step up if you dare

We en­ter a swell and a realm where step-up’s and sleep ins are not wel­come! Where do­ing so would be at your own peril!

New Zealand Surfing - - Between Sets - Words and Photos: Cory

There was once a time as a surfer, that once your quiver grew from your first sin­gle ‘Do Ev­ery­thing’ board, to per­haps a back-up or small wave spe­cialty boards, that the most se­ri­ous par­tic­i­pants of the sport dropped an or­der with their lo­cal shaper for a semi-gun, or for the charg­ers a ‘Gun’ and for the real hell-men a ‘rhino chaser’. Here in NZ wa­ters those boards went a lit­tle like this. Most guys for their short­boards rode boards in the range of 6’- 6’3” ob­vi­ously de­pen­dant on their size of course, then their semi guns were around 6’6” and usu­ally pin tailed to smooth out those long lines re­quired when surf­ing waves with a bit more grunt. Then the charg­ers also had boards above 7’0”, when look­ing at these sleek crafts vi­sions of days out beyond the hori­zon came to mind. Then of course there were the com­plete nut cases that had 9’+ boards usu­ally built for spe­cific waves and dusted off once ev­ery cou­ple of sea­sons when the swells shook the very bedrock that NZ’s foun­da­tions were laid upon! New Zealand is not a renowned big wave lo­ca­tion, how­ever tucked away usu­ally in some of the most re­mote parts of the coun­try lie a few gems that when the oceans get an­gry and spawn thick grunty swells these gems roar into life. With an in­tense en­ergy and thick­ness un­like the typ­i­cal big­ger wave ex­pe­ri­ences you may have faced at your lo­cal, these type of waves have a lot of wa­ter mov­ing and push into the coast­line with such speed and force that only a real gun with vol­ume to match should be un­der your chest, any­thing less would be fruit­less and at the same time dan­ger­ous! These are no such places for the ‘Step Up’! An­other phe­nom­e­non that has slipped from surf­ing so­ci­ety in re­cent years, is the of­ten spir­i­tual act of the ‘Dawny’. Ris­ing well into the dark­ness, head­ing off into the un-known with tense an­tic­i­pa­tion screw­ing your stom­ach in knots. Out through the dark­ness you can hear the en­ergy, you can sense the power and you can also taste the salt air which is full of sea spray from the pound­ing of the ocean. The fol­low­ing is a story about such a day, a day that be­gan well be­fore dawn, a day where only big balls and big boards would sur­vive! Sleep in or show up un­der-gunned and you may as well head on back home! The num­bers on the dig­i­tal charts had pre-empted our move, not for years, in fact eight years, had we seen such fig­ures this close to the event. Sure, there are plenty of big swells fore­casted through­out the year that get the blood boil­ing, how­ever most within a few days dis­si­pate quickly, and what looked so very promis­ing can of­ten de­liver very lit­tle. What made this swell even more unique was that it was all about to go down in mid-sum­mer, in fact in the first week of the year, dur­ing a pe­riod when the most com­mon waves are 1-2 foot and sea breeze on­shore. And while this swell grew as it passed up the east­erly side of NZ, it also came with off­shore winds in the pack­age. Af­ter eight years of noth­ing quite like this, many were fooled into be­liev­ing the charts were over-call­ing the fig­ures and chose to wake and see what their lo­cal beach breaks would de­liver. Oth­ers, and many oth­ers, sim­ply ad­mit­ted that their quiver was a shadow of its for­mer self and only con­sisted of their stan­dard board and of course that by now fa­mil­iar ti­tle a ‘Step-Up’ one or two inches longer. Where had the real boards gone? Awak­en­ing one­self at 3:30AM dur­ing a pub­lic hol­i­day pe­riod felt like mad­ness, yet ex­treme mea­sures are some­times called for when ex­tremes are hap­pen­ing. Off into the dark­ness we drove, one eye on the road, the other on any form of wind di­rec­tion sign, the puff of smoke from in­dus­trial chim­neys or the an­gle of lean of the road­side toitoi’s. Was it off­shore? Had the swell filled in? An hour’s drive later, all the ques­tions we sought an­swers to were laid out in front of our eyes when pulling around the last bend to the sight of lines to the hori­zon, and

