The first time I saw Ben Wilkinson was at Maverick’s. We were caught inside and scratching to make it over a 15-footer that had snuck through the fog. I launched my board over the lip and swam through. When I came up I watched the wind catch my 9’8” and twirl it at the end of my leash directly into big Ben’s head. Luckily, the Aussie is built like a rugby player and twice as tough, and he shrugged it off and we shook hands. Over the next few years I’d watch him take on the bowl at Maverick’s, really wanting set waves. He took his lickings for it, but always came back more determined. His approach was so impressive that this year, after Flea retired from competing in the Maverick’s contest, Ben was selected to take the slot of the three-time Maverick’s champion.
The last time I saw Ben was two weeks ago at unruly Sunset Beach. It was howling side-off shore and we skipped into 12-footers and got caught inside every 20 minutes. While everyone else in the lineup ditched their boards in front of the towering white wash, Benny used his 6’4,” 250 pound frame to duckdive/bear hug his self-shaped 9’2” under the foam. “What if you loose your board?” I asked. “I’ll swim. It’s good exercise.” And swim he did.
Earlier in the trip I joined gentle Ben for a sunrise coffee at his Haleiwa home, catching him a few minutes before set off for a day of building homes in Honolulu. —Taylor Paul
I first came [to the North Shore] when I was 16. I’d saved up all my money and bought my own ticket, came over here by myself. I spent a month at the backpackers on Sunset Point — just a perfect month — started off with Sunset and the waves kept going up, up, up and when it started maxing out, I went over to Waimea.
I went back to Australia after that to start my carpentry apprenticeship. That lasted four years, and I wasn’t really surfing big waves but was still going to Indo and places like that. But when I finished my apprenticeship I went on an around-the-world trip. That’s when I met [girlfriend] Kara, and we ended up coming back here in 2005. I set up here for the lifestyle. I’ve got friends, work, surf and I paddle at the Haleiwa canoe club.
At the moment I have a job remodeling lower-income housing, but normally I just build houses and remodel kitchens and all sorts of woodwork. I can do whatever needs to be done, tile, concrete. But I prefer working with wood.
I didn’t know Sion that well, but I would always see him in the water and we
would have a chat. He was just starting to get more into Waimea and was doing really good out there. So I’d surf with him out there and at the outer reefs.
He was one of the best guys in the water for sure. Pretty aggressive — not in a bad way — but he was always looking for the biggest waves. You’ve really gotta put yourself in the ballpark at the outer reefs, and you’re going to get cleaned up eventually, but he was always putting himself in the spot and was catching big waves.
My main goal is to be able to surf big waves for a living. The contest thing is pretty new, I’m learning a lot about that, the press stuff you have to do and the other stuff that’s involved in it. I’d love to be able to concentrate 100 percent on it; not have to bang nails everyday and be able to train so I can be ready when it does come.