Observations from watching pros on the North Shore of Hawaii

I’ve been coming to Hawaii for probably nearly 10 years now, but it’s my first time back in at least two years. It’s pumping over here. Just a few days ago we had that XXL swell come in and Waimea and Jaws were going off. Being back out here has reminded me of a few things.

Since it’s the start of the season for all the pros here, there are lots of them in the water. It’s pretty much like surfing Hollywood over here. When you watch them surf in real life, especially on waves of this level of size and power, it can make even the good surfers at your local (depending on where you surf) look like middle school children, and average surfers look like toddlers that can barely walk. What they look like on video vs what they look like in real life is like the difference between watching a car accident through a crappy street camera vs watching a car accident in real life, up close in person.

Here are the biggest things I was reminded of:

  • Positioning - they’ll literally sit 30 feet deeper than where everyone else is at the main peak, and when they take off, they stay so high up on the wave and generate so much speed they actually make the section and allow them to catch tons of waves.   
  • Paddle power - Hawaiian waves are powerful and long-period and as a result, you’ll see lots of guys out on step-ups and even guns (large surfboards that are often 6-9ft in length) to match the speed of the waves and give them a chance of catching them. Meanwhile, the pros are out there on thin little potato chip boards and still getting into those same waves. How are they able to do it? 
    • First part is sheer paddle power. They’ll just motor past me even on a casual paddle out. It’s kind of nuts.
    • Second part is positioning, they know exactly where to sit and position themselves to maximize their chances of catching the waves to get into that sweet spot that allows relatively easy entry.
  • Speed - it’s just on a different level. They’re able to milk the wave for every ounce of juice it can provide and their bottom turns are so deep and propel them with so much speed into that lip that when they hit it, it’s legit violent.  
  • Commitment - what looks like a scary close-out that a mere mortal would want to avoid is a juicy section to try and hit for a pro. I was (what I thought) pretty deep and at the peak and about to paddle into a probably double overhead wave when out of the corner of my eye I saw this female pro coming down the line behind the peak so I pulled out, but I watch as she just throws herself up at the heaving almost barreling lip and throw a massive plume of spray. She just barely didn’t make it, but my buddies who were down the line said they couldn’t believe that she went for such a heavy section.

What was my own personal takeaway from all this? We’re all at different levels in our progression but all of those points are really foundational in nature. Positioning, paddle power, trying to go fast, and commitment are all things we can work on improving. You can’t expect to become a pro overnight (haha or potentially ever), but if you try and improve these aspects of your surfing in 1% increments every time you surf you’ll be exponentially better over the years. Surfing is a lifelong pursuit and having the correct time horizon and expectations is crucial.

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