Dane And Tanner’s Most Excellent Fijian Adventure
“It was so peaceful in the barrel, but then it went insanely violent. My board was just shrapnel.”
For two days before the swell Dane and Tanner Gudauskas enjoyed fun Restaurants, warming up for what was to come.
Staying on Tavarua with them was a cadre of the world’s most elite big-wave surfers, including Kelly Slater, Billy Kemper, Sean Lopez, Alex Gray, Jojo Ropper, Jarred White, Coco Nogales, Nathan Florence and Landon and Garrett McNamara.
“The whole crew on Tavarua Island was so sick, there was a really tight cammadarie. We felt like a little team out there, cheering each other on and into waves,” said Dane of the vibe on the island.
Come Sunday morning at dawn, one of the biggest swells in recent memory bombarded Thundercloud Reef. The conditions were challenging, the swell massive. The following are Dane and Tanner’s recollections of how the morning played out:
Dane: The morning of the swell whole crew of us surfers were up in the look-out at first light. You could just see that it was so big. The wind wasn’t in a bad direction. It was strong, but kind of offshore. The mood was so tense. Nobody was really saying anything, they were just staring at it. There were like 20 dudes and they all just wanted it. It was heavy.
Tanner: The vibe within the crew, it was a very hopeful feeling that the swell was going to bring it. When we saw those first massive sets from the island, everybody just started to foam.
Even loading the boats up was an experience. Everyone had this feeling, that we’re going out there and we’re a team. We all just headed out there to see what the hell was happening.
Kelly’s tow-free ride. Photo: Fred Pompermayer.
Dane: Jojo and Jarred really helped the island prepare for the water safety part of the swell. They brought Ryan Hargrave, Abe Lerner and Kai Borg down for the swell. We got the skis in the water, got the boats in the water, made sure we had medical supplies for any possible scenario, so we could be as prepared as we could be.
We made our way out there just as it was starting to get light. It was definitely huge when we got out there. There were probably about 20 boats out and more just kept filling in through the morning. I think a lot of guys were trying to pace themselves to see what would be the right window. There were some reports that the wind was going to be really good in the afternoon, so it was kind of the waiting game. Everyone was just checking it and assessing it. The swell was so big. And, gosh, picture this: it was just going to be getting bigger. The period was super long in the morning, then the period was going to drop a little and the feet were going to go up, and that’s the part where it was going to push.
Tanner: Dane was trying to prep me that the outer ledge was a whole different ballgame…and it definitely was. It stands up so tall and throws so wide. Sometimes at Teahupoo, when it’s really big, it almost condenses and gets really concentrated and looks mutated, whereas here it has the full beauty of an open ocean swell with a huge, perfect barrel.
I remember the first couple of sets and everyone was talking about how huge it was, then Sean Lopez grabbed the tow board and got the first one of the day.
Dane: Sean grabbed the rope and said, ‘I’m just going to go out and check it out, maybe get a couple.’ And as soon as he got on a wave I was like, ‘Oh my god, are you kidding me!’
It was so much bigger than it looked. It was bigger than I’d ever seen. I was pretty shocked. Jarred went out and got a couple bombs on the rope.
I was sitting there, and I was like, ‘You know what? The crowd’s pretty light right now, I might as well just go out and try and get one.’
Tanner: Dane felt it. There was so much excitement around the swell we were just trying to slow things down and have fun with it. For me, I didn’t have the burden of knowing how gnarly the outer ledge is, but then when I saw it and realized what he was talking about, I think it was cool because it was something he had been preparing for over the years.
Dane: So, I got my suit on, jumped overboard, made my way into the lineup and tried to catch a couple. Lucas Silvera paddled out and by the time he made it out into the lineup, I’d almost caught a wave but missed it.
I turned around was like, ‘Holy shit, I’m going to get smoked by this set!’ But turns out I was just in the right spot for it. I flipped it and kind of just went. That was the first paddle wave of the morning.
I was so psyched to be seeing the world’s gnarliest dudes, my whole goal was just to open the floodgates and watch all the boys go nuts. So, it was kind of an inspiring feeling to be part of that energy; so many guys that you have so much respect for, it was really special.
Tanner: It wasn’t much longer than 15 minutes after Dane got off the boat, paddled for the first one and almost go it. Thank goodness he didn’t because it totally ledged out under him. That put him inside. Lucas paddled for the next one but was too far outside, so Dane spun and locked in. But he was under the boats by that time, so most of the lineup didn’t see how wide that barrel got.
