Growing Up as a Surfer in Arizona
An inland wave pool was a good thing for me in Arizona as a teenager. It gets really hot here in the summer and what better way to cool off than to surf some waves. It was kind of funny looking back on this. There were many of us who were so serious about surfing here. There were some fights, but what I do remember most is how we would all converge here during the "surf sessions" that Big Surf would have during the day (and night).
There were usually two or three during the day and one at night when they felt like having night surfing. I was known to cut school or work to make my appointment with a few waves. It was interesting to see this contingency of cars out front of Big Surf, racks, stickers and all the identifiers of the surfing breed. Like that movie "Fast Times..." there were even the Volkswagen buses with the smoke pouring out along with it's occupants...
It cost to get in and we got pretty good at forging the hand stamp. We would find out what it looked like then forge it backwards and lick it and stick it on our hand. Sometimes the lifeguards would just let us in. That was cool, most of us didn't have the money to pay the seven dollars every day to surf.
This went on for just about all of high school for me. I loved it and have fond memories to this day of all my friends at Big Surf.
My parents had taken me to O'ahu a couple of times while I was in High School. During this time, I was surfing Big Surf, San Diego and making trips to the Pacific side of Baja, mostly K-38 and toward the border breaks. These summer trips to the islands found me surfing Waikiki and a Ala Moana. Summer is south shore swell season. This is considered "Town" and the North Shore was "Country." The summer was off season for the North Shore so I never got to experience these waves until my arrival with the army.
By luck or some other force, I was sent to the islands to serve as a combat medic in the infantry. O'ahu, Schofield Barracks in Wahiawa was my base, only about fifteen minutes from mecca. I bought an asymmetrical T&C board and a spear for the bigger waves. With this quiver, I was able to hold my own.
On the other side of the island near Sea Life Park, I was flying my hang glider above the cliff at Makapuu point. It was an unreal life of hard work in the infantry and just as hard play, surfing the North and West Shore while hang gliding too. There were days where I would go surfing and hang gliding on the same day. Now that I look back on it, punk rock music and all, I was living as hard as I could, skateboarding surf style in the ditches, popping airs at Ala Skatepark in Honolulu, flying cross country down the spine of the island starting at Makapuu, surfing Yokamama Bay by myself and when I could go home, I went Wintersticking in the mountains.
I don't hardly believe it myself but it's true. Surf, skate, soar, go home and Winterstick.
Even after disciplining myself in the service, there was still a little rebel in me. We had to let a little of it out and some of "it" was in our cars. This particular car was so much fun. We drove it everywhere and it is amazing that we didn't go straight to jail as it had no license plate, no insurance, and nobody driving it was of sane mind... But this is how we did things and it worked for us and it was a part of being free of the green.
I remember Tommy driving the sled to Waikiki to see some band. He ran every red light, drove on the sidewalk and parked there outside of the Pink Cadillac for a little action. If we were busted, leave the car and get a new one. We never made it to the concert, it was too much fun dancing, drinking at this disco with all the tourist girls. At the end of the night, we had meet some pro skaters, chatted with some pro surfers and jammed back in the sled for the 45 minute ride back to base. Hawaii was about what going on, a ground swell of fun.
Sneaking past the military guard was difficult to say the least but we somehow managed EVERY time. I remember one time we had just surfed a big swell after getting back from Korea. We were all lit up and I somehow got the duties of driving because I was still seeing straight. The guard asked me to pull over behind a line of cars and I said "oK" no problems and saluted. It was a standard "drunk check" for every car coming into the base. We pulled over and then pulled out driving really slow. No one seemed to notice us leaving and that is how it went.
Anyway, I got pounded surfing the North Shore many times and here is a simple story to illustrate.
On February 2, 1986 at Hale'eva, the waves were breaking 8-10'. I sat on the beach contemplating the paddle out. No wind and the waves looked kinda small (...that is because they were breaking so far out!) I finally waited too long and decided to paddle out. The side shore current was ripping so fast that I barely made it out paddling at a 45 degree angle just to go straight out accross it. I had waited for a lull, but this wasn't enough. Waves so big that a Greyhound bus could EASILY drive through the tube without getting wet! I'm looking down the line at these giant waves paddling over them, duck diving through, scratching so hard to get to the outside. I was way over my head, couldn't even begin to think of riding one now, just had to get outside. Finally I made it, but the current was so side shore and I had to just keep paddling to prevent from being swept out to sea. The current never lets up, relentless. Never surfed waves this big, barely keeping in the line up to take off, and so scared that I had to make some sort of commitment to a decision. What am I going to do? That is when I made my last mistake on the North Shore, being hesitant and not knowing what to do.
I looked out to sea and saw something that I couldn't believe. A HUGE set of waves coming in, feathering on the outside (Hell, I already was outside) and the first one almost breaking. I flip and paddle for my life. Up the face of the wave, paddling and the lip started pouring, sweeping me still paddling for my life inside of this huge barrel upside down and pointed back toward the beach. I penetrated the water with the lip and felt pressure. The board was gone and I was in trouble because there was no up or down, just spinning in the blackness because I was pushed deep.
My leash held taut. The turbulence was letting up and it was lighter in one direction now and I started swimming for the light. It seemed long, real long but I made it to the semi-surface. You see, all that air charged water makes foam on the surface and it was thick. Mind you I am still alive, but this was only the first wave in the set. I found my board and flopped my arms like I could paddle for shore. The second wave annihilated me pushing me down and off my board. Rinse cycle again. This went on for five waves. Five HUGE waves until I was inside enough to belly into the shore.
I'm writing this account from reading my surf log. I kept it for every time I went surfing when I was in Hawaii. Never again did I surf waves when it was over 8' The Hawaiian way of measuring wave height was conservative. No use in "puffing up" your description, no reason for it. An 8' wave could be twenty feet from bottom to top in front, but they measured from the back. 8' from the mean water level looking at the wave from the back. If you surf the North Shore for any length of time, then you will surf BIG waves.
That set that got me was a solid 10-12' Hawaiian style. It really scared me and made me respect those who venture out past 8' on...
My favorite breaks were in the vicinity of the "Banzai Pipeline" as most non-surfers know about this area. I had enough sense to not surf Pipe because of the "pressure" from the elite and the shallow reef in that it broke on. I surfed the waves to the right as you were looking out at Pipe. Just to the right. No less powerful, but a little less crowded and a little more water to get underneath. The bunch of us would surf here for hours. Putting in at dawn and not coming out of the water until late afternoon for a snack and then back in for the rest of the day. I was in very good shape then. Army infantry medic for my job, surfing, hang gliding for fun.
I remember sometimes sitting on my board in between waves thinking of the airwaves I was surfing on my hang glider. Just on the other side of the island, thousands of feet high, miles and miles long and how much I respected those big wave riders... It was a mutual respect thing once some of those guys got to know me and well, after a while, it really didn't matter anyway. The ocean always wins.