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Trip: Mondo Star Tubes

Written by Experience Pipeline show Experience Pipeline profile

Tuesday February 5 2008 06:23:13 AM

Date: from Sep 5, 2003 to Sep 5, 2003

Surf trip description:
R Thursday, September 4, 2003 - Badoc, Philippines

     I awake to the rumble of surf, having slept very soundly.

     “Ay, mate,” Fraser, the resort manager says, popping his head into my room.

     “Ah, good morning there, Fraser. Any surf today?”

     “Yeah, mate. Looks like a north wind swell.”

     “How’s Turtle Head looking?”

     “It’s not really doing it, mate. The swell direction is too north, I’m afraid.”

     I get up and eye the break through binoculars. A decent-looking wave rolls in.

     "I just saw a decent-looking wave. You didn’t see anything worthwhile out there?”

     “Mate, it’s really inconsistent and the tide is working against it, I’m afraid.”

     Continued observation confirms Fraser’s assessment. I don’t see another wave.

     “I think I’ll have a little paddle at Starries,” he reveals.

     I swing my binoculars in that direction just in time to see a big set thundering over the reef.

     “Oh shit, are you serious?”

     “Yep, mate. I hope you’ll join me,” Fraser replies, then disappears downstairs.

     I pick up the binoculars and study the break again. Star Tubes, a right-hander breaking off the tip of a reef shelf, is not known to handle too much size. It’s usually a fast and hollow wave, and quite shallow. Today it is clearly off the Richter scale, with frequent, big sets thrusting over the shelf, their open faces reflecting the gleam of sunrise one second, then turning dark the next as they hollow out and detonate into the shallows. After each bomb, the sound of the explosion resounds off the resort seconds later, like an eerie aftershock evincing a mere afterthought of the wave’s true power. Even from here, a half mile away, Star Tubes looks scary enough. Moments later, I see Fraser walking out across the causeway, heading towards the bay with surfboard in hand. I ponder what the hell to do...   


     After a big set marches in towards the beachie, I jump off the boat ramp, into the water. The entire sea is alive and dancing, or perhaps I should say slam dancing, for frequent, mondo sets bounce like swaggering, burly rogues. It’s an effort just locating Fraser in the heavy seas. I can only catch glimpses of him amid the tossing peaks. He’s already in the lineup.

     After a somewhat grueling paddle on my shortboard, I finally reach Star Tubes. I don’t intend to do much surfing—only to witness up-close this meat grinder and see how Fraser deals with it. As the reef shelf can be safely  approached from the deep bay, it’s easy to get close to the surf zone. A few medium-sized waves come and Fraser catches one. He makes the drop, then glides along the face some forty yards before kicking out. At this point he is not far off, so I decide to paddle behind him to the lineup instead of hanging in the channel like a dope.

     While stroking out, a big set approaches. We paddle wide and let the shoulders roll beneath us. Each wave hits the reef with a cataclysmic explosion. Afterwards, we ease back into the lineup, but sitting further out.

     “Ay, mate!” I call over the roar of the sea. “Looks like you’re actually picking a few off!”

     “Ah, mate,” he replies with a throaty growl. “Da bigger ones 'r' super ugly, but if yer selective, some of de smaller ones have got a section.”

     The ‘smaller ones’ continue to come in and at double-overhead. They appear rather steep and are reeling off fast. As I’m afraid of getting caught inside, I don’t go for any.

     Fraser goes again, flying down into the pit, then rocketing across the wave like his board is equipped with supersonic jets. I see him come up and slash the lip further down the line before disappearing again.

     “Not bad,” I say to myself. I realize that a smaller-sized wave that is lining up good will deposit one into the relative safety of the channel, so I embolden myself to catch one.

     Another big set comes, so I paddle even further out to get over it, then, once it has passed, casually begin stroking back to the lineup. Fraser meets me there.

     “Looks like you got a nice one,” I tell him.

