“Where the fuck is he?”, I thought, redlining on adrenaline and standing on a footprint free, remote Olympic Peninsula beach.
” Did he FUCKING drown?” Now I was really concerned. I had just navigated my Gordon & Smith, “funboard”/ turned Big wave gun through one of the most historically treacherous coastlines, on one of the biggest surf days of the Winter. Stig and I had been the only ones out, surfing together only fifteen minutes previous.
Now I was alone and he was… I didn’t know.
The waves were larger in the water than they looked from the beach, like always here. It’s odd when first paddling out and realizing the true size of the sets by being caught inside and out of position due to the long interval between sets. That interval is always the signature of a good swell and the reason we’d chosen this day.
Still, It had taken a curtain of water exploding right in front of me for my adrenaline system to bring my body into balance with the situation. Stig, like he always does, had just taken off deep and late on a monster I was trying to avoid and had disappeared.
I kept looking for him to paddle back out but he never did. I was alone. You are always alone here but I needed to know my friend was ok. I had just dropped in on a smaller set wave to come in over the reef and through the lavender, mussel clad rocks and eelgrass that protect the pools and ponds of this pristine tidal ecosystem.
Getting from the surf lineup to the beach has always been one of the most challenging aspects of this surf spot and, it seems like, most big wave spots. On the inside section, the wave hits the reef in a way that makes it hollow and powerful. Usually, I am cold and physically exhausted by the time I’m ready to head in to the beach. This makes trying to catch a massive moving cloud of white foam and then riding blindly into dry reef and protruding rocks a roll of the dice, especially on larger days when there is a lot of moving water. I have lost a camera and water housing here as well as had the reef shove fins through the deck of my favorite big wave board (with appropriate ‘Psycho’ traction pad), after using it sacrificially as body armor (which is why I was now riding the G&S) trying to get in.
On this day my effort paid off, except for being trapped on the Pacific side of two rock/reef clusters that were creating a four foot wide sluice that was unswimable every time a surge was draining from the pool beyond and nearer to the shore. I guess one could call it a “rip,” though not in the traditional sense. This was an ON/OFF-switching gusher of a different intensity, more like a rhythmic rapid or waterfall. I thought about paddling around it, but that would have presented me with the hazard of being slammed into numerous rocks, caves and reef formations, while eelgrass was petting me with the current.
Trying to time my exit move, I was able to clutch a rock with my left hand while holding my board with my right as the surge peak filled the pool. I beat the timing of the drain, like some old nintendo game, only in reality. From there I was able to find a route safely to the deep, barren, grey sand of the beach. It took a while to normalize my breathing.
Now, I was scanning the immense beach looking for signs of human life. There were none.
There was our stuff off in the distance, but no sign of Stig other than the deep divots we left when we arrived at the beach and where we had entered the surf. That’s all. My eyes turned back toward the sea in hopes of glimpsing Stig’s red board, perhaps tombstoning, and, at least, giving me an indication of his location. Still nothing.
“Maybe I could see better with my glasses…”.
I started the walk down the beach to where we had left our stuff, thinking to myself, “Should I try to carry Stig’s body back up the trail to the car or, should I leave him lying on the beach and go for help if I’m unable to resuscitate him?”. It was then that I saw him bobbing on his red board all the way on the other side of the channel, eyeing the massive lefts.
What I realized he had done was paddle over to the channel and beyond, which is the right thing to do, and offers a less terrifying route to the beach at this surf spot. Finally, I relaxed a bit and sank into a deep reverence for the amazing wave Stig had shown me and mentored me at so many years ago…
Stig was the first person to share this reef with me. He has been surfing it longer than anyone I know, and over the years, he has been the most committed to it of all my surfer friends. I’ve grown to appreciate the lessons and challenges this wave has dished out to my ego. It is definitely, without question, Stig’s favorite spot on the Washington coast. I KNOW I can always get him to surf there with me when no one else is down, especially if the conditions look like they are going to come together. By example, he has taught me a reverence and solemnity for this beach that I profoundly appreciate.
Earlier in our session, we were sitting together when a bomb lined up. I laid down and started to paddle towards it, angling for the shoulder from the inside ledgey part I was trying to race under. Once I realized I was ahead of the wall I stroked hard to catch it, only to catch a glimpse of Stig deep and underneath an overhanging, pitching, cartoon-like lip, taking off behind the peak, super committed, trying to backdoor it. This is what I completely expect from him. I pulled back and watched Stig drop into oblivion. It sounds cliche but Stig always does that here, that “don’t know ’till you go” style. I’ve seen it so many times it fucks my mind up. When I get serious and surgical he goes deep and late on BIG waves.
