Looking for giants in Waimea

Vienna, Austria - sometime around the summer of 2004 I went to a late night screening at the movies to what was called the "Wednesday midnight sneak peak". Basically you would get to see something that wasn't officially released yet, without knowing what it was.

It was quite bad really, most films shown in these screenings were usually the ones where they expected the smallest box office return. The movie equivalent of that avocado and pineapple flavored water, the one that you get handed out for free on a street corner and chuck at the nearest bin after you had the first sip.

And then the movie started. A humongous wave breaking, a mayhem of deep thunder and white water. Almost like a mirage, a guy appears, riding out through the spray. The title - "Riding giants". I was glued to the seat.

The film explores the Hawaiian origins of big wave surfing and follows the evolution of the sport, supported by a great narrative, first person accounts and unbelievable video footage.

Greg Noll in front of Banzai Pipeline in 1964

Possibly the most iconic big wave photo - Greg Noll standing in front of Banzai Pipeline in 1964. Captured by John Severson

This was the first time I heard names like Greg Noll, Jeff Clark or Laird Hamilton and my head was starting to fill with fantasies of that mythical North shore in Oahu. Waimea Bay, the Banzai Pipeline and Jaws at Peahi were names that seemed to have branded themselves into my brain. I was still young and broke back then, and I haven't been to many places by that time, but leaving the theater buzzing with energy I knew one thing for sure - one day I will try to surf.

Misplaced confidence

Time skip - 2012, Muriwai beach, New Zealand. I am standing at the shore, in my rented wet suit, holding my rented board and looking at the beach break. I never stood on a surfboard before. I never swam in the pacific. I didn't even know what a rip was. It didn't matter. I was ready.

About 2 hours later I was back at the beach, gasping for air, my heart pumping through my ears, the world spinning. I was in shock - I almost drowned.

Break at Muriwai beach

Beach break at Muriwai, New Zealand. Not necessarily for the surfing novice.

In retrospect, that outcome was predictable - I couldn't even paddle without losing my balance, and the break at Muriwai can be wild. It is safe to say that was probably one of the more stupid things I've done in my life, but back then I wasn't thinking like that. How could this have gone wrong so badly? Quite frankly, I was shattered.

So where are the big waves?

Time skip again - 2017, Oahu, Hawaii. Through a chain of unforeseeable events, also known as the Watson effect (but seriously, Chris and Pam, thanks again for the amazing holiday!), we ended up in the exact spot I was dreaming about more than a decade ago. I instantly started dropping hints, muttering "Waimea" and "big waves" anytime someone would listen. And so in the end I pretty much forced the whole family to come see these famous breaks, the mythical giants of Oahu. There was only one problem - they weren't there.

Banzai pipeline summer vs winter

Banzai Pipeline winter versus summer.

It was mid-July, and I knew of course that we were off season for the really big swells, but I still expected to see some considerable waves. What we saw however was families snorkeling and little kids playing around in the shallows of a sea that seemed to be flat lining. For quite a while I actually thought we were at the wrong spot, until I found the signs. So this was Waimea in summer.

But being off season had a positive side effect - maybe we could try to catch some waves ourselves, without the prospect of drowning. So we moved on further north to Turtle Bay, were we stayed for a couple of luxurious days, another treat from the Watsons. There was a perfect break right in front of the resort - nice long swells, not too crowded and a rental shop right in front of it. It was perfect.

surfboards on the beach
bojan and nick carying boards to the beach
on the way to surf
Janine and Nikki and their bottoms
Waimea dangerous current sign
bojan trying to catch a wave

But there was a problem, at least for me. Or to be more precise, I was the problem. I sometimes have a fatalistic approach to things (a really bad habit) and the unexpected and utter defeat I suffered in New Zealand left its marks - you see, surfing was not for me. That's what I kept telling myself. The difference between my lofty expectations and the reality of what happened left me almost offended. So instead of re-grouping and maybe trying again in a more sensible way, I turned around and shut the door behind me.

Surfing in baby steps

Luckily, Nikki is quite good at seeing through my bullshit, so she kept nudging at me until I finally gave in. And I'm so glad she did - it was pure, untainted fun. Every single aspect of it. I couldn't believe I deliberately avoided this for so long.

"The best surfer out there is the one having the most fun." – Phil Edwards

The last couple of days we spent in Waikiki - the perfect location for the surfing novice. Renting boards was cheap and convenient, the surf, although a bit crowded, was more than enough to catch some easy waves on big boards. And that is exactly how we finished the summer - laughing and having fun in Oahu's surf.

As a nice side effect it seems for next year we are aiming for a surfing trip to Sri Lanka. I can't bloody wait.

longboard beer
Nikki and Janine at Pipeline
Oahu sunset
Nikki in Waikiki