Nick Carroll "Waimea and other notes" from ASL magazine

hey gang, thought I'd start one of those chain letters that seem to work so well when you're reporting from some crazy surfing epicentre. And there's no epicentre like the North Shore of Oahu right now, as evening settles and a 30-40 foot groundswell absolutely hammers this incredible coastline, setting the stage for what no doubt will tomorrow be one of the sport's great shows.But I'm gonna tick the clock back a bit, a day, to Sunday evening in Hawaii, when the swell had yet to hit and there was nothing but rumours swirling and the Civil Defense people were actually considering closing the roads to the North Shore to prevent unnecessary loos of life, limb, or maybe just sanity.It was a lovely afternoon actually. Parko had finished giving his psyche a good kick in the pants with that win at Sunset, and the waves pumped most of the next few hours.But all eyes were on the Eddie -- the possibility that the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau, that event we so rarely see occur and so eagerly await, would be on deck and ready for what ancient oceanographer Ricky Grigg had quietly called the "Swell of the Century".40 years have passed since December 1969, biggest winter in Hawaiian surfing memory -- the year Greg Noll got his epochal biggest-ever paddle-in ride and pretty much gave up surfing. Ricky had the maps from then and now lined up together. 1969 was one single massive storm; 2009 was two storms, one centred slightly north, and another -- the punchy, crazy one -- broken away and flaring by itself for a furious day before re-merging with its parent and rocketing off toward the west US coast.That low, the flared-off one, is the wildcard here. It's smaller than the '69 storm, but it's more intense. We knew there'd be a big swell, but how big? Would it hit Hawaii or pass close to the north, shading the Islands but not peaking here?So my little brother Tom and I drive down to Waimea Bay that evening to watch, and breathe the air, on the eve of this dramatic occasion...It's a calm evening -- fluffy light clouds hang suspended between the tradewind and a light seabreeze. The air is warm and humid, softening the dying light, so the sands of the Bay look like an Impressionist painting, half in shadow and half aglow.Very late, after the last surfer has come in, a single wave comes in -- a line that stretches outside the Bay on both sides.Then another. North of west. We count the period -- 21 seconds.Tom is preoccupied now. His mind is far away in some place only he truly knows, a place where his own personal mythology of Eddie and the Bay exists, where he can imagine the day ahead. He calls people on his cell phone, then forgets he's done so and calls 'em again."Oh, hey, I've gotta get some CASH," he says vaguely, and we pull into Foodland, the supermarket where there's an ATM.The North Shore is buzzing. Kam Hwy has been jammed all afternoon, and Foodland is hectic. There's a strange electric energy in the air, clashing with that warm calm sky outside and the ominous ocean.We're both glad to get out of the supermarket and to be walking toward the car.Then a figure appears, out of a white van that's parked right next to us. "You guys want some avocados?"It's Jock Sutherland. One of the North Shore's surfing Magi of the 1960s and early 70s.Lean, wiry, sharp of eye, Jock swings open the van's side door and dives in, rummaging around."Bananas, too," he says, "I've got 'em if you like 'em."I recall a story about Jock, one of the greatest surf stories I've ever heard: about Jock surfing Waimea Bay on one of those amazing 1969 days on a massive hit of Orange Sunshine acid, of Jock surfing into the NIGHT in maxed-out Bay conditions, of people waiting for him and finally sorta giving up, and then the storyteller, a wild sorta guy himself, getting in his car and driving away toward Haleiwa around 9pm, only to see Jock walking back up the highway in the dark alone -- from God knows where, no board, just boardshorts, soaking wet, and smiling ear to ear.Now his hair is grey and his face lined, but his eyes still sparkle. "You gys got good wide feet," he says approvingly. "Luau feet."We both look down at our feet -- squashed out flat and wide from years of being squeezed against the deck of one board or another."Yeah, not bad," says Jock, nodding. "You guys have been round for a WHILE.""Not as long as you, Jock.""Hey, I'm 61," he grins. "But then Peter Cole is 75 and he's still out there catching 'em, so I don't have any excuse at my age, saying 'Ah I don't know, maybe I shouldn't go out'. You just gotta talk to the back," he says, making a wiggling snake-like movement, the shoulder-shifting motion of a surfer in paddle mode. "Just talk to the back."The avocados look like cannonballs."Just put 'em in a paper bag," Jock advises. "Two days. Same with the bananas. Trust your nose."