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Thursday, January 5, 2012
Wide open at Jaws

Kohl Christensen doing what he does best: steep and deep.

The revolution may not be televised, but it will be discussed at length on Facebook, splattered across the pages of surf magazines around the globe and prominently featured on websites like the one you are now reading. Big-wave paddle surfing has progressed more in the last five years than in all of history. The once long list of waves formerly considered off limits to paddle surfing is shrinking faster than you can say, "Throw me the tow rope." With the exception of a few select slabs not physically paddleable (yet), almost every major big-wave spot in the world has been ridden with paddle power alone. If you needed more proof of this, look no further than the Jan. 4 session at Jaws.

The waves were every bit of 25 feet-plus with a crowd size you'd normally see at Waimea ... and not just any old average crowd from your home break. If there were a big wave surfing hall of fame, 95 percent of the members from the modern big-wave era were on hand to test their mettle against massive Peahi. The collective feeling was it was the max size Jaws could be paddled. It is difficult to imagine bigger waves being ridden here without a ski, but who really knows? What if it were glassier? More north? More focused? It's possible we'll see a bigger day paddle surfed out here, but I'm not holding my breath.

Giant, bumpy, windy, shifty, thick and scary are usually not the adjectives of preference I assign to my surfing conquests. More than likely, you also prefer descriptors such as clean, lined-up, rippable and fun. These words were nowhere to be found. However, carnage was definitely present. Sack was there. Hold down was definitely in the house. As were awesome, amazing, determination, and a long list of other words that in no way could do justice to the feats occurring at big wave sessions around the globe every time a massive swell rears it's head.

As expected in these wild and wooly conditions, not many waves were successfully ridden, but like many things in life, there is something to be said for quality over quantity. The highlights will feature heavily at this year's XXL Awards. Standout rides included Dave Wassell, Shane Dorian, Kohl Christensen, Danilo Couto, Nathan Fletcher, Shaun Walsh, Albee Layer, Kai Lenny and a handful of other chargers from all corners of the globe. Equally impressive were the numerous wipeouts and giant sneaker sets that caught a lot of people off guard and broke a lot of boards.

"On a scale of one to ten, this was an eleven," said Wassel afterwards. "Between currents, wind, scaling the cliff and the number of world-class surfers, I feel fortunate just to have caught a wave."

We set out on this latest big-wave mission with an XXL sized trifecta in mind -- surf three of the biggest, baddest waves on the planet on the same swell in successive days. Logistically, it's a challenge. Physically, it's beyond demanind. Economically, let's just say buying one-way tickets around the Pacific with less than 24-hours notice probably isn't the most efficient use of your hard earned greenbacks.

Day One is now in the books, and we're on the red-eye bound for Maverick's. Although we have likely seen the best and biggest surf of this adventure, it will be interesting to see how the swell unfolds as it travels across the Pacific and into California and Mexico. It's also pretty incredible that you could surf the same wave three times in such different places and that thought alone makes the whole thing pretty exciting.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's installment from Northern California.