THE GREATEST SHOAL ON EARTH

posted by / Magazine / January 14, 2003

In the predawn hours of Oct. 29, {{{100}}} miles out in the Pacific, some of the hottest couples in surfing assembled for a day that would prove to be an amazing…dress rehearsal. That’s right: almost two years after Mike Parsons, Brad Gerlach, Pete Mel and Ken “Skindog” Collins shocked the surf world with their historic first surf in the middle of the ocean, three boats, four tow teams, a handful of photographers and one fishing rod made the long-anticipated second attempt at the big-wave spot with limitless a growth curve.

It wasn’t like Snips was still hungover from his last “66-foot” wave at the spot. In fact, he — along with the rest of the {{{Odyssey}}} crew — could probably tell you every time a seal shits out there. They monitored it closely all last winter, but never found a decent window to make the journey (slack winds and a giant swell in the outer waters are as rare as shallow, underwater shoals 100 miles offshore).But for some reason, this season just feels different. Maybe it’s all the talk of El Nino. Maybe there’s been less big-wave-contest hype and fewer great expectations. Whatever it is, I’ll bet money the largest wave in history is going to be ridden this winter. It’s in the air

Of course, we knew ahead of time that this swell — the first real pulse of the winter — was a 98-pound weakling (9 feet at 20 seconds) compared to the 2001 bomb (18 feet at 20 seconds). But with conditions looking ideal and an army of overanxious big-wave riders eager for a first strike at the winter of ’02/’03, Odyssey commander Bill Sharp declared a session.

Six of the eight surfers met in San Diego on the afternoon of the 28th. Parsons and Gerlach — the tireless veterans — arrived after a short jaunt from home and were more prepared than a couple of {{{Eagle}}} Scouts: crescent wrenches, spark plugs, engine sealant … you name it, they had two of ‘em. Next in line were the haggard Hawaiians, Shane Dorian and Noah Johnson, who arrived on a red-eye from the Rock. Both Dorian and Johnson possess immeasurable big-wave talent, but this was one of their first formal dates, and if the surf reached 30 feet, who knew if their tow-lines would cross? The last team on the 54-foot Pacific {{{Quest}}} included Santa Cruz chargers Ken “Skindog” Collins and Josh Loya. According to Loya, “Skinny and Peter Mel broke up.” So, he was Collins’ new partner, wisecracks and all.

Then there was the volunteer army. Earlier in the evening, photographer Rob Brown told Kelly Slater and I that we could stow away on his ship. At 10 p.m., we rolled up to the dock to find Rob fueling his 24-foot World Cat while his first mate, Jon, rigged a tow-line for the PWC. At 10:01 p.m. we threw our gear up over the rail and shoved off.

As I soon found out, {{{90}}} percent of the Cortes adventure is getting there. We briefly lost Rob’s PWC somewhere between San Clemente Island when a line snapped. And Kelly, despite his years on deck, chummed a freshly digested Jumbo Jack into the Pacific. And that was before we hit rough waters. . . – Chris Malloy

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