I wanted to be at Cloudbreak for this massive swell, but the higher-ups wanted me here to document team skinny jean doing air-reverses (slob air-reverses!) around Orange County. So I’ll just have to surmise about the day’s events. —Taylor Paul
5:40 a.m.: First light, and surfers emerge from their bungalows on Tavarua and Namotu and walk to the boats and Jet Skis. They carry multiple boards (between 7’0” and 9’6”) under their arms. Flashes pop in their faces as photogs crouch down to get their photojournalism fix for the day. “Preparing for battle,” will be the caption. A flash momentarily blinds Alex Gray and he stubs his toe.
6:07 a.m.: Tow teams arrive to “get a few before the paddle crew shows up.” It’s bumpy with morning sickness. They get a few.
6:30 a.m.: Sunrise, and the majority of boats and Skis arrive. The surfers and photographers exchange glances and realize three things:
1. It’s going to be really crowded.
2. Contrary to claims leading up to the swell, it’s not as big as “the day Ian got his bomb last year.”
3. The morning sickness is making it tough to paddle, and maybe they should have thought twice about emphatically claiming the death of tow-surfing.
6:35 a.m.: A no-name guy is the first to paddle out.
6:51 a.m.: Mark Healey paddles out and journalists take note that Healey is the first to paddle out.
7:03 a.m.: They both get cleaned up by a set. The no-name guy comes up white. Healey comes up laughing.
7:15 a.m.: The rest of the crew paddles out. There are too many big names to name. Plenty of small names, too.
7:16 a.m.: Photographer Daniel Russo swims into the pit. The rest of the photogs collectively say, “Oh darn, he got there first,” and set up on Skis, boats and boogies in the channel.
7:17 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.: The pack pushes each other deeper and deeper. Too deep, they find, when the first big set comes in and they barely scratch over it.
8:01 a.m.: Healey says “f–k it” and goes on the last wave of the set, pulling into a foamy closeout.
8:45 a.m.: Kohl Christensen, waiting out the back on a bigger board than most, catches the biggest wave of the day thus far, gets a respectable barrel and kicks out in the channel. He is smiling.
9:37 a.m.: Garrett McNamara takes off laughably deep and gets rolled. Alex Gray flips a bitch at the last second and gets a screamer, reminding everyone that he is very, very good in big waves.
10:00 a.m.: Kelly Slater gets not the biggest, but the best barrel so far. He threads the tube standing tall.
11:11 a.m.: Nathan Fletcher makes a wish.
11:45 a.m.: Dane Gudauskas takes off under the ledge on a deep one, travels for several seconds in the tube before being spit out. This is Dane introducing himself to the big-tube tour. His long white hair fluttering behind him is the envy of the lineup, and everyone makes a mental note to grow out their hair. Slater shakes his head.
12:30 p.m.: An Australian whose name nobody knows gets a bomb. (This happened three times this morning and will happen five more times today.)
12:45 p.m.: Slater hears that Dane Reynolds pulled out of J-Bay and decides to do the same (because even Kelly wants to be like Dane).
1:05 p.m.: Bruce Irons reminds the world that he’s among the top five tube riders in the world.
1:15 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.: Lunch break. Everyone, ev-er-y-one, gets some food, hydrates, and reapplies sunscreen. The lineup is completely empty; nobody thinks to get a few while everyone’s eating.
2:10 p.m.: Ignoring the half-hour rule, Ian Walsh gets a wave nearly identical to his wave last year, except this time he paddles it.
2:45 p.m.: Oh my God it’s hot.
3:15 p.m.: Nathan Fletcher gets his wish, the biggest wave of the day. He says he was scared. (He wasn’t.)
3:21 p.m.: Surfline.com posts the first shots from the day. Not long after, Sean Collins buys the staff a round of beers at Fred’s for their hustle.
3:25 p.m.: Shit, maybe it is as big as last year.
3:58 p.m.: Slater realizes he doesn’t want to be like Dane and that he actually wants to win a world title. Decides he will do J-Bay, and do it well.
4:35 p.m.: The sixth board of the day is broken.
4:50 p.m.: A photographer misses the shot of an unknown Australian on a bomb because he’s scrolling through the day’s photos on his camera.
5:01 p.m.: Transworld Surf magazine mocks up their photos from the day. Chris Coté leans over the photo editor’s shoulder and says “C’mon, can’t you enhance it any more? Let’s make this shit pop!”
5:15 p.m.: The crew slowly heads back to the boats and calls it a day.
5:20 p.m.: A boatman goes out and nabs a couple of bombs.
5:28 p.m.: SURFING staff goes and surfs four-foot San Clemente State Park. Travis Ferré lands an air-reverse. No grab.)
5:45 p.m.: Sunset beers that flow a bit too easily on the tab system.
5:50 p.m.: Surfer magazine hoards photos from the day for next year’s big issue.
6:00 p.m.: Night falls with tow-in teams still buzzing in the lineup.
10:19 p.m.: An underground Australian orders another beer as the rest of the bar clears out ‘cause they’re “so beat.” He puts it on Kelly’s tab.