Chuck Patterson had grown up skiing dangerous big-mountain terrain; he had also surfed plenty of large, thunderous waves.
But never, until recently, had he or anyone else donned skis and used them to surf the gargantuan swells at a notoriously treacherous spot called Jaws, off the Hawaiian island of Maui.
Patterson, a popular freeskier and trained racer from Lake Tahoe, who spends part of each winter in Hawaii, traveled to Jaws recently to greet an arriving swell (see video). Dozens of tow-surfers, those who are pulled onto fast-moving swells behind personal watercraft, were on hand. Patterson was the only one wearing two planks, boots, bindings … and carrying ski poles.
Patterson clearly proved that with specialized skiing equipment the towering waves at Jaws can be ridden with style and poise, just like mountains of snow.
“I had a good idea that it was possible, but it really made a big difference having a solid background in skiing and big-wave tow-in surfing to really push it in big waves,” Patterson told the Ski Channel. “There’s a lot that goes into making it all happen safely even before you hit the water, and after that is when the fun begins.”
Like the tow-surfers, Patterson also was towed onto the swells, whereupon he began his descent like an Alpine specialist trying to maintain the best possible fall line.
“Gliding into a 40-foot clean, open-faced wave has a lot of the same characteristics that you find when dropping off a cornice into a steep chute with fresh snow,” he said. “Aside from the surface being water, it’s almost the same feeling. Once you let go of the rope and glide down the face making turns to stay in the pocket, it’s totally addicting.”
The session comes 15 months after a Starr Surf Skis testing mission conducted elsewhere on Maui, and in smaller waves, by freeskiers Mike Douglas and Cody Townsend. That expedition was part of a Salomon Freeski TV web series last year. Patterson’s Jaws footage will be part of a follow-up episode.
He expects surf-skiing to catch on, and it just might. Tow-surfing, with its specialized equipment, was once just an idea. So was surfing behind large kites, and aboard over-sized standup paddleboards.
Patterson’s next goal? To tuck, like a downhill racer, inside a monstrous Jaws barrel. But he acknowledges that conditions will have to be perfect to attempt that.
“It’s important to have a really good understanding and respect for the power of the ocean as you would have for the mountains and the backcountry,” he said. “All waves are different and I find it really important to take your time in studying the lay of the land, always making sure you have a safe exit strategy. It takes time and if you can think outside the box a little, anything is possible.”