     “It was alright, mate,” he replies.

     A series of smaller waves roll in, anywhere from a dozen to twenty of 'em, allowing for careful selection. After about eight roll by, one comes that doesn’t have much of a shoulder, flattening out at its end. This is exactly what I’ve been seeking. I know it will hit the shallow reef and become fast enough in its own right, so I turn around and stroke hard into it.

     The drop is an easy glide, but as I bottom turn, the tube is already fast on my tail. The water is clear and I can see the flat reef some four feet beneath the surface. I execute two off-the-lips on the concave shoulder, then perform a drawn-out carve before kicking out. I’ve traveled some fifty yards and am fairly stoked: at least it’s marginably rideable for me. I begin paddling back out.

    Suddenly, my heart leaps into my throat as a big set approaches. I paddle straight out with all my might, just making it under the first wave of about eight-foot on the face. I see Fraser on my periphery, trying to jockey himself into a wave. The second, third, and fourth waves are ten, twelve, and fifteen feet respectively.

     When the set finally ends, my heart is pounding in my chest and I’m practically hyperventilating from sprinting so hard. Fear is the ultimate motivator, without which I wouldn’t have been able to paddle so fast or duck-dive so precariously close under the falling lips. I don’t even want to think about what might have happened had I not made it under any one of those slabbing guillotines. As for Fraser, he didn’t catch anything, probably because the larger set waves tended to wall up all the way to the inside, making it a true kamikaze run that even a seasoned pro would wince twice at.

     “Ooh hoo hoo,” he chides with relish, “I’ll take plenty of mustard with those!”

     “Yeah, mate, those were some bombs. I was strugglin’ for my life to make it under 'em.”

     We laugh it off, me nervously, he with delight. We both pick off a few more smaller ones, but this time I’m very careful not to get caught inside. As a matter of fact, as soon as I catch a wave, I ride up to where I can see over it to make sure a set isn’t coming before continuing with my ride. If I do see a rogue, I’ll kick out immediately and paddle over it if I can. This is how I spar with big Starries - I'd rather try to make it over the set than wipe out and get dragged over the shelf by it.

     A lull comes, probably the first real lull of the session, but the outer waters are still surging with swell. I keep my eyes glued to the horizon, trying to discern what Poseidon might throw at us next. I think I see something forming. I rub the salt water from my eyes and peer again.

     “Set, mate,” Fraser warns as he starts paddling hard southwest, which is towards the outside shoulder.

     I get the willies. I’ve never seen Fraser so concerned about an approaching set. But then I see why he is racing ahead of me. 

     For all intents and purposes, I’m already caught inside. An absolutely mondo set is rising up out of nowhere, the dark blue peaks growing in size and stacking to the horizon.

     It’s too late for me. From looks of it, even Fraser will barley make it under the shoulders. In the blink of an eye, I make my decision. I start paddling hard, right towards the jaws of the beast. Since I can’t dodge it, I figure I might be able to gouge directly through the throat.

     The first curl makes an eternal yawn as it bends inward and lets me glide through the trough. Fraser escapes cleanly over the shoulder.

     The second comber is quite a big larger, perhaps fifteen-foot on the face, which is basically macking Star Tubes. The dark wall concentrates into a formidable peak and lunges forth over the reef. I take two final strokes and extend myself as best I can under the falling lip. It breaks just behind my tail with a tremendous boom! that sends shockwaves through my board and wrists. I hold on for dear life as I manage to push through the back. I momentarily stall atop the behemoth’s back, on the verge of getting sucked over the falls at any instant. I know I may easily die now, but I remain cool, barely breathing—nothing to create more drag. As the tremendous waterfall regurgitates itself in an explosion of geysers out the wave’s back, the drag strengthens on my legs and momentarily sucks me under. I fight hard against it and am able to clamber out of the aftermath soup. I’m practically sideways on my board as I struggle to start paddling. The retrograding currents are so strong and the water so frothy that it’s only with great effort that I’m able to make forward progress. Alas, it’s all in vain.

