a. Perspectives: Hurricane Marie at Wedge
b. Salty Fins: Mark Cunningham
c. The Art of Packing a Beach Kit
d. Fin Quiver: Sean Enoka
e. Our Hurricane Marie Experience
a. Perspectives: Hurricane Marie at Wedge
b. Salty Fins: Mark Cunningham
c. The Art of Packing a Beach Kit
d. Fin Quiver: Sean Enoka
e. Our Hurricane Marie Experience
Hurricane Marie is one of those rare occurrences where the hype, hope, expectation, and execution all came together. I watched the forecasts and was doubtful of the hype. The storm moved fast at 14-16kts and pretty westerly at that. That being said, I still cleared my schedule from Tuesday on and hoped for the best. I got to the Wedge Tuesday around noon and saw fun 6-8′ surf, nothing epic but it was only Tuesday.
I swam out a little past noon on Tuesday hoping to get a few waves and loosen up in the water…after doing my own physical preparation regimen at home before hand. The swell was clearly pleased with my arrival and immediately threw out a solid 10-12′ set and followed it with one in the 12-15′ range. Then another even bigger set broke as a “hurricane style freight train”. By 2pm Tuesday it was on and any doubts had been squashed! I rode solid hurricane Wedge with my oldest son, his buddy Jordon, and one other bodysurfer for 3 hours!
Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning became an exercise in–stay calm–conserve energy(after already surfing my ass off all day)–and be ready! This became more challenging as my phone began to blow up with calls and texts from 10 different buddies and my brother, who would soon be boarding an airplane for Oregon for the week. With my wife out of town for a couple days to attend a funeral the responsibility to care for our four children was my last “real life” hurdle to attend to before heading to the W for the day. So armed with an entire loaf of pb & js, snacks, and gallons of water, we hit the road to Wedge…and so did the rest of Southern California!!
I used all the back alley tricks I know to reach 12th street by 9:30 but that’s where we came to a roaring halt! 11th St. 9:45, 10th 10:05… 9th at 10:30 and I was losing my mind! Calm was dead and gone! We need to be at Wedge now! Finally we made it where a back alley opens up, the location of which I will keep a secret, and hauled ass all the way to C street through the back door, and re-entered the mayhem without delay with the help of crossing pedestrian. We scored a parking spot on Miramar directly in front of the Piani residence and were back on track and back in my realm.
The surf met a very lofty expectation. Wedge that day was one of the best solid size days in recent memory. What really made it special was witnessing an entire generation of upcoming Wedge Crew riders earn their stripes. Also, its always great to ride solid, clean, and consistent Wedge with a core group of riders with which I have had the privilege to do so for the last 3+decades. It was a rare day where everyone’s stoke tank was overflowing and the day passed without any significant conflict or injury–a rarity at Wedge unfortunately.
Hurricane Marie was definitely one for the ages and I look forward to meeting her sister 🙂
My first thought on big Wedge swells is… will it be clean? I don’t care how big it is, if it’s not rideable, I’m going back to bed! The crowd always brings another level of energy…something you feel immediately. Parting the crowd to get to the berm’s edge is always a trip…people’s first reaction seems to be one of annoyance when you ask them to get through. They think you’re going to cut in front of them for a front row seat to the mayhem. When they see you are about to enter the water you can almost feel the attitude change to, “Oh, it’s one of those crazy fools about to die.”
On days like the one we just went through, one of your first “warm-up” waves may be a 15’+ closeout peak…so warming up comes quickly so you have to be focused from the start. On these days, the real warming up takes place on the beach.
It was a great showing by all of the Crew! Nice to see the youngest guys maintaining the Wedge Crew bravado. I won’t rate this swell compared to others, you can’t. Too many factors which dictate a good vs. great swell to consider…but it was big and clean! A little bigger is always better! 😉
For big Wedge swells, I usually sike myself out and tell myself it’s going to be a lot smaller than forecasted. On Aug. 27th, I watched the first set roll in and it was a hell of a lot bigger then I thought it was going to be. I tried to stay focused and study the conditions. I watched each set looking for the cleanest waves and the ones that were best shaped for bodysurfing.
