San Francisco feels like my second home!
I have so many good friends there and love coming back each year. When you go to the local coffee shop and the guys say ‘Hey Frank, welcome back!’ you feel very welcome and it’s nice to have that homely feel when you’re on the road all the time.
After a great start to the winter in Ireland I was feeling really confident going into the winter in California and Hawaii. But then, as I mentioned before, I hurt my knee at Mullaghmore and wasn’t able to surf the first run of swells at Mavericks and Jaws!
Big wave surfing is a strange sport, you are travelling on your own for long periods of time which can be challenging and you start missing home, your family and friends. The surfing part is epic of course, especially when the waves are good! But when you’re on your own, in the wrong spot and the waves are good elsewhere, then you can start questioning and doubting yourself. It’s a very mental game and you just have to stay positive.
This is exactly how I was feeling over Christmas/New Year – with not too much on the swell charts. Thankfully the charts started to show some signs of re-awakening towards the beginning of the month, so I decided to head for Hawaii and booked a flight for the 7th of January.
The first swell to hit California that week was actually really, really big. But, because the winds and weather weren’t predicted to be good, there was no one really watching the swell – except for the long-time Mavericks legend and arguably the most knowledgeable guy out there, Grant Washburn. He is the man that first invited me over to surf the place and has guided me ever since in all things Mavericks and shown me all the line ups. He called me up that Tuesday to say ‘Pack your board Bru, were going down!
Now, there are certain rules when you’re surfing with Washy and to get a ‘’notch” which marks a session you have to get a wave from the Bowl and ride it until the inside. If you break a leash that’s a default notch, if you break a board that’s a notch. But mainly you need to get a wave from the bowl. This year alone Wash is on like 30 something notches, many of those by himself. The guy is an absolute legend and a guru of Mavericks!
Joining us for the notch was local legend and my really good friend, Travis Payne. Both Trav and I were pretty much just following Washy and trusting his judgment. When we got to the paddle out on the north side it looked pretty much impossible. Grant’s advice was to just wait and see what the current was doing as there where some 30ft plus waves coming in, and with not a soul in sight things can go bad real fast. It took me about 30 minutes just to get past the first line of waves! I seriously didn’t think I was going to make it out. I was bailing my gun in front of these huge rocks for what seemed like ages, not getting a break and just getting pounded. Finally I had a break and got out to Grant who was sitting way out waiting for me. Next up to do the paddle was Travis who timed it a lot better than us and got out pretty easily. There were giant waves coming through and we were super cautious paddling over to the bowl.
Grant was our only reference point because he knows exactly where the bowl is and without him we would have been lost at sea! He caught a wave in the first six minutes, it was amazing. Next up was Travis who got a big heavy one and fell, having to pull his vest to come up. While we were out the back one of the biggest sets I have ever seen came through, just a giant, giant wave! It was so crazy being out there and seeing a wave like that break. It’s a humbling experience and hard to explain.
I managed to get a good notch and so did Travis while Grant got about four waves in that time! We all went in after that, very happy to have made it back safely, with no one getting hurt and no broken boards. Tradition after a notch is a beer at the local bar the OPL. There is no better feeling than having a session like that! Giant waves, no one around, just you and 2 friends – makes the beers taste very good! That night Grant told me to change my ticket from the 7th to the 8th as there was another big swell looming.
When I woke up the next day the waves where gigantic! Definitely some of the biggest waves I had ever seen at Ocean Beach. On the drive down we heard that Garrett McNamara had hurt himself and that everyone else had apparently gone in. Grant and Colin Dwyer and I decided to try our luck anyway. The waves where HUGE and we weren’t even able to paddle out. We were just getting smoked I don’t think that we would have made it out if it wasn’t for some of the guys on the skis that gave us a ride. It was huge and shifty and everyone was super cautious, especially after what had happened to Garrett. I got two waves after a very long wait and went in very happy to have, once again, made it in unscathed! I went to the OPL for a couple of cold ones and then headed back to San Francisco to catch my flight to Hawaii the next morning.
After one day on the north shore I left for Maui to surf Jaws. This is where I am now, waiting for another big day on Friday. I will let you know how it went in my next post!