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Friday, January 28, 2011
Surfing's own version of slope style

"After my first wave, I was hooked," tells Chuck Patterson about his first experience skiiing Jaws.

I recently was on Maui, hoping to shoot epic Jaws. The swell didn't exactly cooperate, but that hardly stopped Chuck Patterson, who decided he'd go water skiing -- in 15-foot plus surf. I caught up with the man to see why:

So, I guess the obvious place to start is, what the hell? What are you doing? Skiiing at Jaws?
After three sessions on the custom wave skis in Northern California last year I felt that the best wave to really test the skis and how far we could push the limits, would have to be Peahi, better known as Jaws, the king of all big waves. Kind of like the Alaska of Extreme skiing. Like big mountain snow skiing, wave skiing really works best on bigger waves, where you can really do long carving drops and have a large wave face to work with that helps the skis keep their speed in the pocket. I have spent about 15 years tow surfing at Jaws and using that knowledge along with my 38 years of snow skiing skills; this was the place to give it a true test.

How did skiing on waves become a reality? Did surfing just get to boring?
11 years ago late extreme skier Shane McConkey and I talked about skiing on waves. I took some custom jumper water skis out in Hawaii and rode a couple waves, but the skis didn't turn as well as snow skis, so we never pushed it any further. Then last year two professional free skier friends of mine -- Mike Douglas and Cody Townsend -- spent a couple weeks on Maui doing R&D with some newer shaped custom water skis, designed by Jason Starr. Mike and Cody had a breakthrough with the new skis and made a small video, which I saw on Youtube, and later that spring I got a couple skis to try. After my first wave, I was hooked.

What other waves have you done this on?
Last spring I got to try the skis at a couple outer reefs in Northern California. One reef break was similar to Sunset beach in Hawaii and the other was a small, fast slab of a wave that broke below sea level. Both waves really helped me get comfortable with high-speed turns and understanding the glide that these skis could handle.

What is it like, anything like actual snow skiing?
It's amazing how similar wave skiing is to regular snow skiing. I use ski poles because like in snow skiing, it really helps me with balance and control while dropping into steep waves. Using the speed from the jet ski to whip into the waves really helps set you up to make the section of a fast breaking wave.

Tell us about the boots and bindings and what it's like to wipeout with all the gear on?
We use ski boots and bindings because the stiffness of the boots connected with the bindings, really helps you set an edge, and gives you control of the ski to make sharp turns while keeping the speed to out run the section. I have been lucky and only wiped out a couple times, knocking the wind out of me while getting throttled by the white water and amazingly enough, the skis never came off. My biggest fear is the unknown of taking a beating or going over the falls where the skis don't pre-release and I risk breaking my legs or getting knocked out. But without risk, there is no reward.

What's next for you?
Like in all sports that I love and live to do, I like to push it and see how far we can take it. I hope to get another chance to ride Jaws on a bigger, cleaner day and see how the skis work in the tube. Like in anything, if you're constantly challenged by it, you will continue to raise the bar.