TOW & PADDLE
When tow surfing first came about those that became exponents rattled the cage of the established soul surfers, who believed surfing was about pursuing your art under your own power, paddle power.
This created debate and arguments that raged for some time in certain parts of the world, and while the heat has somewhat settled over recent years, the topic still rears its head from time to time. Sure, there is reasoning to support both disciplines, after all some waves are far too big and too gnarly or with too much current to paddle surf. The topic tends to come to a head on those days when both tow surfers and paddle surfers are attempting to occupy the same place. Many will argue that if a wave can be physically paddled into it should never be allowed to be towed. This keeps the fires burning on the Tow Vs Paddle debate, after all what is paddle-able for one guy could be extreme for the other hundred of takers. The 73rd Primo Roady suffered no such debacle, we figured here we were with a chance to tow surf some big waves on an outer reef, and then also paddle surf one of the best pointbreaks in the country, all in one day. So we did! Waking to find the swell had well and truly booted through the night, the points below our hosts dwelling were washed out as each set rolled in from the Tasman shaking the hillside as it rumbled through. The fog was thick as far as the eye could see across the Waikato, which signalled what we were hoping for, no wind! It was all hands on deck as we prepared the skis, with the grommets in awe. There is something pretty cool about watching the looks and emotions that come out of a first time grom, when they realise, this is the moment! The swell is up and that trip they quickly threw their hand up for has now landed them in what they could take on as the chance of a lifetime or drop nuts and opt out. Benny Poulter had recently been taken under
the wing of DK and Chris Malone, with DK whipping him into the scene of big wave surfing and Chris guiding him through the fitness and competition side of things. Along with Johnny Hicks who was along for the ride to see what all this big wave fuss was about, the two groms would become men over the next few hours. After negotiating five slips during the two hours on the dodgy single lane gravel track, we reached our launch spot, and went over the safety systems with a fine tooth comb. The swell was gigantic, breaking for a good k out and with no channel or hole to punch out through, it would be a heavy ride out. If something was to go wrong here in the middle of nowhere, out of marine radio and cell phone range, we were on our own. DK intended to give stand-up paddle boarding a dig out on the reef, so was also trying to punch out through broken water with this gigantic slab of a board tied on. After dodging and weaving through the maelstrom we finally broke free into clear water and began the journey out to the reef. As we closed our distance a huge set detonated and Johnny who was on the back of my ski, let out a squeaky little “holy f*#k” followed by what I’m sure was the horrid stench of a boy who had just shat himself. DK knew that if these groms got too long of a look at it they would start to feel intimidated, so immediately grabbed the rope and yelled “Who’s up?”. While DK was pretty focussed on doing his paddle thing, he was the most experienced and offered his services to tow the lads into three waves each, then they were on their own. Chrissy was first up and once he got out to the take off area it gave some scale as to the size we were dealing with. Johnny was amping himself up as he knew he was up next, he knew this was his first opportunity to take on something like this and wanted to grasp it with both hands, meanwhile Benny was floating around on DK’s SUP with his
feet dangling down off to the side of an open ocean reef, only pulling them up when we joked about Great Whites. Chris has never really immersed himself into chasing the big stuff, however he has been present and had a nudge at some serious sessions elsewhere, but is such a natural surfer who draws pure lines, that on his first wave he looked as if he had been doing it for years. When DK whipped over to Johnny with the order “You’re up bro”, well there was no hesitation and there couldn’t be. He left with the parting advice of “This is your shot, no point in being out on the shoulder bro”. Well with DK driving he didn’t get that luxury, as DK dropped him in super deep on his first wave, with the only option to straighten out into a gigantic gurgling submerged rock or pull in. On his first ever tow wave he pulled in and came through the biggest barrel of his life, that right there is what it’s all about! Benny was next up and although he had surfed here before, this was by far the biggest size he had ever faced. Unfazed he dropped into a monster, drawing a safety line and not putting too much at risk, the next wave behind, then drew off the reef and slabbed out, mesmerising everyone. That was one of the heaviest left handers any of us has ever seen in NZ. Benny was in the perfect spot waiting to be picked up when that wave broke and he was spewing that he didn’t get the chance to ride it, he was hungry and he wanted a beast. The next wave his prayers were answered, but not by the angels as he took off super deep, with tonnes of water contorting just beyond him before setting his inside rail and
driving through the second section, only to have half of the Tasman Sea land on his back. It was definitely a pretty heavy beat down, but when he popped up unshaken and unnerved, he figured if that was as bad as it gets, then bring it on! DK’s job was done and as he grabbed his SUP board and stroked off into the lineup, it was now the newbies time to step into the role. But like a second half Warriors outfit they fell to pieces, not able to deal with the conditions with their limited experience. Add in rolling the ski after the kill switch was accidentally pulled on a pick up, nearly sinking it, and the lads were completely rattled and opted to sit back and watch Master DK do his thing on his paddle board. To be present and witness DK paddle into waves of such consequence, make a few, and get beaten down by several others was pretty damn cool. It was a first for NZ and Daniel was hooting even though he had just popped to the surface after a 30 second hold down and being dragged 40 metres.
