Journey of a frame

The stories behind perfect surf shots always intrigue us. What went on that day? What did the moment feel like? What happened in the aftermath? To find out, we asked OTIS ambassador Greg Long to tell us about one of his most memorable days surfing Jaws in Hawaii, told in the big wave legend’s own words…

It had been a few years since I had seen such a perfect forecast for Peahi. The swell was meant to reach heights just big enough for Jaws to show her teeth, but not so daunting as to leave one scrambling to update a will before departure. And of greater importance, the wind was projected to be but a variable flutter for the first half of the day…an anomaly held with the highest reverence on “The Windy Isle.” All indications pointed to perfection typically reserved for one’s dreams, but, regardless, there remained no room for complacency when it came to preparation for big waves.

The checklist was lengthy, but after years of rehearsal and thanks to a laminated list I made years ago in a fit of OCD excitement, the movements have become a choreographed sequence completed with methodical ease. At the top, are what I call “emergency essentials”…. items like VHF radios and medical equipment to aid in the prevention of, or dealing with the proverbial shit, should it hit the fan. Next, are all things “surf specific”…. boards, leashes, fins, and inflatable vests to name a few. And finally, rounding out the bottom, are the “creature comforts”….things essential for a far more pleasant day on the water. Food, hat, water, sunscreen, sunglasses, and cold beer for the end of the day fall in this category. I do, however, have friends who would argue that beer might deserve a spot as a tier one essential. 

Arriving in the channel in our boat the day of the swell, we watched in awe as successive oil-glass 20 ft waves reeled down the reef in slow motion. Each emptied into the channel with a cannon of spit coming so close it sent photographers covering cameras and the rest of us hooting with excitement and wiping mist from our sunglasses. With no wind, the plumes of spray danced skyward meeting the rays of morning sun. Together they birthed a vibrant rainbow over the lineup as if to say, “Your pot of gold awaits over here!” Our dreams had become reality.

Paddling out beyond the early morning crowd that had assembled, I looked shoreward and quickly identified the row of old growth pines up the valley. Standing tall, like wise elders, these trees had become steadfast guides over the years, helping me to orient in the expansive and shifting playing field. I adjusted my position, placing them evenly between the mountains behind and settled in to wait. Some call it stubbornness, and others wisdom, but unless a wave comes within a few feet in either direction of my lineup, I won’t try and catch it. Refusing to do so often results in hours of waiting. But time passes quick as senses are in overdrive scrutinizing each approaching wave looking for one that speaks to me, while simultaneously subduing nerves of excitement and fear with deep rhythmic breaths.

It is said that when you find true love in life, you just know. There is no doubt, but rather an existential knowing that you are meant to be with that person. Every so often, I have found that a big wave can carry this same energy; where on first sight, you know that it was meant for you. Two hours later, with a deep blue wall stretching from peak to channel, my wave arrived offering such a level of trust and confidence. Without reservation, I turned, paddled, and jumped to my feet. Descending down the face with finite focus, I could feel the violent breath of the white water chasing me. Reaching the bottom, I accelerated to escape its clutches and set a simple line toward the boats in the distance. “The hard work is over,” I thought, “don’t move, just enjoy the view.” A moment later I was enveloped by an aquatic cathedral of magic, and next emerged with a whisper of spit into the safety of deep water.

I was greeted in the channel by an orchestra of hoots and high-fives of celebration. I sat upright on my board to catch my breath, looked back at a crowd that had tripled in size during my time waiting, and decided I was done surfing for the day. The thought of riding more waves or potentially finding a better one is always enticing. But over the years I have found immense enjoyment in adopting a minimalistic approach to my wave riding, and attempt to apply the same philosophy to all aspects of life. The finite details of a single ride can often times be lost in the expanse of a full session. By focusing on quality rather than quantity, and limiting the amount of what one accumulates, a deeper level of appreciation grows for what you do have. I was content with my one wave.

I quickly swapped spots with a friend who was driving a safety ski so he could chase a wave or two before the wind picked up. Loaded up with snacks, water, hat, sunnies, and a sloppy lather of sunscreen, I settled into the channel to both watch over my friends, and offer my praises and high-fives when they surfed their way into the channel. The trade winds never arrived and the following hours contained some of the most picturesque big waves I had ever seen.

The hum of the outboard hit a melodic note as we raced west, harbor bound trying to beat the setting sun. I leaned back in my seat, fingers interlaced behind my head, and admired the polarized streaks of light pouring through the clouds illuminating the West Maui mountains. A special feeling of contentment washed over me, reserved for those days spent sunup to sundown on the water, sharing waves with your best friends. Sun-drenched, salty, and exhausted, the unmistakable pitch of a beer cracking open caught my attention. Looking to my left, I was met by a kind smile and the outstretched arm of a friend. I received the frosty offering with a nod of gratitude…definitely a tier-one essential.

Words by Greg Long