When I finally swam out, I felt amazing. That’s the only thing that calms me on a big day. It forces me to slow everything down and focus on the surf. One of the reasons I love bodysurfing Wedge and other heavy spots is it forces me to block out all the bullshit of life and just focus on my surroundings.
After I took the first set on the head, I realized how much more playful big hurricanes swells are compared to big southern hemi swells like the one in 2009. I knew it was going to be a fun day for all the boys. I was really impressed with all the young Wedge riders, they all stepped up to the occasion and rode amazing…and Chris Kalima is a BEAST.
When I first arrived at Wedge I was blown away by the amount of drones in the air. I was impressed by the size of the waves, but I was more impressed by how good the in-between ones were. Some of the peaks were moving pretty fast so it took getting out in the water to feel out what was going on. When I hopped down the sand berm I was stoked to see all my boys swimming out with me at the same time.
The first wave I caught, I didn’t make because it broke on top of my head. The hold down wasn’t bad but on the inside there was a lot of water moving almost pulling you back to where the biggest part of the wave broke. That happened to me a few times which wasn’t a good time. I will remember all the boys charging and leaving the beach stoked on great, big Wedge. Great day for everyone.
I arrived at 6:30am and couldn’t believe how clean it was. I wasn’t living in California when Linda hit in 1997, so I can’t compare the two swells, but it was easily the biggest surf at the Wedge I’ve ever witnessed. I was pumped. There were so many waves rolling through, I knew everyone would score. The outside was super crowded, so my plan was to sit inside and pick off the medium ones until the crowd thinned a bit. I ended up wearing most of the bigger sets, but found a lot of funs ones in between. Honestly, we so rarely see any waves of consequence in Southern California that getting caught inside actually got me really excited. I love that shit.
The Marie swell is the standard that all future hurricane swells will now be measured against in my book. Big, consistent, and the winds actually cooperated the entire day. I was psyched to see everyone charging, some in their 20s, others in their 50s, it was awesome to watch. Plus I found some new lineup markers that I filed away for future reference, I might have to write them down so I remember 20 years from now.
Thomas Van Melum
When I arrived, my first thought was, “What a circus!” — if you’re going you may as well be dressed as a clown. I love the circus down there. I was happy to see A BUNCH of randys and news trucks around — to hear the grumpy old men talk about how it was in ’88, uncrowded — nervous because my feet were cut to shit from too much bodysurfing the week before on that TS Lowell swell. Hurricane stuff isn’t scary (Southern Hemis are a different story). But even then, I grew up here. I’ve spent a lot of time here. I don’t feel nervous or scared or anything when it gets big. As big spots go, this place is honestly pretty tame. Shit, there’s a fucking harbor on the other side, it can’t be that gnarly.
Preparing to swim out, you want to stay calm — so I walked right over to Sexy Jeff and jokingly said “I’m going to do a flip off this berm, then if I hurt my foot, I have an excuse to not go out.” I want to put on a good show — I want the crowd to get their monies worth. Once I saw the sets, I knew how epic the day was going to be. I decided right then and there I was going to stay out as long as I could, I may not get another chance at swell like this at The Wedge Street.
I took a mini freight on the head less than 10 minutes into my session…we all did. I dove 10+ feet down, and felt NOTHING. Could have been in a swimming pool for all I knew. Easy peazy japensezy. I always take the first wave that comes to me in the beginning of a session — helps get a feel for the day and set the tone. The first wave I caught was small and rippable — it solidified my feelings that today was THE DAY. This day has been a dream of mine.