these were not just your typ­i­cal nice swell cor­duroy, but thick, high en­ergy moun­tains. You know when a wave ap­proached and be­gins to break that when the crest takes a good five sec­onds to hit the bot­tom and ex­plode that it’s rather big, in fact MAS­SIVE! Back in 2009 a jour­ney into the un­known to a reef out beyond the hori­zon took place, a jour­ney which fruit­fully pro­duced the biggest waves ever rid­den on the shores of Aotearoa, and that took place at a spot not too far from here. This swell was even big­ger than that day, and once the lo­cal lads were up and amongst it, laying eyes on their home waves break­ing in places they’d never seen it break, it was ev­i­dent this was one for the his­tory books. At first light the con­di­tions were sim­ply maxed out and far too dan­ger­ous to at­tempt, yet as fast as this swell was to ap­pear, it was also fore­casted to drop away just as quickly, the key was to utilise that win­dow when it be­came man­age­able enough to surf, yet not miss­ing the best op­por­tu­ni­ties. Blair Ste­wart is one such surfer that lives for days like this, he is also a surfer that over the years, while the stepup board had be­come all the rage, he knew that there would come a time when a real ‘GUN’ would come back into its own, the only thing he had to do was blow off the inch of dust that had gath­ered since it’s last use, prob­a­bly at Sun­set Beach in Hawaii 2004. The 7’6” bladed Ralph Blake shaped pin tail would ride again! Bobby Hansen was an­other of the surfers up for the chal­lenge yet Bobby had openly ad­mit­ted that he didn’t think his biggest board of 5’10” would be up to the task, so he rolled in late af­ter spend­ing the morn­ing scroung­ing around town for the biggest board he could bor­row, get­ting his hands on a 6’8” off his shaper Tommy Dal­ton. While an early start was called for, as it’s bet­ter to be on point than chase your tail all day, most of the morn­ing was spent psych­ing up, watch­ing the lineup set­tle, prep­ping, and al­most go­ing, be­fore an­other 15 foot set of eight waves would close out the bay and de­ter an en­try. So by the time Bobby ar­rived it had set­tled enough that his tim­ing was per­fect! Blair had waxed that slick 7’6” mul­ti­ple times as he hes­i­tantly waited in hope a wing man would show to join him. There is no scarier place to be than out the back of this am­phithe­atre with rogue 12-15 foot sets ap­proach­ing and you are scratch­ing for the hori­zon on your own. Sim­ply hav­ing one man there to take the beat­ings with you, oddly puts one at ease. This break was once shrouded in mys­tery, a place whose name was only pre­vi­ously mut­tered in the form of whis­per, and where vis­it­ing surfers have been hes­i­tant to visit through fear of in­tim­i­da­tion. This day the only in­tim­i­da­tion came in the form of bru­tal waves that ex­ploded on the man-sized boul­ders be­neath the over­hang­ing cliff, which was by now lined with on­look­ers, mar­vel­ling at the mon­strous swells, await­ing the en­ter­tain­ing sight of some­one will­ing to take it all on! Some­times when you think about some­thing too much you can psych your­self out, Bobby was still in prepa­ra­tion mode and Blair had been prep­ping for the last four hours, and he took one look at the last set, said noth­ing and run off down the hill and out to the jump spot, full solo guinea pig styles. The peanut gallery now had a glad­i­a­tor! When Blair launched him­self into the on­com­ing surge and out into the lineup he ap­peared noth­ing more than a cork bob­bing around in a gi­ant ocean, yet Blair was more than a pow­er­less cork, he had many years of ex­pe­ri­ence in sit­u­a­tions such as this and the phys­i­cal prepa­ra­tion needed. Stroking out beyond the usual take off boil put Blair in a zone he had not ven­tured for quite some time, yet that de­mon in­side reared it­self, and that quiet, ten­ta­tive surfer that had left the land, once again turned into a beast! The first set steamed in as Blair moved into po­si­tion, with arms pow­er­ing and head down, his mo­men­tum