It was still only mid morn and with a stiff north-east wind coming up. DK and Chrissy took one look to the sky, and turned to each other and declared “The Ledge, could be cooking!” Heading back in, quickly packing down, we hit the road back to Raglan, arriving back mid-afternoon to the sight of a stacked up Manu Bay point. Known more for its long leg-burning walls, when the right sized conditions line up, combined with the right tide and wind, it turns into a dredging barrel section that has its own local following that all come out of the woodwork. Those that live for these days will tell you though, that to score the ledge, isn’t just a matter of a big swell, low tide, offshore combo. It is a fickle beast that does what it wants, when it wants. Days that look to be epic, completely turn off once the tide reaches the necessary level. Benny who lives on the hill above has watched many days of Ledge transpire and he was calling for epicness in a couple of hours. By the time we returned from lunch it appeared as if someone had turned off the swell tap and the waves had dried up with old Manu dribbling through at three foot. Hardly pushing the required five or six to get the Ledge heaving. Many theories did the rounds, from the swell had peaked in the night and was over, to the tide was running out too fast and holding back the swell. When you consider only hours ago was eight foot, we put our money on that latter theory, and as soon as the tide
pushed a half an hour in, we were on! The infamous Ledge was on fire, draining across the shallow boulder section, with sand stained backlit waves funnelling off down the point under the last few hours of the days light. Chrissy is respected as one of the gurus out here and had his magnet on as usual. Benny who had been working on his tube riding under the guidance of Chris, hit this Ledge session with a new found confidence after his morning of taking on giant beasts and slotted through the wave of the day, putting a smile on the usually reserved lads dial. Along with our Primo Roady crew, came out the underground locals, the after work crew and the Surf Academy, with most of the crowd nabbing a barrel or two. Then there was the beginner surfers down on the inside and the SUP’s all frantically paddling around, it was all go! Thankfully DK had hung up his SUP for the day, and paddled out on his shortboard, immediately proving he was still the King of his own backyard with a couple of long deep pits. And as the sun dropped on down behind the horizon and darkness began to creep, the last of the takers squeezed in as many waves as they could before being unable to see. We had towed and paddled two different waves, that required both of the techniques in one day, and DK had ridden waves by means of an engine, his paddle, and his arms. He was smiling, we were smiling, and all that sampled the Ledge that evening were as well. It’s not about if you paddle or tow, it’s if you have a go!
UP UNTIL RECENTLY BEN POULTER HAS ONLY EVEN KNOWN PADDLE SURFING, NOW THAT HE HAS RIDDEN HIS BIGGEST WAVE EVER, YOU CAN BET TOWING WILL BE PART OF HIS SKILL SET FROM NOW ON.
CHRIS MALONE SLOTTED UNDER PADDLE POWER.
ON HIS FIRST TOW WAVE EVER, JOHNNY FOUND HIS BIGGEST BARREL EVER.
MAIN: NAT HUGHES NABBED A FEW WARPED OUT SAND STAINED DRAINERS.
LUKE MATHERS ONE OF THE MANY UNDERGROUND
LEDGE REGULARS WHO LIVE FOR DAYS LIKE THIS.
ABOVE: DK TOWED, PADDLED AND SUP’D LUCKY THERE WAS NO WIND OR
HE PROBABLY WOULD HAVE RIDDEN ONE ON A KITE BOARD AS WELL.