Sunday, August 14, 2011

ANOTHER GREAT DAY AT THE BEACH

STORY AND PHOTOS BY OLAF MITCHELL



I woke to the sound of rain.I looked over at the clock and then out the open curtains. 
The whole North Shore was socked in so I drifted back into a contented slumber.


I only allowed myself a brief nap and then rose and headed into the kitchen and started the morning rituals. I brewed fresh French Roast from Anthony's, checked my e-mail, and then most importantly checked the surf reports.
The three different reports were conflicting and vague in their details since buoy # 1 was out of commission. It appeared that today anything could happen.
A brilliant rainbow manifested stretching from the West Maui Mountains down to Kanaha Beach Park.


Clear blue replaced the gray and the view from my deck was of occasional white lines across the length of the entire outside reef.
I attempted to address domestic projects but I was distracted by the dramatic view from my deck. I was constantly picking up the binoculars to check out the surf. 
I decided that it was time to go down and take a closer look at the ocean.
I didn’t know what the day might bring so I loaded my truck with surfboards and sailboard gear and headed for the beach.

From my house in the upcountry village of Haliimalie I drove down Baldwin Avenue through the pineapple and sugar cane fields, passing picturesque parks, island estates and immaculately maintained churches.

Rather than going all the way down Baldwin Ave and through  the often congested traffic of Paia Town, I turned right and headed down the rough dirt road through the sugar cane fields past the ancient skeleton of the old Maui High School.
As I approached the intersection of Hana Highway I could see that the waves on the North Shore were absolutly giant.

This was a classic winter swell and my gut feeling was that there wasn’t going be any place on the north shore for a mortal to wind surf or surf. In fact, I wasn't surprised to here that they were towing in at Peahi “Jaws”.

I took a right on Hana Highway and drove to Hookipa Beach Park.

The lifeguard tower was closed and the beach was sporting high surf warning signs.











The parking lot was practically empty except for a few hardcore surfers and wave sailors.There were a few that had already made it  out and the rest were trying to visualize a weakness that would allow access through the massive white water barriers.

My gut feeling was that I should go straight to Kanaha.
With this westerly swell direction, the island of Molokai shadows the swell the further you go up the coast. The waves should be much smaller at Kanaha and the chances of actually getting a session in, is better.



As I continued my tour of the possible sailing spots from Hookipa on my way to Kanaha.
I made a right turn off of the Hana Highway just past Momma’s Fish House and wove my way through the tight little local neighborhood behind it.

Luckily I found a parking spot close to the narrow public beach access path.
Each step I took down the narrow, palm canopied path, between the concrete wall and rusty chain link fence the air grew thicker with salty spray and the thunderous sound of crashing waves became more intense. 


I descended the ancient concrete steps onto the rocky beach and discovered that there were not only giant waves but there was wind. Very light wind!
The conditions appeared sketchy! 
(I n the back of my mind I thought that I should keep heading down the beach and look for another place to sail.)
The peanut gallery had already assembled on the log that we use for a bench.



“Rags”, was the only one out. He had made it through the impact zone and was getting some great waves.
Torrie was rigging and dressed for success in his aloha print bikini.
Peter, Tim, Mark, Debby,Pascal,Art, Frank, and Dale had already had a session and they were buzzing with adrenaline.


Tom, Bella, Rodger, Jake, Russ,Griffin,Chris, and Tracy were rigging their sails.



I procrastinated for a while before I went back to my truck and got my gear.
I took my time rigging my 5.0m sail on the rocky beach while I  visualized the channels and tried to time the sets. There were defiantly periods of less activity and patience was going to be critical.
  



My adrenaline was pumping and I had an anxious lump in my throat as I carried my gear across the boulder field of a beach and stepped off of the slippery stones into the water.

There was absolutely no wind on the inside. I had to swim with my gear out the narrow turbulent channel through the rocks.
I swam as hard as I could!

The current in the channel was flowing like a mountain stream in spring runoff and it wanted to suck me through the jagged the rocks on the west side of the channel.
I have made several unscheduled trips through that bone yard over the years and it is not a fun ride!
It’s very hard on the gear and dangerous! 
 After I cleared the mouth of the channel the wind was very light. It took a long time but I was finally able to get a water start. I then slogged out like a sitting duck in to the impact zone.

With so little power in my sail  it was next to impossible to penetrate the first section of 10’ white water and I was denied access time after time.


My sail was down in the water. All I could do is try to keep my gear in water start position and drift with the ripping turbulent current and wait for a gust.

Dealing with the strong current and mixed up hydraulics generated by the mast high waves was no easy chore.

Realistically though, it was about normal for this spot that’s called “The Toilet Bowl”

Eventually, I found enough wind to get underway. 

I‘m rolling the dice, hoping for a break in the 15+’ sets long enough to sneak outside.

Timing and luck are very important in wave sailing and this time mine turned out to be bad!
I was underpowered and out of the foot straps. I was determined to force or should I say will my way through this impact zone!
As I was slogging over my first wave, I thought that I had it. I knew that it was going to be close!

