Saturday, November 10, 2001
[ SURFING ]
Beware of JawsMany athletes, particularly male ones, claim to have no fear.
Big-wave surfing entertains its
first world championship, on Maui
By Brandon Lee
Surfers are included in this supposedly fearless lot, but perhaps because the very best ones ride incredibly steep mountains of surging water -- literally -- they tend to be among the most believable.
What then could possibly make some of the most elite waveriders in the world openly express both fear and reverence?
Not the dorsal-fin variety -- though that too can make almost anyone's heart skip a beat. This Jaws is the one only found off Maui's north shore; it's a big-wave surf spot also known as Peahi.
"It can put fear in your life," big-wave specialist Darrick Doerner said. "Peahi is one of the gnarliest waves I've seen, with a huge barrel that you basically have to pull into. It can crush you. It can hold you down and not let you up."
Doerner is one of the original core of guys who first pioneered the spot during the early part of last decade, and not by traditional methods. When Jaws is working its magic, the waves are too big and unruly for arm paddling.
Doerner and his crew, including legendary big-wave hellmen Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama, got around this by working in two-person teams: one person on a board with foot straps, the other on a Jet Ski towing his partner into the wave already standing up and also there to rescue him from the impact zone once he's done surfing.
"It's a very extreme sport, someone can die," Doerner said.
As part of the upcoming Hawaii winter surf season that has just begun to get into gear, Jaws will be the site for the inaugural World Championship of Big Wave Tow-In Surfing. The first contest ever for towing-in, this one-day event has a holding period from Nov. 17 to Jan. 12, with a minimum acceptable wave face height of 40 feet.
Fifteen teams (Jet Ski driver and surfer, positions may rotate) have been invited to participate, with competitors hailing from Hawaii, Australia, California, Brazil and Tahiti.
Doerner said that he is the only one from the original group contemplating participating in the event, and he still has to make a final decision. Whether he participates or not, however, his imprint will still be seen as another of the competitors, Makua Rothman, has trained under his guidance for the last three years.
"Darrick Doerner just wanted to introduce the sport to the next generation, and I was one of the lucky ones to be able to get the knowledge from guys like him," Rothman said.
At 17, Rothman is the youngest competitor, but the most qualified, according to Doerner. Doerner will team with Rothman if he decides to participate, with Rothman having to go with someone else if he does not.
If Rothman has his way, he understandably prefers to be with Doerner.
"I just hope that Darrick participates," Rothman said. "If you're not in synch (with your partner), then nothing is going to work out. You got to be so tuned in that you can just make your eyes a certain way and (your partner) knows what it means. ... Jaws is unexplainable; if you're in its way, it's going to run you over."
Besides the Big Wave Tow-In, other events looming on the horizon include the prestigious Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, the Bear Hawaiian Pro Longboard Invitational and the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau contest.
The men's Triple Crown is a series of three contests at different big-wave venues on Oahu's north shore, while the women's includes just two events: one on Oahu and the other on Maui. The men's events are the G-Shock Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa (holding period Nov. 12-25), the Rip Curl Cup at Sunset (Nov. 26-Dec. 7) and the XBOX Gerry Lopez Pipe Masters at Pipeline (Dec. 8-21). The women's are the Roxy Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa (Nov. 12-25) and the Billabong Girls at Honolua Bay, Maui (Nov. 25-Dec. 6).
The Bear Invitational (Nov. 13-25), held at Haleiwa, gives the world's best longboarders a chance to showcase their stuff in big waves. The Quiksilver Eddie Aikau (Dec. 1-Feb. 28) gives invitees the chance to commemorate the life of the legendary Hawaiian waterman with the opportunity to surf waves at Waimea Bay in the 20-foot plus range.
Hawaii's own Sunny Garcia is not only the defending World Championship Tour champion, but also the defending Triple Crown champion and a record five-time series winner overall. Garcia still has a longshot at retaining his WCT title if he wins the Rip Curl Cup, the final WCT event of the year. But he considers the opportunity to defend at the Triple Crown just as important.
"The Triple Crown is always the thing I want to win," Garcia said. "The world's best surfers have to come here and prove themselves. As long as I'm doing the (WCT), I'm out to win world titles, but to me, unless you can surf well here, you're not a complete surfer."