Facial injuries will not deter Aaron Ungerleider from charging big waves, no matter how serious they are. Two months ago the 31-year-old environmental planner sustained a busted nose while surfing Sunset Beach. It didn’t stop him from riding Waimea Bay last week on his 10’0” Robbie Reynolds gun. And last winter Ungerleider had a metal plate surgically placed in his face after an 8-foot-Log-Cabin’s lip guillotined his head into his knee. The busted mug halted his surfing for a mere month, but his passion for riding giants never wavered.
Ungerleider admits that his penchant for large surf was a “long and gradual process,” with the winter of 2002-03 instrumental in his big-wave surfing development. That season had a rare 15 days of huge surf and it was an opportunity for Ungerleider to hone his skills at Waimea.
Originally from Pacific Palisades, Calif., Ungerleider came to the islands as an 18-year-old tennis player for the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He now resides at Sunset Beach on the North Shore with his girlfriend and surfs the Outer Reefs with friends Brian Rocheleau, Aaron Gold and Ben Wilkinson. —Daniel Ikaika Ito
I’ve always thought of myself as a safe surfer. I try to make really good decisions, but it’s tricky because you can’t control the ocean.
There’s just something about being close to that much energy [from a big wave]. Really big days don’t happen that often. Once a year maybe and sometimes not even that. It’s a really special, natural phenomenon and I think to watch from land is one thing, but when you’re in the water and on the wave you’re harnessing the energy. It’s an incredible way to experience what I think is the greatest natural phenomenon out there.
We had that awesome El Nino year and I remember we had two huge days in a row. It’s so rare in Hawaii to get 25-foot days back to back. I saw Sion in the water both days at Waimea and the Outer Reefs. We had never met before and I remember both of us caught some waves and were paddling back out. We were super giddy because we’d just gotten some big ones and were complimenting each other on our waves. We couldn’t believe that we were surfing 20-foot plus surf two days in a row.
The main thing is just not taking yourself too seriously and just showing a lot of aloha to people you don’t know. It’s like Sion did to me, because before that I had never met the guy, and he was just extra generous and friendly. He had a really good vibe about him and he shared a lot of positivity and aloha.
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