Dane: I was accidentally inside enough to catch it, because I had missed the wave prior. It put me in a position I wouldn’t have generally been, which is further in than I was sitting. My board felt so small. It was an 8’6” and it just felt smaller and smaller as I made my way down the face.
I kind of remember going over a foam patch and my fins and boards almost cavitating a bit, but I made it down and around the corner. I drew out the bottom turn and the wave boxed out so hard.
I was only focusing on the speed underneath my feet. I was trying to project down the line, almost trying to pump, but I really couldn’t because there was so much water moving up the face. I thought for a second I was going to make it, as I just kept making it over sections.
I made it over one foam ball, corrected, then it spit inward and blew me up vertically. It twisted me around and I dropped straight down. After that I got really worked.
The wipeout was super, super violent—so insanely quick and right to the point. It didn’t hold me up and build up the drama, it was just a straight to shred fest. Immediately every limb was almost ripped from my body. I was like, ‘Okay, I get the point!’
Having a strong water safety presence in the channel allows one to dabble a little deeper. Laurie Towner by Fred Pompermayer.
I came up with my suit inflated, then got smashed by the second wave. I got sucked over the falls and was down for a while. When I came up. Hargrave was right there and grabbed me. He threw me on the back of the sled.
All those water safety guys are heroes. They pulled guys out of impossibly bad situations. Guys were taking those tow waves on the head, and those guys were pretty much responsible for saving everyone.
It was insane.
Tanner: When Dane got out of the water, he was freaked out. His eyes were like straight-up tennis balls. It was so sick! He was just like, ‘It was sooo blue!’
Sitting on the front of the boat he was telling G-Mac about it and G-Mac was like, ‘Bra, somebody’s gotta get a camera on this guy, he’s like freaking out.’
Then Dane was like, ‘I feel like I’ve been hit by lightning!’ He was so juiced.
And then Abe brings the back half of his board to the boat and it literally has chunks of reef broken off in it. The stringer, which I think was 3/4 of an inch, was just confetti. The wave suplexed Dane!
Dane: I went back to the boat and was just juiced up. I felt crazy. I was just sitting there tripping. It was like, ‘Did that even just happen?’
We were psyching for the day. Tanner and a lot of the guys ended up going out later as the swell was kind of building.
Tanner: For me it was taking the experience to learn as much as I could. I was just hanging at the back of the pack. There were a couple swing ones that I got. I got sucked over on one. I got a great hold down on one. All in all, I felt really stoked.
Dane: Tanner was so epic, man. He was totally hungry and he totally got a few. Him and Damien Hobgood got sucked over the falls on a big one, and then took the next one on the face.
It was really cool because he wanted to get involved, he rode a bunch of waves, got some sick ones, took beatings and learned the old-fashioned way.
It’s like they say, experience is the quickest teacher. And he definitely got a piece of it.
He earned his stripes.
Tanner: I was tripping, because California’s just been having the roughest run of swell ever and I starting to think, ‘How big is a big wave going to look?’
Dane: The difference to this swell compared to years past was that the make ratio was a little lower, but the intent to go was really high.
Everyone in the lineup was ready to go on a huge frickin’ wave. Guys were just going so hard for it, and the conditions were so unruly and just buck, I’d say, that there was some serious carnage.
It was really hard to make those waves and it’s just a testament to how hard guys were sending it…not backing down…so sick.
They continued to tow throughout the day, which I thought was a really cool thing because there were waves coming through every 30 or 40 minutes that were clearly on another level. It was clear that those waves were just so big. And the way the direction was, it was super loaded up on the reef, and I think the waves were ridden insanely by the tow guys. I think it was a perfect time for them.
Tanner: I was in the water and paddled over the shoulder on Makua’s wave. I looked down into it and was just blown away. It was massive and he was in the craziest spot. He tried to hang on but got destroyed.
Dane: I can’t even really understand how big Makua or Ramon’s waves are. It’s hard to process.
And Tanner was paddling over the shoulder on those things! Picture the view!
The farther away you get from a day like that, your perspective goes absolutely inside out. You question whether you’ve actually just seen something like that. It’s trippy.
I remember seeing Ramon’s wave and being stunned at how big it was. When you’re watching it, it happens so fast that you almost can’t understand what you’re looking at. There were probably 20 waves earlier that were almost as big and it built into that moment where Ramon and Makua got their waves.
Makua’s wave was so insane and where he wiped out at was so intense. Charging! Everyone’s heart stopped.
There were so many reasons to stay on the boat. It was windy. It was rainy. It was cold. It was kind of closed out. Kind of wonky. You had to want it.
Everyone that paddled out or got on the end of a rope, they’re just hardcore.
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