The wave broke right when I was at the peak and it pulled me back over the falls!
As I was free falling backwards I shoved my rig away from me. I really didn’t want to be tangled up in my gear while this monster had its way with me.
I was pushed so deep that I was disorientated and confused as to which way the surface was!
If this wasn’t bad enough I had to absorb two more waves of equal size before the set subsided.
That set had just clobbered me! Each of the waves had held me under for what seemed like a very long time.  
When I finally reached the surface I was swimming in an ocean of foam and I was desperate for a breath!

I also needed to find my gear.
Judging from the force of that set I figured that it had at least broken my mast and who knows what else.
In the distance I could see my red sail occasionally getting pummeled in the white water.  It appeared to be in one piece.
I have heard many stories from sailors in this exact spot that have completely lost their entire rig. I swam as hard as I could and finally caught up to it.
After a thorough examination of my equipment I concluded that all was intact.

My adrenaline level had receded to merely maximum.
I managed to compose myself and realized that I was in a lull between the sets. There was just enough wind to get a water start. I pumped my board on to a plane, hooked in, put my feet in the straps, and raced for the out side.












After that pounding, it was obvious that there was only one intelligent thing to do. I had to sail up wind and get my self into position to get back to the narrow channel at the launch spot.

If I couldn’t make the narrow channel where I launched the alternatives were poor at best.  I won’t go into them at the moment.

The wind on the outside was favorable and I made good progress and shortly put myself in position to shoot for the narrow channel

On my first attempt to go in I was presented with a beautiful, giant, perfectly formed mountain of a wave. I said to myself, "If I don’t ride this wave, I will forever regret it!"
I dropped in and pinched left up the face of the wave. I allowed it to form enough that I could go down the line. I chose to go a bit early so that I could kick out the back and still make it over the next wave with out being caught in its impact zone. While going down the line it occurred to me just how foolish and dangerous it was to be riding a wave of this magnitude!
I dropped for a seemingly interminable amount of time and distance. My board felt stable and the wind in my sail was just perfect. Actually it was easy to negotiate.
All the stress and fear of the beating that I was dealt earlier was replaced with euphoria! I had a colossal since of well being!
The wave held up for longer than I can describe but finally I kicked out the back and casually sailed over the next wave of the set.

I told my self “OK, you got one, So Go In Now!”

I had every intention of heading for the beach, but when I did another of those beautiful giants manifested.
There was nothing that I could do after experiencing the last one but take this one as well.
I fully intended to go in. But perfect wave after perfect wave presented it’s self and I just had to take each one them.





These perfect conditions held up through the rest afternoon.
I was caught inside again several times  but paid very little penalty getting out through the sets compared to the experience that I just described.
As this magic session went on I noticed that a brilliant rainbow had formed out at sea. Although visually striking it is not a good sign  for a tired sailor out on the ocean in substantial waves.A rainbow usually indicates a change in the weather. Often it means that the wind is about to shut off. I kept my eye out  for the right wave to come in on.

Eventually the one I wanted came along. I made the long drop and bottom turned, I went  up and hit the lip, and dropped in again. At this point the wind was almost gone. I pointed my board toward land using the power of the white water that was breaking behind me all the way to the big rock east of the mouth of the channel.

My adrenaline was soaring! All was going well until I was hit by a small rouge piece of chop that knocked me out of balance and I fell.

I was in exactly the WRONG place!







The current in this spot outside the rock is famous for trapping tired sailors. It has a whirl pool effect that‘s nearly impossible to break loose from.

I didn’t have to spend much time in that impossible caldron because the only thing worse than being caught in the swirling eddy is being picked up by one of the large incoming pulses and washed directly on to the large jagged rock.
That is exactly what happened I didn’t even have time to say “OH SHIT !” It happened that fast!

The surge was large and so powerful  that it washed me and my gear completely over the large rock and into the rocks on the other side.

I tumbled in some sort of controlled whirl, I lightly pushed away from the razor sharp edges with my bare feet.

There is only one benefit to the situation that I just described and that is after you make it over all those obstacles there is a direct flow of current that pushes you all the way to the rocky beach!

I was so stoked to be back on land without a scratch on me or my gear!

The launch area was charged with the energy of the sailors that had challenged these conditions and through some twist of fate made it back.
Everyone had a dramatic story to tell.
There was broken equipment everywhere on the beach.

Tom, after having a great first session, had been caught in side with out any wind and had been forced to swim around the point to the back of the bay.  He and Tad had gone for a ride down to the Blue Tile House to pick up Frank who had broken down out side on his second session. He had to break his gear down and paddle in.
I noticed Justin walking across the rocks with his gear and he had a broken mast
Mike had twisted his foot in the straps and was limping severely but still joking.
Dale had just destroyed his sail and came in on the rocks.

With every one accounted for and the day winding down we enjoyed some ice-cold Corona’s and talked story for a while more before packing up our gear and heading home.
After arriving back at home I sat out on my lanai and watched a dynamic Maui North Shore sunset and all I could think was “What a day!
 
What a Great Day At The Beach!"

1 comment:

Jenny said...

I truly loved the story being thread along with the photos, great job!