-----The ocean roars through the night with a deep basso profundo note underneath all the booms and crashes. I wake at just on 6am. It's a grey drizzly morning with a light sideshore NNE wind. Pull out onto the main road heading toward Waimea and immediately there are cars. Everywhere. The sides of the road are clogged from Log Cabins on down, a distance of two miles from the Bay. People trudging through the drizzle, backpacks on, folding chairs under arms, heading for the Bay.Traffic is locked down. It's madness.The youth group at the Waimea church is charging $5 to park in the church lot and I figure that's $5 well spent.Down at the tower, surfers and officials are milling about. It's not even 7am and thousands of people are watching from the roadsides flanking the Bay. What will contest director George Downing do?I get a first look at the surf -- 20 feet plus on the sets, side-chopped from the wind. A few guys out there.RCJ is frothing; Carlos Burle reckons he has a helicopter on standby to fly to Jaws, on Maui. "Get a couple of waves, fly home," Ross says hopefully.Makua Rothman hoses a bit of cold water on that. "Yeah right," he says, "a COUPLE. Then a couple more. Another and another. Tomorrow you wouldn't even be able to PADDLE."Ross and Carlos see the sense of this.Then George picks up the mic and delivers his Call. "It's not quite there yet ... at 2 or 3 o'clock this afternoon it may show something, and that may mean it's bigger tomorrow -- or maybe not." George is very Zen about this stuff.So it's off. We decide to go surfing anyway. It's big! A huge set comes as we're walking down the sand to the corner. It wobbles, stands up off the point, and explodes into the middle of the Bay, without anyone silly enough to tackle it.Kahea Hart is on the beach in the corner, warming up. He's stoked, we're stoked.Tom goes off the beach and gets pulverised in the shorebreak, Kahea and I wait and jump out and join him on the paddle out to the lineup.The vibe on this messy, sometimes very big morning is playful and happy. Shane Dorian is out there, Mark Healey, Carlos, Ross, Chris Owens, Reef Macintosh, about 15 others. Reef is hilariously casual; he turns around on waves at the last second and pulls off one-paddle takeoffs. Kahea charges.A 25-foot set comes and Dorian waits very deep and goes the second wave. He gets to the bottom and in his words, "it goes BOOM!" He's blasted into the inside and sits for a while to regain his composure. Later he runs into Reef on a drop and rips out his back fin. Now his 9'6" is a twin-fin. "OK!" he says, "let's have a sideslip contest! People will be going, 'Man, they're doing 360s out there!'"Tom and Ross try to catch the same wave and almost get sucked over the falls together, and spend a couple of minutes reminiscing over a time a few years ago when exactly that happened. "Funny and frightening at the same time," Ross says.Tom disappears from the lineup, and after another half hour or so I think it's time for breakfast. What I don't know is that Tom's last wave squared up on him. It was around 15 feet but had a wide bowl that bent around and exploded directly on top of him, pushing him down onto his board. He remembers tumbling through the foam thinking, "Oh shit, this is bad, I hope it's not a compound fracture." It isn't but his foot is hanging off the end of his leg, sagging sideways, a total medial dislocation. Later an X-ray shows an accompanying fracture of the fibula about halfway up the lower leg. Tom reaches down and pushes the foot back into place and paddles like fuck for the shorebreak. He catches a wave onto the sand, but nobody realises he's hurt! Eventually the lifeguards come down and grab him.We end up at the Wahiawa emergency room, where the nurses insist on a photo op, and eventually come past the Bay again around 3pm. George's "maybe" is a maybe no longer; a massive set hits as we drive past, then another, the small pack of surfers not in position or not keen on it.Tom's inner world of Eddie and the Bay is drawn down, suddenly a blank, unavailable. He's glum, but yet to fully comprehend what's occurred; injuries like this take a while to work entirely through your psyche. "I should make up a flyer," he says, imagining the number of times he's gonna have to explain what happened in the coming days. "Just have a bunch of flyers with me and hand 'em out whenever anyone asks."We stop at Log Cabins for 20 minutes and see somebody -- I think Makua -- get yanked into a 35-foot bomb. He carves, flies and works it very deep, not seeing the second and third waves of the set, which shift wider and threaten to engulf him till his ski buddy throws him a last-second line and pulls him clear.Late that afternoon, the air is calm, humid again, the same filtered light, but casting now across a swell that's boosted into the 30 to 40 foot range. Beaches are scoured. I don't know what tomorrow will hold, but I know I'm getting up early.