Slaying The Giant

Surfers wonders what future holds after North Shore’s biggest wave. It’s a legend now. Surfers call it “Big Wednesday.” The day last winter when Ken Bradshaw took on the biggest wave ever ridden on the North Shore.

Surfers wonders what future holds after North Shore’s biggest wave.

It’s a legend now. Surfers call it “Big Wednesday.” The day last winter when Ken Bradshaw took on the biggest wave ever ridden on the North Shore.

People watching from the hillsides of Pupukea say it was at least 45 feet, with a face 80 feet high. Stack one telephone pole on top of another, and Bradshaw’s wave still was taller.

Bradshaw’s surfing partner Dan Moore held up his arm and opened his hand. Imagine the face of the wave running all the way from the tips of his fingers to his elbow, Moore said. Than he pointed to a tiny spot below his wrist. “And there’s Ken,” Moore said. “It was like he was a cartoon.”

In the weeks that followed January 28, the wave that Bradshaw had been waiting for all his life somehow left him empty.

“I was complacent; I had lost some fire,” said Bradshaw, who is built like a middle linebacker but has a soft, sweet voice. “It was like, can you get that high again? How can you feel good again?’ ”

As the North Shore gets ready for another winter, Bradshaw isn’t sure what comes next.
Physical Peak

Bradshaw already was a legend on the North Shore, one of the elite among two-dozen surfers invited each year to the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational.

In the last few years he has been trying to organize the infant “tow-in” side of surfing, where riders use the speed of Jet Skis and Waverunners to catch waves too powerful for mere paddling. After finishing one wave, they simply grab the tow rope and zip into the next one.

“At 46, Bradshaw may be just beyond his physical peak,” said Rick Grigg, another North Shore surf legend. But Bradshaw’s experience and cutting-edge knowledge of tow-in techniques keep him on top of the big wave world, Grigg said, adding, “I herald him as the No.1 guy.”

In 1958, Grigg was among the first to ride Waimea Bay, then considered a sure way to die. “Ken’s doing the same thing that we did, only a lot better,” Grigg said.

Five years ago, a handful of big wave riders began towing one another as much as two miles to the outer reefs, where the waves stand like giants. Bradshaw had been poking around the outer reefs for years, unknowingly preparing himself for Big Wednesday.

He paddled to Log Cabins in 1986, caught one 25-foot ride, then got mowed over by a 35-footer that broke his board. He had to swim two miles to get home. In 1988 he paddled out again and broke his leash. In 1991 he and Moore rode Moore’s ski boat through the waves as a precursor to tow-in surfing.

“Everything we did prior to January 28 was preparation for that day,” Bradshaw said. “We knew it was coming. We spent the time. We got beat up, broken boards, broken leashes. We had to swim in. That’s why we advocate (to other surfers), ‘Are you ready? Are you ready?'”

The last time the North Shore waves crashed so hard they “closed out” Walmea Bay, was 1983. Big Wednesday may have been bigger than even the Winter of ’69.
Last Option

Last January 28, hundreds of people lined the shore, staring at the water’s power. State officials closed Haleiwa Harbor. Organizers canceled the Eddie Aikau.

Bradshaw and Moore knew that Log Cabins and Kaena Point would have the only ridable waves on the North Shore. They grabbed Bradshaw’s Waverunner and fought through the channel between Phantoms and Backyards about a mile and a half out to reach Log Cabins.

They barely made it.

We zigzagged left, then zigzagged right, then left again,” Moore said. Bradshaw gunned the Waverunner over the top of 25-foot-plus waves. They hit one so hard Bradshaw flew off the seat and barely grabbed the throttle to make it over the crest.

At about 11:30 a.m., they reached Log Cabins. It’s usually choppy and wind-blown, but not on Big Wednesday. It was a scene of pure beauty.

“There was not a drop of water out of place,” Moore said. “It was velvet.” The smallest waves were 20 to 25 feet. The biggest 35 to 40.