The sequence that sticks out most in my mind was this: I took the first wave of a set. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arch nemesis, SHREDDER. I popped up all smiles. Then I saw Matty Larson taking off on the next wave. BALLS, that wave was epic. He was getting tossed around like a rag doll on this wave but still bodysurfing it. I could really see him doing everything in his power to ride, but I could also see that there was very little within his power he could do to ride. He made it to the end of that wave and got a GIANT barrel riding the foamball. That was a good 30 seconds.
Overall, I’ll remember how much fun it is to bodysurf with your friends — after all I’m in a different spot in my life, my daughter took her first steps the night before. While most people were watching videos of Wedge getting bigger and bigger, I was watching the video of my daughter’s first steps over and over again. Timing is a funny thing.
I had to ride my bike down from my house for this swell because the traffic was so bad from all the hype. I didn’t get down until 2 because it took me an extra 40 minutes to ride down after I got off work. When I first pulled up most the other Crew guys were done with what I hear was an epic session.
The waves were pretty damn big so I rushed to get my gear on. I talked Matt Larson into going out with me for another session and right when we were about to jump in a set of about 10 waves piled through. I’m in pretty bad shape from all the desk work I’ve been doing lately so at that point I was questioning my intelligence of going out haha. We ended up paddling out right after the set and got out in the lineup pretty quickly.
Once I got out there the current started going mad. It was a constant battle to stay in position for at least 45 minutes. I got one “ok” wave and then had to pull some kid onto the lifeguard boat that panicked. I ended up getting out pretty soon after that once I realized it wasn’t getting any better.
The thing I’ll remember most about this swell is Matt Larson going on a bomb freight train set that I thought there was no way he’d make down. He did. And he did it with a smile on his face. That guy is a beast. I was also pretty stoked on all the younger crew guys like Teddy Bandaruk that stepped it up this swell too. The future of the Crew is looking stronger than ever thanks to guys like him.
Mark shifted from side to side in the hotel lobby armchair. Having just arrived from a lifeguarding contest in Virginia Beach, Mark looked every inch of 6’4. As he told us about growing up in Honolulu in the veritable hotbed of future Oahu surfing legends, I tried to imagine the tall, awkward 18 year old plunging into the waters at Ehukai, all in the days when Pipeline was the brutal proving grounds for the world’s most adventurous wave riders.
It was true. His arms and legs looked almost too long for his body, like stretched coils bouncing with each long step. And it’s no secret those coils run smooth when balanced in salt water. Later we swam in the shadow of the Oceanside Pier and his movements turned to silk. He chatted up other bodysurfers, hooted for the boys and rode straight on closeouts. Mark was at home in the Pacific.
His Irish-Lithuanian roots raised him in the suburbs of Oahu. Wanting the cheapest beers in town, Mark’s dad often made trips to the local Elk’s Lodge with Mark in tow. Young Cunningham would hang around the lifeguard who was the first to get Mark into a pair of swim fins. To Mark, the teenage lifeguard was the epitome of cool. He tried his hand at other activities too. Mark played baseball for years, but found himself wanting more and more water time. He loved comics, but instead of idolizing Superman and Batman he was fascinated by the adventures of Tarzan. Tarzan, lord of the jungle, based on a man thriving in the wild with little need for technology or collared shirts. Another icon Mark would one day emulate in his own way, saving people from the dangers of mother nature.
Cunningham dabbled with organized swimming and played water polo at UCSB for a couple of years. In 1975 Mark joined a try out to be a lifeguard. The test involved swimming round the Ventura pier, but the Hawaiian wasn’t keen on cold water swimming. He concocted a Bengay/Vaseline mixture and lathered himself up for the task. He stood in a long line of boys breathing warm air into their hands and shaking for heat. The young Hawaiian was stoic and focused. He recalls the heat of the Bengay was trapped by the Vaseline burning and challenging his resolve, but as soon as he hit the water he was thankful. The risk paid off and Mark was stoked to make $10 an hour for the rest of the guard season.
