There were a lot of expectations in Hawaii today—and a lot of big plans to go with them. But sometimes things don’t go to plan, even when conditions do live up to the hype.
Dane Gudauskas, Sarah Lee, and I had our own big plans. A number of them, actually. With a swell this large, you have to have contingency plans because you never know what’s going to happen.
Plan A was Makaha, which we’d heard was going to be all time. We left home an hour before sunrise, intent on caravanning to the Westside, but before we even passed Haleiwa Dane’s radiator started steaming and his truck started to lose power. So we parked it at the post office, threw his gear into my car, and raced to Makaha…which was basically flat. We found this a bit baffling, because Emi Erickson was on the beach at Waimea giving us a real-time report, and it was so big that she was questioning whether it was possible to paddle out safely. When she finally decided to give it a crack and Makaha didn’t get any bigger, we turned our car around and sped back to Plan B.
When we came over the hill above Haleiwa, we could see lines stretching from Mokuleia to Lanis. Practically everywhere was maxed out, but the Waimea Buoy was only reading 12 feet at 22 seconds, and from the early morning readings of Buoy 1 we knew it was going to get a whole lot bigger throughout the day.
Plan B was to check the two outer reefs that were handling the size, where a small group of A-listers like Slater, Mikey Wright, Ben Wilkinson, and John Florence were having an all-time session. But a quick look at the channel confirmed that it would be virtually impossible to access the lineup without a ski—and even if we had been able to sneak out, it didn’t seem responsible to do so without our own safety team, particularly considering the jump in size we were expecting within the next few hours.
We hadn’t been able to line up a ski, so we decided on Plan C, which was the same plan as virtually everyone else on the North Shore today: Surf the place that started this whole big wave thing to begin with.
Waimea Bay has always been the default option when everywhere else on the North Shore is too big, but just because it’s the “safest” and most accessible option doesn’t mean it’s not legit. Although Waimea has been eclipsed by more glamorous waves such as Jaws and Maverick’s over the past few decades, it is still one of the heaviest, most technical waves on the planet, particularly on days like today.
The Eddie was cancelled this year due to COVID-19, but if not for the pandemic, it would likely have run today—and more than one person on the beach today was overheard saying it would have been one of the best.
It was as big and as good as we’ve seen The Bay in years—but also super difficult, with long lulls punctuated by enormous closeout sets every 30 minutes or so. The normal lineup markers were irrelevant, and the huge crowd was so widely spread out that it didn’t even feel busy.
There were two options today—sit inside and wait for the smaller waves while playing cat-and-mouse with the sets, or sit outside and pack a bomb. Neither was very appealing, at least for anyone who valued safety. But then again, if safety is your thing, you probably aren’t paddling out into a swell that’s reading 19 feet at 20 seconds.
The lifeguards at The Bay stayed busy, and proved why they are some of the best in the business. Between keeping the beach crowd in line and dodging closeout sets on their skis, they also rescued dozens of surfers who got sucked into the shorebreak and down toward the rocks—a sketchy place to be at any time, and particularly on a day like today.
Out in the lineup, it was organised chaos, with half the crowd scrambling over each other to avoid cleanup sets while the other half was putting on a clinic. A bunch of the ladies got sick ones, including Polly Ralda, Wrenna Delgado, and of course Emi, who took things to a new level by paddling a closeout. Tom Lowe came out for his first proper session at Waimea, warming up for tomorrow’s paddle session at Jaws. And Dane was super excited—as he always is—frothing out on the entire experience of surfing an XXL day at big wave surfing’s spiritual home.
But most of the crowd today was names you probably wouldn’t recognise unless you live on the North Shore or have been part of the big wave community for years. And that’s what’s so amazing about Waimea Bay—the fact that in 2021, more than 60 years after the first session out here, anyone who wants it can sneak through the shorebreak and test themselves against the wave that still maintains its place at the centre of the big wave universe. When the buoys go Richter and all other plans have failed, we all end up back at The Bay eventually, which is exactly what makes this lineup so special.