wasn’t enough on this one, which had a few of the peanut gallery pun­ters set­tled in safely up on the cliff, throw in their arm­chair cri­tique. “Oh, what a pussy, he should have gone that one!” Was one call over­heard! The same guy was prob­a­bly si­lenced when Blair swung late on the very next lump, was held up in the wind and re­leased into a free fall, stick­ing at the bot­tom and laying two mas­sive deep bot­tom turn to sweep­ing carve com­bos, through to the in­side bowl where it bowled up and Blair threaded an in­side bar­rel and was blown out into the chan­nel! What a start, get­ting kegged on the first wave! Bobby in the mean­time was still stuck on the in­side, with set af­ter set pour­ing in with no re­lief mak­ing his en­try a lit­tle sticky, he was also joined by an­other uniden­ti­fied sol­dier, who upon tak­ing his first few strokes looked com­pletely out of his depth. Bobby recog­nis­ing the sit­u­a­tion and im­me­di­ately said, “Hey bro, it’s not re­ally a good idea for you to be out here” to which the bro replied, “Oh bro I know I look like a kook cause I’ve only be­ing surf­ing a cou­ple of weeks, but I’m usu­ally a booger, so I’ll be sweet!” Turns out the booger in ques­tion, spends most of the year charg­ing huge Teahupoo pits and was more than com­fort­able in the heavy stuff, so big ups to that bro for tak­ing on such a for­eign craft in waves such as this. Al­though Bobby was on a 6’8” he ap­peared to be un­der­wa­ter most of the time and ad­mit­ted later that the board may as well have been a tooth pick, yet he even­tu­ally stroked his way to the out­side to join Blair, only to pad­dle over his first wave to the sight of the en­tire bay closed out by six waves in a row. This punched both the lads deep, hold­ing Blair down on one for a good 20 sec­onds, which when you time it is a damn long time, By the time that set fin­ished they had all been swept all the way through the

bay to where they had first jumped out! That ex­pe­ri­ence would be enough to make most call it quits, yet with a few hoots and smiles as they made their way back out the chan­nel it was ob­vi­ous these lads were in it for the long haul. While the swell was drop­ping away slowly ev­ery so of­ten those gi­gan­tic close out sets sent the lads into sur­vival mode, for those that know this wave, they can tell you what it takes for a wave to close out this bay, at 8 foot the nor­mal take-off is just off the boil which was a good 80 me­tres fur­ther in, at 10-12 the take-off is still not out where the lads were po­si­tioned this day, and those black out sets, they broke an­other fur­ther 70 me­tres out again. But in be­tween, there were some epic waves rid­den, and many waves that were and could not be taken that lit up on the in­side with gap­ing bar­rels that just breathed. The peanut gallery had by now swollen to num­bers that would give the Welling­ton 7’s a run of their money, which was an odd sight for the reg­u­lars, but when half of NZ was on hol­i­day and a fair por­tion of them vis­it­ing lo­cally, the word was out on the best New Year’s en­ter­tain­ment go­ing. By mid­day the swell be­gan to slow rapidly, which opened the door for a few other sol­diers to have a run at the prize, while Bobby and Blair had filled their boots and were sim­ply look­ing to catch a wave in. A swell such as this would only ap­pear a few times in one’s surf­ing life­span, so to be on point and to take their chances and push the lim­its, the lads were glow­ing when they walked on up the hill to the sight of a cold brew on a stink­ing hot sum­mers day! 2017 be­gan with a bang! What’s next?

It was a sell­out!

The peanut gallery was treated to some epic en­ter­tain­ment.

TOP TO BOT­TOM: Big wave surf­ing can be a frus­trat­ing thing, what ap­pears like a dud out­side off the take­off can of­fer up a bowl like this 150 me­tres fur­ther in­side, and you have no idea. / Blair Ste­wart has surfed here since he was 14 and has never been so hes­i­tant to take the jump. Go­ing solo guinea pig styles. / That right side piece of white­wa­ter is the usual take­off boil when its 8-10, so use that for scale and you have the pic­ture.

Two men (yes those dots are surfers) and a rather per­fectly shaped 15 footer.

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