Getting Ready for Maui’s Wintertime Swells with Big Boards

August 21, 2012, 1:41 PM HST · Updated August 21, 1:46 PM
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Surfers try their luck at Waimea Bay During the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational. Photo:travistadao.

Surf reporter Carlos Rock is an experienced surfing instructor who has been riding Maui’s waves his entire life.

By Carlos Rock

With winter drawing closer and closer as the summer comes to an end, it may be time to update your surfboard collection by getting a big board for those days you normally would not paddle out.

That’s right, for the days that are above and beyond your normal threshold of wave size.

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Every winter, the north shores of all the Hawaiian islands get bombarded with northern hemisphere energy that produce massive north and northwest swells.

This winter will hopefully be no exception. Wintertime in Hawaii is known to produce very large swells and it is best to be ready for it by having a go with a big wave board.

A 6’4’’ to 6’6’’ is really all you need to surf waves that make your heart pound, keep you short of breath, and make you feel more alive than ever.

Depending on your weight, a 6’5’’ board (thruster or mini-gun)* will suit any surfer in larger surf.

A surfer and his big wave board. Photo: Jeff Rowley.

You need the bigger board for extra paddling power by having more foam under you as you scratch with everything you have to catch up to the huge walls moving at 20mph.

DO NOT paddle out if you think the conditions are too wild and unruly unless you really want to test your abilities. It is just not worth it to risk your life.

For example, do not paddle out to Jaws and end up in our news section.

Make sure that you are a strong and confident swimmer before testing your abilities in slightly larger surf.

The mental game is usually half the battle during any surf session, but when the waves are big, the right frame of mind will drastically change your session for the better.

For example, telling yourself to stay calm and really focus on your breathing and remaining in the present will help you make the right decisions in the heavy Hawaiian waters.

With bigger waves, observation is the most important factor. Watch the surf for a bit – at least 15-20 minutes – before paddling out just to assess the conditions, where to sit, and where not to sit.

It is good, healthy in fact, to know your previous limits on wave size and go a little further and set new ones.

The rush that comes from surfing big waves is very unique to board sports. The same feeling can be felt carving down a mountain of snow or flying down a hill on a longboard skateboard. Same concept, except surfing is a little more forgiving with water landings instead of concrete and ice.

Once you get a big wave and ride it successfully, you will know and you will want to go even bigger.

That is until you get held under for a really long time.

Here are some small details that make a huge difference regarding equipment and standard procedure:

-Leash. Make sure your leash is able to handle the bigger waves. The worst thing that can happen is your leash breaking and you are left out in the lineup with no floatation device and have to rely solely on your swimming ability. Make sure you get a thick leash. (And put it on correctly.)

-Wax. Give your board a good coat of wax, the kind that you can smell when you’re paddling out. Give it some good bumps especially where your front foot is if you don’t have a grip pad on the tail.

-Fins. Make sure your fins are on tight. Loose fins run the risk of losing a fin and there goes the session and some more money out of your wallet to replace it. Make sure your fins are right depending on your weight (S, M, L). It makes a difference.

Huge waves at Ho’okipa Beach Park is a regular sight during the winter months. Photo: kanoeblue.

The rest is up to you. Core strength and breath control go a long way when riding the big waves.

Winter will come sooner than you think so when it does, it is best to be ready.

Then at the end of the season, you can say, “That was a good winter.”

*Thruster being a three-fin set up with pointed nose. Mini-gun is basically just a big thruster.

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