     “Good Lord!” I sigh within my soul as a giant wave roars skyward some twenty feet in front of me. The wave is pushing twenty feet, which is extremely hazardous for Star Tubes—a break like Teahupo’o, with an ocean at its back.

     Darkness rises and darkness falls as I slide off my board and behold the falling lip. I don’t even make it to the trough. No, the monster gnashes its jaws before I even reach the portcullis. The great guillotine of water crashes down on me, its edge blunted by sheer thickness. I take a deep breath and dive.


     I hear the mighty impact of heavy water, followed by shockwaves and darkness. My leash jerks angrily at my ankle, dragging me up into the maelstrom. I’m absolutely horrified as I get spun violently towards the nearshore reef. What is perhaps only a few seconds feels like an eternity as I get thrashed around mercilessly like a raggedy puppet. I swim my way against the swirling drag as best I can.    

     Thankfully, I pop up out of the water sooner than I thought I might. I take a deep breath, then try to regulate my breathing. Another Gargantuan wave smashes down and begins loping towards me in frightfully heaving steps.

     “One, two, three,” I count with the bouncing motion of the lip as it transforms into a tremendous avalanche. I’m also approximating the seconds I have to breathe before I must dive under again.

     This time, I make it to the bottom before the torrent snags my board. I’m able to eye two good handholds in the reef, grab onto them and try to gain some footholds before the flood overtakes me. As soon as it hits, my feet leave the reef almost immediately and my legs flounder helplessly behind me. I desperately grip my handholds, which are about as good as they get under the circumstances. I’m able to hold on through thick and thin.

     Once the pull subsides, I eject to the surface and look out the back for another wave. To my relief, the ocean appears subdued and Fraser is making his way back in towards the regular lineup. I crawl onto my board and stroke far past him, far out the back with an emergency supply of energy marked ‘FEAR.’ Yeah, Star Tubes is intense this morning, there’s no denying that. I stay out the back, just to make sure I remain safe from mondo sets.

     Less than five minutes later, another set comes. Fraser paddles out to almost where I am, then swings around and takes off on a treacherous comber. I see him disappear below the lip in an instant, freefalling I reckon. I try to keep an eye out for him as I paddle clear of the set. If I hadn’t had been so far out to begin with, for certain I’d be caught inside again. I see Fraser jettison off the shoulder of his wave, then immediately jump to his belly and start paddling like a madman crossways from the remaining breakers. Out on the shoulder, he’s able to duckdive them.

     Fraser is beyond me. I don’t know many people who would’ve taken the wave he had, let alone make it. He has instantly entered my mental Surfing Hall of Fame.

     Some small-to-medium-sized waves come, so I paddle in and am able to pick off another double-overhead one. It’s fast and bowly, but I just outrun the barrel section and wall, using all of my inertia to start me on the long paddle back across the bay.

     Once I’m free of potential sets, I sit up on my board and turn around, only to see Fraser going for another bomb. He rockets to the base of a fourteen-footer and bottom-turns into a huge barrel, slightly shifting his weight to his outside rail as he carves his line through the tube. It opens wide around him like a slowly spinning cement truck. I raise both my arms and hoot him on in full Tahitian style. He pumps a few times and makes it out of the cavern, then launches off the back. The wall hits a shallow section of reef and closes out, Fraser’s wake still on the face as it slams down with a thundering boom.

     “Alright Fraser!” I cry.

     “Ya headin’ in, mate?” he calls back as if his ride was insignificant.

     “Yeah, mate. But that was one sick barrel you got!”     “I’ll be in shortly after ya, mate!” he replies as if to console me. “I’m gonna get a few more!”

     Star Tubes. Aussies. Intense!

Modified: Tuesday February 5 2008 06:23:13 AM
Hits: 2113

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