The following year, an already homesick Cunningham learned of his father’s passing. Mark found his way back to Oahu where he again tried making something of the nonaquatic life. Life as a real estate agent in Waikiki was a position that promised comfort and potential for monetary success. Something wasn’t right. Maybe he didn’t have the salesman’s skills or maybe he didn’t want to. In either case, Cunningham’s lifelong passion was ignited on the sands of Ehukai in 1976 when he first became a lifeguard at Pipeline.
Mark spent just shy of 30 years guarding the lives of people walking, swimming and surfing the North Shore of Oahu. As he talks about the legendary waterman he had the honor of serving beside, Mark’s pride is apparent. He is a “Lifeguard for life.” Cunningham has appeared in iconic surf films, donned the pages of popular culture print articles and carried the 11-time world champion surfer up the beach in quintessential moments, but the man is lifeguard through and through. He says, “I’m just a retired lifeguard living on a pension.”
We spent the weekend around Oceanside with many of California’s top bodysurfers. Mark was rarely alone. We witnessed young children and salty veterans alike take humble approaches to shake Cunningham’s hand. Mark gave his attention to each pilgrim and the only time his answers were short was when he was running to get ready for a heat. The check-in table called several times, “Mark Cunningham please check-in for your heat.” The announcer’s voice more nervous as we inched closer to the start of his heat. The rest of us chuckled and craned our necks to see where the world’s most famous bodysurfer could be hiding. Mark took long, casual strides to retrieve his cap and greeted the rest of the competitors just moments before the horn sounded.
This was Mark, taking relentless attention and praise with quiet gratitude. He was content to talk shop and demonstrate his waterman prowess. When speaking with him on the sand his eyes would track the horizon. Faithful training never fails. Cunningham’s casual personality did little to hide his deep reservoir of passion for the Ocean and all that it offers. The 59-year-old has dedicated his life to what he described as “the ultimate impact zone: where the Earth meets the sky and water” and if you happen to find yourself in the waters of the North Shore someday that’s where you’re like to find him.
By Skye Walker
So you’re ready for a full day at the beach huh? No matter the season, when swell arrives… you and your buddies are stoked. It’s time to go to your favorite spot and slay some dragons. Aside from being mentally prepared to throw your body into dark, barreling caverns or slide down the face of a good sized water wall, you have to be prepared for the mission. This means bringing the essentials to the beach and I’m not talking about a People magazine and a diet soda. I’m talking about a real beach kit.
I’m not the best surfer or bodysurfer in the world, but I have mastered the art of packing my bag for epic coastal adventures. The last thing you want is to be stuck at the beach with no supplies while it’s firing. Stay and catch waves or leave to go get some essentials and by the time you get back it’s all over…who wants to risk that? Don’t be the guy who’s bumming water, food or towels off your bros because you didn’t think ahead.
If you can park your car in front of your favorite spot, by all means enjoy the easy access. But if you have to hike down trails that look like they’re from The Lord of the Rings, or slog down miles of beach to get to that secluded no-way-in-hell-anyone-will-be-here-spot…you have to be prepared. As humans, we all need similar items when posting up on a beach in the sun and exposing our fleshy bodies to the elements for hours.
So let’s break it down. The first thing you need for your kit is a solid backpack. Sure you can carry a bunch of stuff in your hands, but why do that when you can put it on your back? It can be any pack, but preferably one that has a solid material that can withstand water, dirt and sand. I’m using an ArcTeryx pack meant for backcountry snowboarding, but it turned out to be great for bodysurf missions.
Now the gear. I like gear. Here are my recommendations for the right gear for your assault…season to your liking and taste of course.
There are many other things that you can bring to the beach. That’s the beauty of a beach kit, to each their own! Get weird with it. Load up your pack with whatever you want. Just pack accordingly, you might be having the session of your life and don’t want to leave because you don’t have food or water. This all might seem like common knowledge…but people still leave their babies on the roof of their car and drive off…not cool.
