Diggin’ The Archives: from Agree to Disagree TSP74:
A Bit Chilly Out there, bradda.
By Dr Matt Fox.
I realise that some readers of The Surfer’s Path are Hawai’ian residents. I know because I’ve picked up a copy of this fine publication in Hilo on the Big Island. What I say now will no doubt cause them to drop their copies.
I prefer surfing in Britain.
Let me explain. Like the vast majority of the magazine’s readership, I’m an average surfer and I have a job that requires my bodily presence, so therefore I don’t surf as often as I’d like. However, I’m a very lucky man. My job takes to me the Hawai’ian islands two, maybe three times a year, and I get paid for the privilege. My colleagues let me go in their place because they regard it as a chore to spend 18 hours flying to paradise, and they might miss some work at home. I don’t attempt understand their bizarre attitudes, but who am I to argue?
I’ve surfed many breaks on the Big Island but believe it or not, it has either been 25ft or flat on the North Shore of Oahu every time I’ve been there. Neither sets of conditions are conducive to grabbing a board and jumping in. Incidentally, snorkelling at Waimea Bay and Pipeline is fantastic, but you always have to keep your eye on the horizon. Surfing on the Big Island is both frightening and exhilarating. I’ve surfed reef breaks and lava breaks. I have the scars to prove it – though nothing serious, thankfully. Nothing makes you concentrate more on your take-off than the sight of brittle, black, razor-sharp lava staring at you through the crystal clear water.
I’ve been enough times now for the novelty to have worn off, and all things considered, I like British surfing better. The places I’ve surfed in Hawai’i have been universally packed, all year round, with locals and travellers alike. The problem is the diminutive size of the islands. There are too few surf spots for such a surf-hungry population. There are numerous ‘secret’ spots, but you need a truck with gigantic tyres to get to them, and aggressive regulars rule. If you do manage to get a wave at these places the experience is destroyed by the nagging thought that your hire car won’t have a full compliment of tyres and windows upon your return.
Hawai’i has an endless summer – over there it’s boardshorts and rash-vests all year round. Anyone can turn up with a pair of shorts, hire a board and leap in, anytime. There’s nothing there to put you off. Also, on these islands, the ocean is never far away. Surfing is close, accessible and pleasant. Easy-peasy.
In Britain, or any other Northern European country, you have to suffer for your sport. Cold water, inconsistency, biting wind, numb hands, ice-cream headaches and the long journeys for a surf check are just the start of it. ‘Don’t bother’ is the message you need to overcome to ride waves here.
However, it is the negatives that make cold-water surfing so rewarding. Only those with true dedication, fitness and patience will bother, and the final experience is exquisite. The crowds are usually small, and the opportunity to find empty breaks is huge. Plus, a steak and chips with a pint of warm beer tastes a thousand times sweeter on a cold evening after a spin cycle in a 9ºC washing machine.
Maybe it’s just my regular haunts making me feel at home, or maybe it’s the pleasure of riding a perfect wave in February when my chin is blue. Maybe it’s about having low expectations and being proved beautifully wrong over and over again.
Hawaii may have the heaviest, hollowest, biggest and most famous breaks in the world but for this average surfer, perfection comes in a 5/4 steamer.
Top: Pipeline pose, looking good for the shot but closeouts were the order of the day. (from TSP84)
Bottom: Scottish slab – Rick Willmett, or “Aussie Rick” as he’s known by the local boys. He moved from the warmth of Eastern Australia to Scotland … just for the waves. Never mind the cold! This wave is known as Number 10s and though not the reason for the name, it’s a definite ten on the heavy scale. (from TSP89)