(Words by Dustin Tester) It’s taken a couple of days to digest what I experienced at Jaws, January 16, 2016. In the intermittent ten years that I’ve been out there, it may have been one of my most memorable days. Even though it was a day after the peak of the swell heralding the biggest paddle in waves in Jaws history, I witnessed some legendary performances in clean thirty-foot conditions. Not to mention, enjoying the spectrum of characters and pros magnetized to our boat in the channel. I felt like the Queen of Peahi. Despite being in charge of gear and food, I lounged in the channel for twelve hours on a beanbag aboard a sweet fishing boat, for the best show on Earth. How exactly did I get this lucky? Thanks to Liz Warrick Smith, my social marketing director, who extended an invitation to be a crew on her husband’s boat, which just happens to be Kai Lenny’s Peahi support boat.
My day started at six in the morning aboard Matt Smith’s gear stacked Riddle fishing boat with a beaming Kai Lenny, Mo Freitas and Shaun Lopez. It ended at six at night accidentally flashing my beaming white butt to Kelly Slater. I’ll get back to that story later.
Myself being the only female on the boat, I knew I was in for a long day of testosterone mixed with adrenaline, Red Bull, and thirty-foot waves. A tomboy and adrenaline junkie at heart, I was totally up for opportunity to experience Jaws again, even if it was from the channel. It’s been five years since I was whipped into the waves (tow-surfing) that they are now paddling into. I was more than stoked to live vicariously through these legends in the making. Especially after almost four long months of couch surfing from my ankle surgery.
Kai Lenny, sporting his black neoprene Parka coat, looked like an ocean gladiator standing tall on the gunnel checking the surf when we showed up. In less than five minutes he was waxing his 8’6” gun and literally surfed it off the side of the boat. Our skilled Captain Matt stationed us perfectly in the channel for our photographers to capture Kai and all the pros in their glory. Wishing my Nikon camera was working, I resolved myself to my iPhone with constant snapchat and Instagram photo (follow us @mauisurfergirls) updates throughout the morning. I digressed from Queen status to Tourist status pretty quickly.
A SUP guy sitting on the shoulder caught our eye; we flagged down Victor Lopez on the rescue ski to check him out. He sported booties and reflector tape on his paddle and seemed out of place in this elite line-up of pros. He reported back to us that he said he “SUP-ed Mavericks 500 times” and was perfectly fine holding his own out there. Needless to say we kept an eye on him and called him “Mavericks” all morning.
(Most images by Dustin Tester – For images by professional photographers, click on the image to go directly to their website)
I kept busy hucking bottled water, Red Bulls and bean burritos to everyone. Kai said bean burritos are his favorite fuel out here because it’s easily digestible and lasts him all day. And that it did. Three bean burritos later and he literally clocked a ten-hour day of surfing and SUPing thirty footers. He even snapped his SUP after a horrendous close out barrel clamp down. After his rescue on the inside by Victor Lopez, he returned to the boat surprisingly unphased. He excitedly explained that his feet hit the cement-like bottom. The water pressure was on his back so hard that he was in a squat position, holding the force of that wave on his back and shoulders. Total ocean gladiator status! After another bean burrito, he paddled off on his gun to surf more bombs.
Definitely one of my highlights was watching my best friend Andrea Moller paddle into her biggest wave of the season, quite possibly career at Jaws. Kai opted out of the wave, and Andrea went for a monster set wave towering at least twenty-five feet over her head. I held my breath in fear and excitement for her. Although she didn’t successfully complete her bottom turn, she wiped out like a champ – breaking her board and surviving a long hold down. I’m in constant awe of her courage and strength out there. She’s a mother, paramedic, elite paddler, and water woman with a heart of gold. I’ll always treasure the experiences she gave me in the early days of us women charging Jaws together.
OK, I know you all are dying to hear about me mooning Kelly Slater, by accident of course. First of all, I was trying to be “cool” around him when he showed up at our fishing boat to grab the gun that Kai had loaded for him. I’ve met him a couple times, and each time I’m totally tongue-tied and star struck like a giddy teenage girl. I watched his first ride and was so impressed with how comfortable he surfed out there. He even carved a quick snap off the lip at the end of the wave like it was a six-foot wave. After watching him for almost an hour, it was getting dark and I was cold in my wet leggings. I piled into the mess of bags in the cabin to change my clothes. As I awkwardly struggled with my sweats, thick cotton sticking on my wet skin, the boat tipped to the side giving me a view of Kelly beaming a smile on his board next to the boat. I’m not sure how long he was there. I just started cracking up at myself – of course I’d flash one the greatest surfers of all time. I digress further from Queen to Tourist to the Flasher of Peahi. We all proceed with small talk. I even offered him my spot on the beanbag for the ride home, secretly hoping he’d just want to share it with me… He quickly got whisked away with Kai on the back of his jet ski instead.
A big mahalo to Liz and her husband Matt for literally making my winter! A day I will never forget at “Jaws”.