The Tao of Tow-in Surfing
In a recent discussion with Hawaii’s madman in residence, Mark Healy, I asked him about whether he thought tow-in surfing was diminishing the respect that surfers had for big waves. His answer gave insight into a burgeoning movement in big wave surfing. He highlighted a culture-wide return to paddling into big waves without PWC assistance, a step back from the tow-in hysteria that gripped the surfing world a decade ago and seemed destined to change surfing completely. It did. Tow-in surfing made riding big waves like a party, a fun-loving love fest of gasoline fumes and swirling tow teams. It negated many of the rewards inherent in riding big waves. For one, being at one with nature. Man against the wave… and man immersed in the beauty of nature. The tense quiet between sets, the tremble of the heart that comes with a feathering lip just over the next swell. That is the experience that drew Eddie Aikau out to Waimea with no cameras on the beach. Those are the feelings that pushed Fred Hemmings to stage one of the great big wave events in history: The Smirnoff Pro. Surfing big waves is about the challenge. The same feeling that drove Jeff Clark to paddle out to Mavericks and surf by himself for over a decade. Surfing big waves is about finding what you are capable of. No doubt, the majority of tow surfers are legitimate big wave riders (Heck! It was pioneered by Laird Hamilton and Buzzy Kerbox. If those guys ain’t watermen, then who is?), but there has also been the influx of surfers who have no right to be out in those conditions and could have never pulled off a paddle session.
Nice to see that people are recognizing the fact that using a jet ski eliminates a huge part of the overall experience of surfing big waves. One of the biggest challenges in surfing large waves is being able to actually catch the wave. With tow-in surfing removing that obstacle, you end up with people out in the lineup that could never actually catch the waves or survive out there under their own power. This type of inexperience is quite dangerous in large waves and it’s great to see many of the big wave experts setting aside the skis.