After seeing him charge from the safety of the shoulder I was able to get in position for the one behind it and see my friend paddling back out as I was focused on my take off and the long drop, trying to ignore what was happening behind me for the moment.
As a youth, Stig was fed a ration of North Shore, Oahu’s Sunset Beach. It’s another, even bigger right, with a hollow inside section. Some of the surfers that were inspiring to Stig growing up on Oahu were Duke Kahanamoku, Eddie Aikau, and Ken Bradshaw. In fact, Stig actually met the Duke at the Honolulu Yacht Club as a boy before his passing in 1968. Ken Bradshaw bailed Stig out on a big day at Sunset when he had lost his board and was battling a rip current.
Perhaps these and other events were the seeds of Stig’s hoale humility that he carries with him into the surf. He is very humble, reverent and soft spoken, letting his takeoff position speak for him.
Stig’s father’s paipo surfing molded him as well. Paipo is an extension of body surfing in which a plywood, delta shaped board is used as an aid, the parent of the contemporary boogie board. This may explain Stig’s enthusiasm for surfing warm water spots in a speedo, which is more a bodysurfing thing. One of the only men I’ve seen get away with it is North Shore lifeguard, Mark Cunningham. He is a master body surfer, which is a skill he uses as an accessory to help keep folks safe on the North Shore in heavy, Winter surf. I had the pleasure of a compliment from him down in Mexico on a fast left point wave after making a section backside. Stig says he sometimes enjoys the feel of speedo surfing because of the lack of resistance.
In Justin Hawking’s novel, “The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld”, there is a chapter late in the book about being alone. The morning before our session I read some lines to Stig. Hawkings refers to the Herman Melville novel, “Moby Dick” throughout the book. In the chapter I read to Stig, Hawkings writes of an art show in San Francisco in which an artist cut out the last period of the last sentence of “Moby Dick” and pasted it in the middle of a large, blank white canvas.
So, at the end of that chapter in “Floodgates”, Justin did basically the same thing, a period on a blank page to give the reader that profound effect, the effect of being alone and floating on a coffin in the middle of a vast Ocean…
…Now, contrast that with a solid friend who charges hard and is there for you when the surf gets big and cold and empty. It’s impossible not to have humble gratitude.
It’s an interesting experience to read of oneself from the perspective of another. Those details that we tend
to take for granted, the minutia that tend to take precedence over the more grand scheme of our lives itself.
While I was concerned with women at a gas station, and how I had failed to get the best waves for us, you, on the
other hand, were experiencing profound and beautiful moments. No less than life and death itself.
If so much can be received from a sloppy day of stormy conditions, what would have been had, from those glittering waves in the calm that preceded it?
But I remind myself that we were chasing a dream. You and I have always been chasing that dream, and it matters not
how many times we fail or strike out or get skunked. Because the true story is in the perseverance. The true story, YOUR
story, is in the friendship we share, and how it has brought us to this spot over and over again over the years. Absolutely
regardless of the relative success of “scoring it”.
We scored it my friend. Of that I am certain. No footprints. No trace did we leave behind. The point remained undisturbed
for another day. The seagulls and seals had their way, as they have had for aeons before. This is the wave we rode. The eternal wave that carries us through our lives and into our death as it has with all those who came before and all who will follow.
It is no co-incidence that your story and my reply found it’s way into the previous forward email documentary about “Why no
Waves in Titan’s Ocean’s”. What could possibly be the relevance between our session, and the possibility of waves on
a moon of Saturn?
Because both embody a promise of hope.
In 2008 I was studying photographs of Titan from my office in Dolce La Belle. I was blown away by what appeared to be the presence of lines of breaking surf taken from the Huygens probe during it’s two hour decent to the surface. I wrote a song inspired by it. Never mind life on another planet! Here was SURF!! And where there is surf, there is hope.
The video I forwarded to you denies the surf’s existence. And yet, a denial is a form of acknowledgement. To deny something is to recognize it’s possibility. It’s as if to say; “Why ISN’T there surf? -A question just as important.
The search for surf beyond our blue planet has already begun.
And it is colder. It is lonelier. It’s beauty, inconceivable.
And it is waiting to be ridden.
Thank you Steve.