So pack your bag right and tight. Your friends will be impressed. The ladies will take notice (no they won’t) and you’ll feel confident that you’re not only going to catch the wave of your life… but you’ll be styled and dialed on the beach afterwards.
6:30pm The Night Before: EJ
Newport is buzzing. There are humans everywhere, on bike and foot and stopped in cars. Parents usher their children through the gates of the great coliseum. I walk the sidewalk and feel the ground tremble. After years of anticipation, the booming sound of my own daydream synces with my reality.
10:30pm The Night Before: EJ
Skye, Kyle and myself sip on beers sitting in the sticky Newport sand. I stare at breakers through the still darkness. Visions strobing through my mind, two-story waves swallowing bodysurfers, spitting them onto the rocky jetty. I have to remember. We’d trained our legs and lungs for this and we are ready. Sleep would not come easy. I shift from side to side in my sleeping bag on the floor. Thankful to have a roof and a bathroom for the morning (always an issue when travelling to Wedge), I focus on breathing and collecting my energy to let my body rest for the morning.
The swell rumbled me awake as I urban camped on 50th St. I groggily drive to the end of the Peninsula, scoring the best parking spot possible. A few dozen people pace the beach waiting for the show while a couple of jittery bodyboarders chat excitedly.
Sitting on the jetty rocks, I see the outline of large peaks bouncing off the jetty. The whole beach shakes. Then I’m blinded by headlights approaching from the street. I think, “That’s weird, the street ends up there.” The headlights get closer, “What the hell are they doing?” Rumbling over rocks, down the beach, the KTLA news van comes to an abrupt stop 5 ft. from where I’m sitting. The driver quickly puts it in reverse…and digs himself deeper into the sand…stuck.
Boards and hoards begin to arrive. More news trucks fill the end of the street. The beach quakes from what must be truly massive, but unseen waves.
The coastline is still stifled in shadow, but the behind a few lines of obvious urban-campers, riders were beginning to park. Most of the early-risers were bouncing with excitement, but some looked downright intimidated. The swell had done its part and now it was up those of us who had waited to step into the water. I had plenty of distractions; the news truck stuck in the sand, the drone operators, the wide-eyed onlookers and the Purps beverage slingers. Stay focused. Watch the waves, study the waves, know the waves. The next few hours were a blink.
Civil twilight brings the first sign of light. Suddenly there are hundreds of people taking their spectator positions. Finally, the full scale of the Hurricane Marie swell is revealed and it is not a disappointment.
The first wave of the day is successfully ridden by a surfer. The flood gates open: bodyboarders and surfers rush the lineup.
Pipeline charger, Jamie O’Brien, shows up with his normal shortboard and a soft-top surfboard. He attempts to paddle out on them simultaneously, but as he enters the water at Cylinders, a huge set stacks up. As the first wave approaches, he stands on the soft-top and tries to heave his shortboard over the top while he dives into the shallow water. His boards wash back to the beach and he swims in after them…smiling.
O’Brien pulls off his board transfer stunt by paddling into the peak on the soft-top while holding his shortboard. Half way down the face, he puts the shortboard on the wave and jumps onto it. He finishes the ride by pulling into a mean, foamy barrel. The ever-increasing crowd cheers.
Eric Thulander catches the first bodysurf wave of the day, a solid right on the inside. While South African, Robin Mohr battles it out on the peak. Catching a couple of bombs dangerously surrounded by boards from the drop. I made the decision the week before that I was not swimming out. I was an excited spectator. But my boy EJ had been waiting for this. He’s been spending some time up here and he wanted it. He was anxious but ready.
9:40am (20mins until Black Ball): EJ
Much of the Crew is in the rocks and getting in their wetsuits. Teddy is literally bouncing. He’s half singing and half screaming, fake-boxing with Starky’s chest. I go the other direction. I hardly want to speak. My eyes avoid contact. Sometimes I’ll meet eyes with another guy in the same “zone.” We nod and reabsorb into our personal ether. Collect energy. We’ve all been looking at these freight train waves for hours, but Kyle and Skye find me. Kyle tells me that I don’t have to go out, but by his smirk I know he’s aware I decided to swim out months ago. My body suddenly felt the immensity of the situation. I’m racing on my bike across the peninsula, bound to find myself contemplating each of my exhilarating adventures in the squalor of public restrooms.
