13 Feb, 2016
On Monday 8th February the call was made, “The Eddie is a Go” for that Wednesday. A strong storm fuelled by El Nino formed off of Japan and meteorologists, surfers, event organisers and global media frothed as one of the all time paddle-in big wave surfing competitions at Waimea Bay on Ohau’s North Shore was given the yellow light.
The only way to successfully make a wave at The Bay is to set your line high, even if it means hanging in by just your fins…
The event hasn’t gone ahead since 2009 and only does when the surf is at least 20ft Hawaiian size (thats 40ft in layman terms) and can be expected to hold for at least 8 hours during daylight hours to allow the competition to run. A big swell generally only lasts for anything from 4-8 hours, and it’s no good if it hits at night of course. Quiksilver rolled the dice and made the call, but as everyone will tell you, it’s “The Bay” that makes the final call on the day.
A very, very narrow escape….
I had only flown out from Hawaii a few days earlier and was more than content shooting skiing and snowboarding in Jackson Hole, Wyoming when the announcement was made. I contemplated what I should do for about 20 seconds. It was a no brainer. I couldn’t be so close and not go. So I spent hours working on a travel strategy to get me back to the land of Oahu in just 36 hours.
A glistening bowl of energy at Waimea Bay
I left Jackson at 6pm on Monday night, drove through a snowy landscape and dense fog. There were times I couldn’t see the road so was grateful to tailgate the rear lights of some big trucks on the highway, finally reaching Twin Falls Idaho at midnight where I set the alarm and closed my scratchy eyes for a few hours. An early morning start had me jump a flight from Boise to Seattle, finally touching down in Honolulu at midnight on Tuesday. If only we could harness the intense power of energy that a North Pacific winter storm puts out…
As I pulled into Haleiwa at 1.30am it was like peak hour. Cars and people everywhere. For miles the kerbs either side of Waimea Bay were solid with parked cars, people sleeping in them, others having roadside parties and droves of spectators already walking to Waimea Bay to wait for sunrise and the promise of a legendary show in the morning.
Mark Healey in the belly of a beast. I’m stoked to have captured what is being tagged “the shot of the day” at Waimea Bay on Wednesday 10th Feb, 2016
For an hour I pack-horsed two heavy camera bags and two tripods wearing thongs, tracksuit pants, light jacket and beach towel, finally bushwhacking through a small trail under the cliff of Waimea around 2.30am. I found a patch of dirt to lay my very tired bones down, pulled the towel over my head and intermittently dozed till 5.30am.
Rolling the dice
In soft light of the morning dawn it was clear the swell had not come. It was small. The Bay wasn’t even breaking and The Eddie was called off… Such a shame. Thousands of people had taken the day off work to witness the event, Quiksilver had spent so much pulling it together and it was done even before it started. I felt sad for them, but the Bay will always make the call on day. Today it wasn’t to be. All of us who play this mad game know that is how it goes.
Men taking on the power of a winter calibre storm
The swell hit the buoy located some 200 miles NW of Oahu by around 7am. Generally it takes around 8 hours for the wave to travel the distance to the islands. Surfers were hoping to being able to charge some big waves late in the day, and I was hopeful I’d get something to make the journey and adventure worth it. I was already there, so a few more hours of waiting was no big deal.
The albatrosses were having a field day riding the updraft off the huge waves
Around mid-afternoon I precariously picked my way around the front of the western end of the point and found a hidey hole just far above the now pounding ocean, out of the way of the waves smashing into the point. I was the only person there, I was in a happy place. I set up three Nikon cameras, put two on a tripod with a remote and used the third to shoot tight, triggering the others remotely. The result was a mixture of angles that made the most what unfolded in front of me and made the expedition worthwhile. The gamble paid off, this time at least…
A rare moment at The Bay as a solitary surfer scores a ride
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A setting sun overlooking Waimea Bay as the swell continued to build into the night hours.
If the wave itself doesn’t make it hard enough to successfully ride it, there enters a human factor as well. The whole thing is dialled to 11. Madness.