing so. What gives you the motivation to push through experiences like those and continue charging the place?
Steve: The first time I paddled it was on my 12th birthday last year on the day Billy Kemper got a big glassy barrel. I was sitting on the west bowl and it was breaking more on the north peak that day.
A big west set came and Torrey Meister and my friend Ramone Rode were telling me to go so I put my head down and paddled as hard as I could. I barely made it into the wave and my nose poked. I went over-the-falls and got a two-wave hold down. It was pretty gnarly. I’ve paddled it four times since and I’ve gotten better equipment since then. A better vest and better board.
Describe what a two-wave hold at Jaws is like?
Steve: It was crazy. It was my first time I actually ate it out there. I didn’t realize how powerful it would be. It’s way more powerful than what people think. I was underwater and was like, “ok, when are you going to pop-up?”
I was underwater a while and knew I was running out of air. I knew I needed to go up soon but then I heard the second wave break. I tried to relax and the second wave rolled over me and I got rag dolled again. When I popped up, Greg Long was there and he grabbed me. I was out of it so he grabbed onto me and we went over some big chops and then I fell out of his arms. Kaipo Soledade then saved me. All the guys out there are so good at keeping everyone safe.
This swell we saw Kai Lenny and Justine DuPont push the boundaries at Peah’i to an entirely new level. As part of the next generation of big wave surfers, where do you see the future of the sport being at when you’re able to vote?
Steve: I think the future is going to be crazy. The sections we see people do huge turns on eventually I think people will be doing big airs on them. My dream wave is to tow in behind the west bowl, get a big barrel, do a backflip, and pull my vest in the channel to claim it. [laughs].
Chrislyn: There are so many possibilities of what can happen out there that I think the wave decides what happens but the bar is just going to keep getting higher. Justine’s wave was super inspiring for me to try and get barrelled out there one day which is my biggest goal.
Who are some of the other kids on Maui we should be on the lookout for when it comes to charging Peah’i?
Steve: Ramóne Rode and my brother’s Justin and Eric.
Chrislyn: Abby Balmus and Stella Valdez are two Maui girls to look out for. Stella’s my best friend and was out there Saturday charging. Steve Roberson. Obviously, he’s already there.
What sort of training do you do to prepare yourself for Peah’i?
Steve: We do underwater breath training with weights. My personal best breath hold is 2 minutes on an exhale and around 3-minutes on an inhale. I started going out to Honolua Bay when I was little and everyone would start pushing me into waves. My dad told me only when I can surf Honolua Bay as big as it gets can I surf Peah’i. Everyday I wanted to surf it bigger and bigger and bigger and one day I said, “can we go out to Jaws tomorrow?” and he said there were no swells but soon as there was one we would go. I was 9 then and by age 10, there was a swell and he took me out for my first time.
Chrislyn: I train at Deep2Peak with auntie Samantha who has been helping me get stronger physically and mentally. My brother and I do breath training together and make sure we do so as safely as possible.
What would you say to the people who think you are too young to be surfing waves of serious consequence?
Steve: I don’t even know. Go back into your hole [laughs]. I’ve been doing my homework by towing other waves and the first couple times I went out there it was small and barely breaking. I worked up to it and have been working hard to go bigger and bigger.
Chrislyn: If you’re confident enough and understand the risk, there is no age too young or too old to ride a big wave. Working hard makes you feel confident and so does learning from the best.
What were your highlights from the past Saturday's swell?
Steve: At the start, my dad was whipping me in and I kept getting blown out the back because it was super windy. A big set came in and I barely swam over them. That made me pretty scared and after that, I didn’t trust my dad towing me for a little bit. [laughs].
I was sitting on the ski and didn’t think I was going to go back out but Makua Rothman came and said “come on, you got this. Have 100 per cent confidence in me and you. He took me out and I got the biggest waves of my life.
I got a couple but one wave with Zane Kekoa Schweitzer was super fun. Makaua whipped me in and said, “party wave.” When I fell there were these big chops coming up the face and Zane was yelling at me to hop the chops and kind of coached me through the whole wave. I was lucky that was my only wipeout and I didn’t get sucked over and made it out the back.
Chrislyn: I rested on the Saturday after surfing all day Friday but Justine’s wave was the wave of the winter to me.
What life lessons has surfing Peah’i taught you?
Steve: It has taught me confidence and how to always be on your “A-game.”
Chrislyn: It taught me in order to accomplish your goals, you need to be working to be better today than yesterday and to be better tomorrow than today. “