Stab Magazine | Stressful Job? Try Driving a Ski at Jaws!

Stressful Job? Try Driving a Ski at Jaws!

Words by Ali Klinkenberg | Interviews by Morgan Williamson As the North Shore of Oahu morphs from colosseum to playground (flat here = the dreamiest three foot peaks you could imagine) we’re forced to reminisce on the spectacle that was the Pe’ahi Invitational to get the adrenal glands spurting. The thing about surf contests is […]

news // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Words by Ali Klinkenberg | Interviews by Morgan Williamson

As the North Shore of Oahu morphs from colosseum to playground (flat here = the dreamiest three foot peaks you could imagine) we’re forced to reminisce on the spectacle that was the Pe’ahi Invitational to get the adrenal glands spurting. The thing about surf contests is that they’re held in a completely uncontrollable environment. Mick Fanning almost got eaten by a shark in South Africa earlier in the year, and the recent event at Jaws, as you’d expect, was perched on the edge of disaster, which nearly came when Kai Lenny, the world’s most awesome multi-boarder, got cleaned up by a 40 foot set whilst on the back of a safety ski.

“I got caught inside for the second time, ten minutes earlier I had gotten caught inside and snapped my board,” says the ever vibrant Kai, “but this time the set was much bigger and broke 20 feet in front of me. All I could do was go lobster diving. I opened my eyes underwater to try and negotiate the turbulence and went backwards over the falls.”

Veteran waterman and fearless safety ski operator Keola Curna was the man charged with trying to pluck Mr Lenny out of this treacherous predicament. “I saw Kai pop up in one of the most dangerous places to be, and the next wave was right there breaking and I think Ian Walsh was taking off,” explains Keola. “I knew it was gonna be really close but I shot in to pick him up. When he got on the sled I was on the throttle but the ski was cavitating. For the people that don’t know, that’s when the whitewash is so big that the ski just sucks air in and you don’t move. It’s kinda like trying to get your car out of the mud, but your tires just keep spinning. Only there’s a 40 foot wave about to swallow you.”

jaws resize

Imagine writing a health and safety evaluation for this workplace. (Photo: Wsl)

If there was anyone that Kai Lenny wanted in his corner at this point it was Keola. “He’s saved me so many times out there that I had full faith I was going to be in the clear,” continues Kai, “that is until I looked over my left shoulder and saw Ian Walsh kicking out of a frothy one that was horse shoeing around us. All I could do was hold on tighter and hope we were going to get lucky. The foam was really thick so the ski wasn’t getting the traction to speed forward, we were cavitating and before I knew it I was flung in the air and I got hit by the ski.”

“The ski started to gain traction just before we went down and we finally started moving,” remembers Keola. “I remember thinking that we have a chance, if I can just get the ski to grab a little more. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw that we were slowly getting surrounded by whitewash. But as long as I could keep the ski straight and kept the nose pointed to shore we had a chance. Things were going good until I hit a chop and it kicked my nose to the right. My ski pointed sideways and the wave smacked us. All I remember was getting ejected and doing a front flip. I was hoping we weren’tgonna get hit by the ski. As soon as I hit the water I covered my head and the ski clipped my legs as it went over me. When I opened my eyes it was pretty dark and I knew I was down pretty deep. I was under for a while and when I finally came up I looked towards the shore and I saw one of the other safety skis grabbing Kai. I looked back out and another wave came and took me under again.”


Kai Lenny at Jaws in happier times. Negotiating an avalanche with a daring smile. (Photo by Marc Chambers)

Keola explains that although the relatively new big wave paddle trend is great for the spectacle of professional big wave surfing, it sure makes things more dangerous for the water patrol than the traditional tow days. “You not only have the surfer to worry about, but now you have a ten foot board that can potentially knock a surfer unconscious, and a leash that acts like an anchor when you grab them in the whitewater and try to speed off,” explains Keola. “More things can go wrong at Peahi with the paddle in.”

For Kai Lenny it seems that the incident was no big deal, he is a Jaws regular after all, and he even stroked out for a few more waves after the tumble. “I was lucky I still had time to grab my third board and rush back out for a couple more waves!” concludes Kai. “I am most grateful Keola was okay and at the end of the day I am glad everyone survived and could go home to their families.” In the case of a Jaws ski driver, that’s the mark of a successful day.


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