"I'm Not A Big Wave Guy" - Stab Mag
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“I put my hands up just thinking ‘I’ll get a cool shot or something’ but I just kept going. I was like ‘fuck, I’m actually going to come out of this thing’.”

“I’m Not A Big Wave Guy”

How Kai Paula accidentally made his mark at Jaws three weeks after surfing it for the first time.

news // Jan 24, 2023
Words by Ethan Davis
Reading Time: 4 minutes

“If you’re not getting barrelled at Jaws it just doesn’t seem that impressive anymore. Now there’s a whole bunch of guys out there getting monster tubes and knifing it from the takeoff. For a long time people were just pointing it straight and trying to survive. Albee and those guys changed that, which is gnarly because no one had proven it was possible. Surfing Jaws has evolved quickly. In a way it’s an asset being inexperienced out there because I haven’t had to ‘unlearn’ or ‘invent’ anything. I just copy what those guys do.”

Kai Paula surfed Jaws for the first time three weeks ago on the 30th December. “There’s been three swells since, each of which I surfed multiple times, if that makes sense…” he told Stab. Two days ago while the world watched the Eddie, Kai got the wave of his life in a near empty Jaws lineup, just minutes down the road from his home. It might have been the deepest tube ever threaded at Peahi. 

But let’s just pause for a moment. 

Before three weeks ago, Kai had never surfed a board longer than 6’8” and his greatest accolade was being one of seven members in the highly exclusive “double-rotation” club alongside Noah Beschen, Italo Ferreira, Kelly Slater, Julian Wilson, Albee Layer and Matt Meola. There was no sense in which getting tubed at Jaws seemed like a characteristic progression. 

“I’m not a big wave guy,” Kai laughs. “I knew I’d surf Jaws one day, but it was never a serious ‘goal’ of mine and I never thought I’d be ‘stoked’ on it. But then I went out and I was like ‘This is the best thing in the world… I don’t think anything comes close to the feeling of flying down a wave that big”.

It’s a statement every Dave will cooly nod to in agreement. Taylor Paul once tried to convince me the same after getting rinsed at Waimea. But you should never trust someone hooked to such a potent pharmaceutical. 

“I’ve started hanging out with Albee a bit. All the equipment I’ve borrowed has been his. The day before the swell hit I went to his house and pulled out this old, muddy 8’8” Sean Ordonez. He was surprised it still had some life left in it, and then decided he wanted that one. He ended up giving me a copy of his red and black magic board that he got the majority of his best Jaws barrels on.”

Then the swell hit.

There’s a couple of ways to do Jaws, you can do the 500m paddle off the rocks or you can get a boat or ski out. Both require a non-trivial level of pre-planning and logistics, but the former is a lot more accessible to your everyday Dave. 

“The lineup is huge and there’s two main sections, the West Bowl and the North Peak,” Kai explains. “You’ll see a lot of guys sitting on the North Peak trying to get those big roll-ins into the West Bowl. Albee, Torrey and Tyler will normally sit on the West Bowl on much smaller boards and try to knife it under the ledge. As far as lining it up, I’m still gauging the spot based on where guys are sitting. There’s a couple of landmarks but they’re all quite far away, so it can be confusing. I pretty much just sit where Albee sits.”

I sense there’s a bit of Mr Miyagi going on.

“Sitting on the West Bowl is also good because you can paddle towards the channel pretty easily and avoid the cleanups. The North Peak is gnarlier because if you get caught, you’re probably going to cop multiple waves on the head before you get flushed into the channel. Having said that, I haven’t been properly smoked yet, and yeah, I can’t say I’m looking forward to it.”

That hasn’t stopped him from ordering all his own gear and ruminating obsessively over when the next swell will hit. It’s also boosted his confidence in a way that he feels will compliment the other big aspect of his surfing, airs. “I feel like having survived those bigger waves makes me way more comfortable in small waves.” A ‘big’ air section doesn’t have quite the same menace to it after getting swallowed by twenty footers.

“I’ve never been so focused on something. On making sure everything was right. It felt like everything I’d done in surfing led up to that moment. A huge part of it is not getting in your head and thinking about all the things that could go wrong. At the end of the day all you’re doing is going down the line and getting barrelled but you’re doing it on a ginormous board on a big wave with big chops and spray in your face. It sounds easy, but it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”

“It’s crazy to think what the next phase of surfing Jaws will look like. Like, can the boards get any shorter?” says Kai.

I’d like to see some monster floaters.

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