People ask me all the time if I think the waves are rideable for them or if they are too big considering their ability level. Here's what I think, when the surf picks up and gets bigger, it is quick to give you your report card. You are going to know real fast if your skills are up to the task or not. Small surf doesnt challenge us like bigger surf does, and if our technique is poor we don't pay a heavy price for our mistakes. Big surf however, will hammer you if you haven't taken the time to learn the rules of the road first. Then, for most people it takes years of practice and effort to overcome the fear of riding bigger and bigger waves. They look so much bigger once you are out there than it looks from the beach. So, if you become terrified, flat out scared senseless due to the power and size of the surf you need to make a speedy and careful exit of the water.
Surfing bigger waves needs to come to you in small increments. At first one to two feet is great for you, then one day you show up and its 3-4 feet and since it looks like even more fun than 1-2 you head out like a young GI with a pocket full of dreams. The next thing you know, a four footer has caught your board a little too sideways and you have left the surface. You are now doing the holy hold-down dance, its kind of like Greco-Roman wrestling only under water. You are pinned and there is no oxygen down there. Somehow you surface in time to suck air like a double barreled carburetor and climb back onto your board. If this is happening to you, make a speedy and careful exit of the water. These pummeling occur because the power and force of the ocean increases as the size of the wave face becomes taller. Alarmingly so to the beginner, this increase in power can be too much at once for the inexperienced wave rider.
No kidding, it can get scary out there. These 6 and 8 foot walls of water start exploding all around you like a war zone. Then your board gets loose and is dancing in the surf like a crazy guillotine. When this happens please make a speedy and careful exit of the water. Basically, once you can no longer effectively control your board out in the surf and the size and power become too much for your ability level, it is best to either move way inside or just go in for a while until the ocean settles down. It doesn't hurt to go in a study the surf and to see how the other more experienced wave riders are handling the conditions. Many times the size, power and frequency of the surf will not even allow you to get outside. You come in a quarter mile down the beach without even riding a single wave. You are frustrated and very tired but cheer up, you have just had a great workout, you have learned some more about the ocean and you are not hurt! Besides, not making it out on days like these can be a blessing in disguise for the beginner. The problem is it becomes more dangerous for everyone else when an inexperienced beginner is out there losing their board all the time, relying on their leash to save them. If your board is 8 feet long and your leash is also, after the leash stretches out no one within 20 feet is out of danger. Not to mention being hit by your own could be a bummer.
My surfing journey began in Florida. Where I lived down south it rarely got over 4 feet. If it did get six feet I could not surf it anyway because I was just getting hammered all of the time. Being a skinny little kid on a big ole long board, my max was four feet. After moving to Encinitas, California in 1973 I got a chance during the winter months to ride smaller more maneuverable boards quite often in 6-8 feet and up to 10 feet. After 3 winters I became comfortable and proficient in bigger surf, or so I thought. In the winter of 1976 I lived on the North Shore of Oahu with my good friend Fred Patacchia. As we drove through the pineapple fields down to the coast you could see these lines of energy marching in. When we pulled up to Lanai's it was 5 feet bigger than anything I had ever ridden. Then Fred tells me, "this is the smallest day this week." During my two winters on the North Shore I rode massive waves up to 15 feet Hawaiian style. Anything bigger than that though, I was more than happy to paddle in before having a wide world of sports agony of defeat moment!
For me in my fun fear level, this was it, my barrier, my limit. At 16 feet it became another kind of fear, a fear that I had no control over. I had been surfing for 14 years pushing the envelope as hard as I could to finally reach a size that I had no desire to increase. Every surfer will eventually reach this point of their wave riding career. That point of enough is enough, no mas. It's up to you and your burning desires to see how far you will go. So, if you want to ride big waves, they are out there, but, don't bite off more than you can chose, push the envelope but do not get impatient and push too hard too soon. If your go out is starting to resemble a scene from beetle-juice, please, make a speedy and careful exit of the water! Big wave riding is an extremely exciting and joyous event, if you are ready for it.
Aloha for now,