When winter swells come rolling in, the North Shore of O‘ahu in Hawaii becomes a magnet for top surfers from around the world. Thanks to one stoked drone pilot, enthusiasts and non-practitioners alike can get a video-enabled feel for what it’s like to be out in the hairy action that makes Waimea Bay surfing’s legendary big wave spot.
When mainland surfers hunting for larger swells first flocked to O‘ahu in the 1950s, they were initially drawn to other North Shore spots like Mākaha (which, suitably, means “ferocious” or “fierce”). Eventually, some of those pioneers discovered the even bigger surf at Waimea, where celebrated longboarders led by Greg Noll drew worldwide attention to the giant winter waves, dizzying takeoff drops, and frequently brutal wipeouts. Now a drone pilot working with YouTube channel Where’s Your Board has provided video simulation of just how heavy things are in the lineup – or stuck in front of it – when the surf is pumping at Waimea Bay.
That vicarious two-part UAV footage was taken January 22, when waves were reportedly surging in at over 20 feet, and dishing out beatings the Honolulu Star Advertiser said prompted 53 lifeguard rescues.
But the educational utility – and, quite possibly, nerve-ruining effects – of the drone video isn’t limited to its close-up perspective of the so-called “fun” of taking off late on a two story-high Waimea wave. With over 50 death-wishing surfers battling one another for each swell, it also provides an idea of just how crowded the sport has gotten, even on the heaviest of days in the most formidable of spots.
The other thing it offers less daring surfers and non-paddlers alike is an idea of how tough it is to control an enormous drop while also avoiding the small army of people wallowing out front as they scratch frantically to get outside the giant incoming set. Whether you’re risking your neck for a slide down Mt. Liquid while navigating the human slalom run, or one of those who’ve made themselves floating human buzzsaw targets in front, the commonly shared fate of surfing Waimea in winter is ending up worse for wear under an avalanche of white water.
(Note to the unimpressed: The caught-inside rule of thumb is that for every, say, five feet of white water you see roiling above the surface of a broken wave, there’s a similar thickness of meat-grinding turbulence below. One may try to dive beneath that to avoid the attendant abuse, but one will fail miserably.)
True to its unrivaled place in surfing’s history, Waimea’s giant waves this week drew some of the biggest names in the sport, including Kelly Slater (featured in drone video on this page) and John John Florence.
Though UAVs have become fairly common filming feats by stars like Laird Hamilton, the captivating (and flinch inspiring) footage captured by the Where’s Your Board pilot demonstrates why the craft have already made once ubiquitous low-hovering helicopters nearly obsolete.
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