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Thursday, April 14, 2005
Held Under

By Kenny "Skindog" Collins

On December 15, 2004, Kenny "Skindog" Collins took the beating of his life. But it wasn't at Mavericks, the NorCal wave he's famous for braving. It was during an epic day at Maui's Jaws, on the same day the Eddie was taking place a few miles away at Oahu's Waimea Bay. The same rogue wave that wrecked Skindog at Jaws is thought to have crushed fellow Mavs local Darryl "Flea" Virostko who was competing in the Eddie. What follows is Skindog's account of the day.

Tazy (Anthony Tashnick, winner of the 2005 Mavs contest) and I planned it like a military attack. Jaws was going to be HUGE and we knew it, so the plan was to go sit in the channel and watch for a couple of hours, wait for a window, snipe off a couple small 20 footers and work our way up. No mistakes. No getting in the way. We knew we were the tourists.

There we are in the channel, watching 10 to 12 surf-sled teams battle for position. Laird owned that wave—right, left, you name it. He took what he wanted and shredded it up. Some people complain about Laird, but he introduced tow-in surfing to us and deserves his success. If Laird weren't 6'4", 220 pounds, he'd be f**ked. Every wannabe hero, including myself, would be up in his way.

The surfing was out of control; no one was following any rules. Sixty skis, six boats, five hellichoppers. It was total chaos, a full on, free-for-all shred fest.

Tazy and I were sitting on the inside, next to the in-zone, watching the big game. I was impressed by the surfing of a lot of guys I didn't even recognize. We watched a few guys get too high up the face and not out-run Jaws' fury. Ouch. Jaws is like one of those landlocked stationary waves, just bigger. If you traverse sideways, you end up going back up the face—and riding straight down the face of Jaws takes longer than any Cali waves. It seems like you'll never get to the bottom.

Tazy and I were taking notes when Ryne Rawson appeared next to us. He asked if I could tow him into a couple waves, since his partner Makua was off competing at the Eddie. I was honored and took his offer. I grabbed my board (wish I didn't) and told Tazy I'd be back in a few. We buzzed around the mob and crept in from the side. Ryne had his board and rope ready. "Come on, Skins," he yelled to me.

I waited an extra long time to ensure it was our turn. A set came. I let two waves go and started in. We were up. But the next thing I knew, two teams were coming straight at us. They U-turned in front of us, one on the left, the other on the right. I kept my line and went straight, but before I knew what happened, a guy was in front of us trying to surf into the wave. I let go of the throttle—and the ski didn't stop. I was surfing and couldn't get out.

I punched the ski and curved to the shoulder. "What the f**k!" the guy yelled. "I'm going to get knocked out for sure," I thought to myself. I looked back and saw Ryne hop over the ledge and disappear. I followed behind the wave and grabbed him in the inside. He's wearing a big smile and wanted another wave. I'm like, "Dude, I can't handle this crowd." But Ryne is ready to go, so we head back out and wait.

I dragged Ryne into a couple more waves. More smiles. I was getting the hang of the circus show deal, but I wasn't stoked. You don't get to take your true line into the waves. You take any line you can get. It's like playing chess and checkers at the same time. Ryne finally gets a sweet wave, rides all the way and looks at me. "Your turn," he says.

We headed out the back and I saw a super set coming. I took a few pre-wave, super-deep breaths and started to get psyched up. Ryne pulled me up and everyone headed out the back for the rest of the set. We're all alone in the bowl, going for this bomb. I saw Tazy and Reef on the shoulder (I should have let them have it). Ryne gunned it and whipped me into the wave. I could tell it was going to be a bumpy ride. I was way deep, so I tried to traverse toward the shoulder. Halfway there, I noticed something coming up the face. Sweet, a double up, just what I needed. I adjusted and aimed straight down the face. But I started going backwards up to the top like I had paddled into it. This is when the ride from hell started.

I knew it was going to take everything I had to get to the bottom. The chatter from my board was crazy. I was going 100 mph and could feel my feet slowly slipping out. I felt like I was snowboarding down an icy mountain covered with moguls. I tried to claw my toes back into my straps. No luck. I saw a glassy spot at the bottom; my only chance to slow down, scoot back into the straps, punch a bottom turn and pull in.

As I got to the glass, I scooted and righted my feet, got low and punched it. At this point, I'm not sure what happened, if I skipped out or if my board just tracked, but I knew I was about to experience the beating of my life. I remember looking ahead and seeing 100 people staring my way. I thought, "Great, I just belly flopped in front of the whole surfing world, how embarrassing." I got that battery acid taste in my mouth. I closed my eyes and went Zen. Ba-boom! A healthy rag doll thrashing and a 20-second hold down.

I'm fine, I thought. I was down deep and struggled to get to the top. Five breaststrokes and I popped up. The first thing I saw was some dude bottom turning through the stars in my eyes. Oh sh*t! I took a deep breath and dove as deep as I could. One problem. I was wearing two life jackets and couldn't get under the water. I was like an ostrich with my head in the sand. This was the wave that did the most damage.

My legs were sticking out and I was folded in half, my left heel hitting me in the back of the head. I was "tacoed", "scorpioned". I was dragged about 150 yards under water and experienced my most vicious thrashing. I tried to float up, but I was going nowhere. If I didn't make a move, I wasn't coming up.

I did a couple breaststrokes and relaxed, then a couple more. I swam sideways to get out of the down current. I found still water and started for the top again. Eight strokes later, I was still under. I felt the weakness setting in and saw stars flashing in the corners of my eyes, like a jujitsu choke out. "Stay cool, don't fight it, you're fine," I heard someone saying. A few seconds later, I broke surface and gasped two big lung-fulls of air.

"Where am I?" I thought. I saw a chopper buzzing a few feet above me. "I'm saved." But they just sat there filming me die (they hover above so the rescue ski knows where to go). "Great, here comes wave number three." I was so far in, I thought the wave would weaken. Wrong. I took another beating. "You'll laugh about this later," I thought. Ha ... Ha.

I surfaced again, this time blind in my left eye. Through my right eye, I saw Ryne bee lining for me. I didn't think he had a chance, but he was coming in regardless. A high five and a bam on the back and we did it. I was saved. But the fuzzy warm feeling faded quickly. The horseshoe white water was gaining on us and we were hitting too much foam. I let go with a big push, hoping to give Ryne enough speed to outrun the avalanche. I was under. Another beating.

I surfaced again and saw Ryne swimming about 30 yards away. A thumbs up. A smile. I looked back and saw more white wash with my name on it. I took a breath and took another beating. I came up and saw rocks straight ahead. I don't remember much at this point, but I knew I was close to the end of my rope.

And then, I saw a ski. The driver stopped, I crawled on and we zipped off. I could barely hold on. As we drove off, I started to feel my injuries. The pain. I spent the next 40 minutes on the rescue boat squirming from the pain. Everything hurt. Luckily, there were no tears or breaks, just deep pulls and whiplash. "I'm never surfing again," I said. But I knew I didn't mean it.