Dave Wassel, 37, lives at the Volcom House, Pipeline
1. Cut your own path Dave Wassel surfed in a lifejacket until the age of 15. His old man, originally from Pennsylvania, arriving in Hawaii in the fifties, almost drowned aged 11, imbuing in him a lifelong fear of water. To this day he can’t swim. If Dave was caught near the water without his lifejacket he would be beaten. It led to some embarrassing situations. “We’d go trawling and diving on my friend’s boat and I’d always be in this lifejacket. The boys would be like, “Does that thing work?” I’d say yeah and they’d whip around and push me off a mile out to sea. Then circle around throwing bait at me. I’d say, “Fuck you!” And swim in. That’s how I became such a good swimmer. I can swim like a fucken fish.
2. Stick to the pool, kook. You won’t lifeguard on the North Shore unless your peers accept you. You can be fucken Mark Spitz or Michael Phelps but if you can’t swim in 10-foot Pipe or 10-foot Waimea shorebreak, you’re a pool guard at Turtle bay. The selection process is the same across USA – swim a thousand metres in 20 minutes, run a thousand metres in 20 minutes, paddle a rescue board 400 yards in three minutes, do a sprint relay conisting of a 100 hundred metre beach run and swim a hundred metres back under three minutes. Anyone can pass that but to be a North Shore lifeguard the older lifeguards have to accept you. And the boys (local surfers) definitely have a word in who becomes one.
“I saw Tamayo Perry get a piece of baloney ripped off his head. It was half-an-inch thick and five inches across. I’ve seen so much fluid coming out of someone’s head. It looked like someone was pouring grape juice out of a jug.”
3. Never met a swell I couldn’t tame I have not seen a situation where I wouldn’t jump in the water. I will paddle out and at least retrieve the person and try and calm them down. You keep them floating and I will radio my partner to get the ski to meet me a mile outside Sunset. It’s nothing special. If it’s 20-to-30 feet Waimea you find the rip and keep them calm and tell them,“Help is on the way, don’t freak out. And, what the fuck were you doing out here in the first place?”
4. Red tape Legally, when a fight happens we are not allowed to jump in and we aren’t covered if we get injured. Fights happen all the time. Often, we have to back up the cops. Meth and Heinekens – put ‘em together and you got a problem. But the public is watching. If there is a fight, what are you gonna do? Stand there with your thumb in your arse? Legally, when its 40 feet you don’t have to jump in either but you’re not gonna stand there like an idiot. Plus, when it’s that big, usually it’s not some dipshit tourist that’s in trouble, it’s one of the boys.
5. Gore I saw Tamayo Perry get a piece of baloney ripped off his head. It was probably half-an-inch thick and five inches across. Some random guy’s board hit him in the head. I’ve never seen so much fluid coming out of someone’s head. It looked like someone was pouring grape juice out of a jug. He was coherent and talking to us the whole time. It was like a science fiction movie. Fuck yeah, I thought he was gonna die but you do what you’re supposed to and it worked out for the best. The bleeding stopped, we kept him concious and he’s got a big baloney bald patch but he can still surf pipe.
6. Clubbies these guys are not Everyone is a talented surfer that is a lifeguard on the North Shore. There are 35 full-time guards and seven part-timers, of which I am one. Mark Dombrowski is the man. The guy’s gotta be in his fifties and has worked Waimea since the days of Eddie Aikau. On any day, he will out perform all of us. You may not recognise these guys when they’re at Haleiwa Joes, sitting next to you eating a burger because they will never talk about it. Jose Angel’s son Johnny is another. Jose put the first, second and third reefs on the map and all the other outer reefs. I started doing contests when I was 20 and got hooked up with Volcom. I’ve surfed the Pipe Masters four or five times, I’ve surfed the Eddie and I’ve surfed the Mavericks contest but nothing means more to me than having a spot in the lineup at Pipe, the toughest lineup in the world. I’m not number one, but I’m in the top 10. I also represented the USA in spearfishing at the Pacific championship. We versed guys from New Zealand, Japan, New Caledonia and Australia. We got bronze, Australia won.
7. Off season We travel. I go to the South Pacific and work as a freelance lifeguard. I do Tahiti and Fiji. I get to work on Tavarua as a lifeguard. It’s what you call, “Lucky.” Otherwise, I’m back here diving.
8. The one situation a lifeguard won’t save you If it’s one of the boys fighting there is probably a valid reason. If it’s one on one, I’ll tell you now, I let them fight. If my boss comes up and says, “How come you didn’t stop it?” I say, “Hey it was too dangerous of a situation.” If they don’t fight there, the fight will carry onto somewhere else. Let them deal with it.
9. Read the sign, kook. You got one million people on this island and they basically know what’s going on but then you have seven million tourists that come every year. No fucking clue! Every one of them wants to get their feet wet. When it’s 20-to-25 feet they don’t realise the water rushes up to the road. They run down to the shore, put their babies and carriages down there while they go in and then the water comes up. You deal with the public, you deal with fucked-up situations but you can never lose your cool.
10. Black spots Waimea bay. It has a carpark right there, it’s a playground for tourists and it has the biggest shorebreak and strongest current in the world. In saying that, it’s 50-50 between tourists and surfers that I save. The most dangerous wave from a lifeguard’s point of view is between Off the Wall and Keiki shorebreak. The bottom has big anvil shaped heads. It’s deep and shallow in parts, so you’re lucky not to hit one and break your hip, plus it never washes you in or out. It holds you there an