Cheers to the Crew. They had to swim out. Regardless of their apprehensions and nerves. They had fought so hard for this. It was their time. Blackball. Newport Beach City Resolution 95-116. At 9:50, they gathered on the berm. 9:55 a massive set rumbled down the Jetty. At 10:01, after the set cleared, Chuck Olson led the charge. The Boys straight charged. There was only about 15 of them max at any given time. But very few waves went unridden. There was a group of guys sitting on the inside catching well-overhead runners all the away across to the sand. A group sat in the middle, riding perfect peaks into cavernous barrels. And a few guys lurked out the back, furiously kicking into, and successfully riding the biggest 20fters. It was a spectacle. A celebration of the Blackball. A tribute to the history and culture of bodysurfing.
From the berm, I’ve never seen the look like this, but at this point I need to get in the water. The gallery is 7-8 people deep. I’m wading through bodies, each with eyes glued to the horizon. Eager to get in, but I have to watch the jetty. Whitewater on the jetty means sit your ass back down. All clear? Go. My nerves are twisted and tied, but as soon as my wetsuit fills with the Pacific energy nervousness is a distant memory. Swim. Letting the wash do the work I’m in the lineup unscathed and the “lineup” is scattered. There are heads bobbing outside, no doubt Kalima, Larson, JT and Teddy. There are a handful of guys doing laps on the “inside,” catching perfect 10-12ft cornerbowls to the sand. Their artful rides are jaw dropping. I had decided to sit on the inside of the peak towards Brutals. The truly perfect hurricane peaks were inconsistent at best, but I saw a couple of smaller “sets” swinging wide to the north and that’s where I’d hunt.
I’m trying to find a spot to spectate and photograph. The thick crowd is serious about holding their spots. Ooohs, ahhs and gasps resound with every wave ridden. A giant set breaks out the back and a bodysurfer charges down the face, much to the delight of the crowd. Unknowingly, the crowd continues to spectate the action in the water as the first wave of the set rushes unimpeded up the beach. Slamming into and over the tall berm. Everyone nearby is soaked. Including the guy holding the $3,000 in sandy, dripping wet camera gear. Lot’s of action all around!
I’ve caught a few to the inside. Feeling comfortable. Everyone left in the water is grinning ear to ear. Look at that crowd. I just noticed thousands of people staring back at me from the sand. Surreal. There would be chargers among them. They may even remember back to that day in 2014 when they watched a handful of bodysurfers swim the thin line between chaos and control. Now they’re whistling. Oh shit, they’re whistling at the jetty. I whip around to see Godzilla rising out the back. Scurry and scrape. Not going to make it. I’m arcing my neck straight up in a way that I haven’t since childhood. Experiencing the elephant as the mouse and I’m swimming deep. Long strokes, deep. Each breath has been practiced and the collision of water is epic. Popping out of the churning Ocean and then I’m deep again. On the third I catch a blur of a body air dropping into the pocket of the beast. He stuck it, whoever it was. Bodies rolling in the high seas.
After a succession of waves, each bigger and better, I am saying my goodbyes. I’m solemnly aware of the specialness in this rotation of the Earth. 14 years since the last, who knows how long til the next. A slow sniff of the moment and I float on my back to look up. My private reflection ended and I start tracking what looks to be a swinging inside peak. It’s big. Thomas, who has shared a number of waves with guys already calls out, “you got it? Looks like a makeable closeout.” Makeable closeout.
It pitches. I’m locked. I’m the blur. In the cave. Out the caaavvve… back in. It blurs, I’m pitched, then expanded in all directions. The big bang and then the sand. Love.