Perspectives: Prepping for a Big Swell

Bodysurfers around the world take on challenging waves. Each of them risk life and limb to experience the Ocean in a way few people even dream of. A few bodysurfers have offered an inside perspective on how they get ready when big swell is headed their way.

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Nick Menas

The one thing I do to get ready for a BIG SWELL, like on the North Shore, in town at Panics, or on the Westside, is check and make sure my Handboards are in good shape the night before. They require constant repair and I believe you’re only as good as you’re prepared, but you have to know your limits, and the tide matters! I mentally envision GOING BIG at home on the computer with all the forecasts and cam views, but getting “Eyes On” the break provides me all the information I need before heading out to the line-up. Seeing where the rips, rocks, and peaks are located help me understand the conditions that will put me in the right place, at the right time, for a great ride. It doesn’t matter if the surf is big or small, just catching waves makes me happy.


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Kalani Lattanzi

For tell the truth I didn’t train for that, I live at Itacoatiara beach the heaviest wave in the world in my opinion, so it’s already a big surf training there. The most important thing is mentally, I use to say ” it’s only water.”


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Daniel Williams

I‘ve been a part of the old guy crowd for a while now. This means I’ve lost a step or two and what used to be muscle mass is now more or less jelly donut density. This of course means that when it comes to big waves I have come to rely on accumulated wave knowledge over time and muscle memory. Muscle memory being the one thing I work on before a proper swell shows. Putting in my water time the day(s) before the arrival of large surf allows me to tap into that muscle memory so hopefully when I hit the surf I’ll have developed a flow and rhythm that might just help keep me from getting my ass handed to me…sometimes it seems to work.


 

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Chris Ford

I just get extremely amped when I know it’s gonna get big, then immediately find center and begin to visualize. I may visualize the source of the power and it’s relationship with the Earth. I might visualize my relationship with the swell, the when and where possibilities/probabilities, my current ability and getting barreled, making sections, body positioning etc. This all happens very quickly. When I’m on the beach I am calm. I may imagine myself as an old man on the beach watching the raw ocean and all my surfing ability dried up. I become thankful, focus on charging and making it to the beach safely for my family. I think of my grandpa.


 

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Ron Pringle

Besides the obvious wind and tides check and how it will affect the best times to get in the water, I like to drink a couple of quarts of coconut water to really hydrate – If I can I get on the Pulsed ElectroMagnectic Frequency device available to us at WaveBalance Wellness in Dana Point ( John John and Kelly among many others have been known to make great use of this astoundingly rad technology there with Dr. Burton Lucich) and I take a product called master amino acid pattern at least 10 of them an hr or so before the sesh – for sure the power of positive thinking comes into play and only using the spoken words that pass my lips to talk only about what I want, and never about what I don’t want. Most of all seeing myself in the bowl laughing with my bros and the best possible outcome enjoying what Neptune and Nature delivers. Good Vibes!!


Photograph by Morgan Launer

Tim Barnes

I get much more focused and excited about a strong storm in the NPAC because they are much easier to predict.  I am studying models, tracking buoys – I even created my own forecast tool in a spreadsheet to calculate the exact arrival time at my favorite breaks.  I never get much sleep before a big swell due to the excitement and anticipation but I certainly make sure to eat very well the night before I expect the surf to show up.  The morning of I always put my wetsuit on first thing because there is no way in hell I am going to walk away if the conditions don’t look “perfect.”  Driving in the dark to the beach I am pumping music – “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo” is a great song by Black Rebel Motorcycle Gang and a big-swell favorite.  Also – a little liquid courage goes a long way – I usually pack a tall-boy beer in my bag to drink while I measure up the swell.  Loosens me up for when I inevitably get my ass handed to me as I sync up with the rhythm of the new energy.

Terminal Velocity: How big is too big?

Shane Dorian at Jaws  by: Bruno Lemos
Shane Dorian at Jaws
by: Bruno Lemos

We have all watched massive Jaws, in awe of the surfers who claw their way into cavernous walls of water. Whenever I see surfers pushing the limits of board surfing I am pulled back into the limits of our own persuasion.

What waves are bodysurfable?

 

When we are considering what waves are makeable we need to define some terms to guide our quest. One important distinction is to establish what it means to “make” a wave. While swimming with massive waves is a feat unto itself, for the purposes of our research we will say that “making a wave” involves a rider maintaining control of their body from the paddle, through the drop and on the wave face.

There are a whole host of factors involved in making large waves. Generating enough momentum to “get into” the wave is the first to come to mind. Fitness and swim training can only get a person to a certain point. Just as there are limits to the speed a surfer can paddle, so too are there limits on the maximum speed a bodysurfer can swim. There are several groups of bodysurfers experimenting with tow-in bodysurfing with mixed results. Getting dropped by the ski does not solve the entire problem. This problem with “speed” is most directly expressed through the terms of Terminal Velocity.

Terminal Velocity is the point at which an object is moving so fast that the drag (either of air or water) causes it to stop accelerating. If you imagine a skydiver jumping from an airplane, you can imagine as he or she jumps, they will immediately begin accelerating due to the force of gravity. As their falling speed increases the wind resistance also increases. There will be a moment during the freefall when the force of gravity is matched by the wind resistance reaching an equilibrium. At this moment, the skydiver’s velocity levels off and they will continue to travel at that speed with all other variables remaining equal. They have reached their Terminal Velocity.

Water is about 1000 times more resistant than air. This tells us that our maximum stable speed through water is much slower. There are many ways by which the best bodysurfers limit their resistance/drag in the water and therefore maximize their terminal velocity. The human body is not a surfboard. All the designs that make a surfboard fast in the water; smooth surface, tight rigid frame, sharp rails, are all missing from the human evolutionary design of the body. We do our best to mimic these designs, reaching with arms and legs, flexing our bodies, and some even wear slick speedsuits.

As our bodies move faster through the water, the buoyancy force pushes our bodies out of the water. Bodysurfers have been known to skip down the face of a large wave because the surface of their body was “grabbed” by the surface of the ocean. If you haven’t personally witnessed this you can imagine a bodysurfer being dragged behind a jetski. At a certain speed that rider will begin bouncing out of the water and the “pull” on the body becomes greater because it is matching the riders’ velocity through the water.

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So, how big is too big? There are teams of guys pushing this envelope week after week. We hear whispers of Mavericks or Jaws from time to time. But in all this searching we know that the best way to navigate the tirade of obstacles is timing. Catching the right wave at the right time. The shape of the next big bodysurfing wave will be the true hero of the equation. The wave has to be steep enough for the bodysurfer to maintain speed without pushing beyond his or her terminal velocity in the process. As we watch bodysurfing evolve with the next generation of wave riders we’ll keep our eyes on the horizon and hope that you are a little more prepared for the challenge.

Perspectives: Hurricane Marie at Wedge

Category 4 Hurricane Marie Photo: NASA
Category 4 Hurricane Marie           Photo: NASA

 

August 27, 2014.

IMG_0547Hurricane Marie.
Wedge.
These are perspectives from some of the bodysurfers
who swam out that day.

 

Matt Larson

IMG_0658Hurricane 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 🙂

 

Chuck Olson

Chuck
Photo: Hank Haldeman

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! 😉

Sean Starky
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.

Teddy Bandaruk

Photo: Hank Haldeman
Photo: Hank Haldeman

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.

Christopher Kalima

IMG_0754I 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

IMG_0634When 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.

Tim Burnham
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.

 

Special thanks to Hank Haldeman for the use of his epic photos from that day.
He can be found at:
Hank’s Bodysurfing Blog
Hank Haldeman on 500px