They studied the waves for 45 minutes before Bradshaw strapped his feet into his board and raced into the first wave. Then he went into the 45-footer, bigger than anything they’d seen.

Bradshaw caught it perfectly. He dropped down for seven or eight seconds as if he were falling into a pit, then pulled to the right for a swooping turn.

It was over in 30 seconds. “I said, ‘Ken, that was nuts,'” Moore said. “‘ That was the biggest wave I’ve ever seen you on.’…I thought that was what it was going to be like all day. It turned out to be the only one.”

Bradshaw did catch at least 10 waves over 25 feet. Another four were 35 feet tall. And there was the lone monster of 45 feet.
What’s Left?

If they were prepared for Big Wednesday, Bradshaw and Moore were unprepared for what followed.

They surfed over the next few weeks, but it wasn’t the same. The waves were small in the outer reefs, and Sunset and Waimea were crowded with surfers from all over the world.

Moore fell into a funk that lasted two weeks. It was nothing compared to Bradshaw’s mood. “Ken really went into a weird depression,” Moore said.

“He’s lived on the North Shore for 25 years, and he basically waited 25 years for that day,” said Bradshaw’s girlfriend, 26-year-old world champion pro surfer Layne Beachley.

At 45, Bradshaw found himself living with a handful of surfing roommates in his house at Sunset Beach in front of Kammieland. His surfboard shaping business was slow because he was following Beachley around the world on tour. He wasn’t training as hard. Sponsors were telling him he was too old to get endorsements.

Bradshaw finally understood the nearly 30-year-old legend of Greg Noll. In 1969, Noll caught a wave at least 30 feet tall. At that point it was the biggest ever ridden at Makaha.

Noll stuffed his board in the car, drove away and never looked back.

“For years I could never, ever fathom what Greg Noll was feeling,” Bradshaw said. “For the first time in my life I felt it.”

But Bradshaw’s emotions these days blur with other thoughts. Such as the surfers who will try to top the legend of Big Wednesday. He remembers why he is trying to organize the 20 or so tow-in surfers into an association. Why he is pushing state officials to consider new regulations to prevent accidents:

* Five mandatory training courses: Coast Guard boating and seamanship; Red Cross CPR; Red Cross First-Aid; Red Cross lifesaving; the “Safety Awareness Virus Effects Strategy” — or SAVES — program started by Makaha big wave surfer and former lifeguard captain Brian Keaulana.

* If surfers in the area aren’t using thrill craft, tow-in teams must leave.
* Each thrill craft must carry a phone or radio.
* Tow-in surfers must rescue others in distress.
* No refueling on the beach.
* Tow-in surfing can be done only during high surf warnings.

Bradshaw’s efforts impress Grigg. “He’s going about it just right,” Grigg said. “He’s got serious people involved. He’s warning people who are out of their element not to go out there.”

But Carol She, boating regulation officer for the division of boating and ocean recreation, gave a slight laugh at Bradshaw’s last idea.

“Yeah, go out only when it’s rough,” she said. “Is there a liability issue there in requiring people to go out only in rough conditions? We really have to look at this.”

Overall, She appreciates Bradshaw’s concern. “He just wants to make it safe,” she said. “He’s seeing a lot of accidents waiting to happen.”

Bradshaw believes his old excitement will return eventually. And surfers around the world are waiting to see if Bradshaw can top the 30-second ride that guaranteed his place in the lore of the North Shore.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Bradshaw said. ” I really am.”

By: Dan Nakaso The Honolulu Advertiser November 2, 1998

1 Response » to “Slaying The Giant”

  1. Mike Wenger says:

    Mr. Bradshaw,

    Your journey or may be your pre-destination to slay this wave is a reminder to us all to dream big and to never give up. This is a lesson I can’t wait to teach my two year old some day. Your story will be one that I certainly share with him. Before it’s too late I wanted to see if you had any prints left and if you’d mind personalizing one for my little one. If you do, can you shoot me an email?

    Thanks for your inspiration and ride on…


Leave a Reply

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!

Visit our friends!

A few highly recommended friends...