The experience of Hawaii surfing, both large and small waves.
The ancient Hawaiians called it "he’e nalu" for "wave-sliding".
Floating placidly out in the ocean straddling a surfboard, you ponder what the ancient Hawaiians must have felt when confronted by those lines of approaching swells. The heat of the sun on your back, the blinding light scattering off the water, and the gentle rise and fall beneath you, momentarily lull your senses. But as you watch the long, low blue-green hills advancing ever closer, you realize the wait is over and it’s time to move. As the first swell reaches your position, you swing your board around toward shore and lying prone, paddling hard to catch the wave, you suddenly feel the ocean bulge under you, rising up to carry you forward as you begin your slide down the rapidly inclining wall of water.
With salt-spray spewing off the sides of your board, hitting you in the face, and white-water washing over the deck, you grasp the thick, rounded rails of your board, quickly push your body up and pull your feet under you. Standing one foot in front of the other, planted firmly near the center of the board, you struggle to keep your balance. You see the water washing up, beading and rolling off the waxed fiberglass deck, as it skips along the ocean rushing beneath it.
To gain control of your board and stop it from losing the wave, turning over or nosing under, you shuffle back toward the tail or forward toward the nose.
As the wave mounts, thinning to a frothy edge, you shift your weight to the side, away from the curling wall, and pushing with your rear foot, turn the surfboard into the curving green water. Rising up the side of the wave, you again shift your weight -- this time away from the wall -- and drop back down its face.
Watching the water shift shape as it follows the contours of the ocean bottom, you glide along turning and maneuvering to keep in the wave, trying all the while to stay just ahead of the exploding foam in the collapsing tunnel behind you.
As the wave hurtles you inward toward shore, you are rising up and down and shooting across its length, moving in three directions at once. You are feeling the thrill of he’e nalu – the joy of surf riding!
Whatever thrill you feel on a small three-foot, or medium eight-foot wave is multiplied in spades by a huge, twenty or thirty-foot one. Everything is increased in scale. The water moves in mountains, not hills. It is faster and more powerful. It takes longer to drop down the wave-face to make a turn. And having a mountain fall on you can -- as one would expect -- be deadly, if you don’t know how to handle it. Your senses are at their sharpest; you feel you can do anything you need to; and you need -- if you want to live -- to make that wave! The pumping adrenaline, creating a mix of exaltation and stark fear, give the ride a Wagnerian dimension: you are being hurled into Valhalla with Niagara falling behind you. Just trying to get out beyond the surf-line can be an Olympic event, even for an experienced water-man. But once you have negotiated the ten-foot mounds of churning white-water, rip-tides carrying you back where you started, and the twenty-footers pushing you under, trying to drown you -- you’ve only begun to have fun!
As you take off down one of the mountainsides, and feel the tons of water rushing up beneath your board, you wonder if this was a good idea -- or if you should have waited for the next one -- or if you should be doing this at all! But it’s too late, and if you don’t make this wave, it will make you (into what you try not to think about.) Driving across the face of the watery monster at bone-breaking speed, with your board bouncing, you don’t have time to think – only to feel and react. All your experience is put to the test in quick-time; no margin for error, just victory or defeat. As you rise up and over the shoulder of the wave, you feel like you’ve escaped an avalanche. But you also feel you are, for that moment at least, "The King Of The World".
The fun of riding very large waves is the thrill of mastering raw, massive power unleashed; the only goal is to survive to ride again. There is no time for any move not dedicated to that task. But for smaller waves, surfers have the opportunity for a variety of tricks and maneuvers. The development of surfboards over the last few decades has gone from "long boards" of approximately nine feet to six-foot short-boards (the big-wave riders still use their "big guns", which are 2-3 feet longer than smaller wave boards.) With the shape changes getting more hydro-dynamic (more fins, increased curvatures, etc.) the maneuvers on a wave have become quicker and more precise. What was called "hot-dogging"(constant turning and cutting back)in earlier days has become standard with the shorter boards. Today, short-board surfers carve up a wave, slicing up through the top and ripping a cut-back down the face and cranking "radical" 360 degree turns all across the wave front. The long-boarders, who still exist beside them, prefer the old-fashioned style of surfing perfected in the ‘sixties. They crank bottom turns, ride the nose and generally cruise along a wave rather than carving it up.
But, whether short-board, long-board or Big Gun -- on small, medium or large waves -- carving up or cruising along -- "he’e nalu" is always there off beaches around the world for anyone wanting to experience the joy of surf riding!