Meet The Wave That Jack Robinson Called “Like The Right And The Box Mixed Together”
Logan Dulien leads Seth Moniz, Benji Brand, Jack Robbo, and Snapt4 crew to a terrifying crevice in an unexpected place.
“You boys going to Bocas?”
Seth Moniz and Benji Brand heard this question countless times while en route from Hawaii to a place that will officially be called Somewhere in Latin America.
“Uhhh, yeah… Bocas,” they would reply to anyone who asked, be they pro surfer colleagues or anonymous passersby.
Of course, Seth and Benji weren’t actually going to Bocas del Toro—a small, wave-rich archipelago off Panama’s Caribbean coast. While the waves in Bocas are of an undeniable quality, they’ve also been showcased extensively over the past few years, and as this trip was designated toward their upcoming Snapt4 parts, Seth and Benji wanted to find something… different. Something that hadn’t been seen—or maybe even surfed—before.
This year, both Seth and Benji, along with a star-studded mixed bag of international stars, have been stacking clips and planning trips for Logan Dulien’s newest film, Snapt4, with Logan not only producing and directing the film, organizing and executing full-on strike missions, but also putting up $40k to the surfer who puts together the most impressive section—a bold formula for greatness, in our opinion (and as evidence in the response from Logan’s surfers).
Seth and Benji weren’t heading to Bocas; in fact, they were supposed to be on their way to Cloudbreak. That is until Logan, a thoroughly convincing man of infinite enthusiasm, talked them into rolling the dice on a wave—a few waves, actually—he assured would blow their minds. While their friends battled Silverbacks, they’d be taking first cracks at rarer, more radical slabs that to everyone’s knowledge had only been ridden by bodyboarders.
So they zigged when others zagged, to a place they knew nothing about, with limited connections, and where they’d seen only a few grainy videos of what appeared to be semi-surfable slabs.
Because adventure, right?
For the attentive reader, it won’t be difficult to discern the general region through which our protagonists trekked. We won’t name it here, but we will justify any allusions to the waves’ locations with the following facts:
According to Logan and the locals, this was a once-in-a-decade swell in terms of size, longevity and ocean conditions. So, even if you camped out at these spots for the next five years, you’d be lucky to find them like this even once.
Those same locals couldn’t have been more welcoming to Seth and Benji not only surfing their waves, but also in revealing the waves’ locations. Once a major surf destination, the region where these waves reside has lost the majority of its tourism due to a nearby city’s unsafe public perception*. The locals want to change that perception by having more surfers—like Benji and Seth—sample their waves and return home with flowery tales about time spent in the tube (however, we still don’t feel comfortable dropping coordinates).
So, Seth and Benji arrived at a beachside hotel the night before this decade-swell was meant to peak. Increasingly powerful waves rocked the adjacent restaurant, with each set bringing a more robust explosion against the retaining-wall out front. About halfway through their chicken quesadillas, the boys were surprised to feel a puddle form around slippers. A wave of unknown size but undeniable force had clambered its way over the wall and directly into the cantina, which according to the waiters was a first.
Safe to say the swell had arrived.
Like Hawaii, this region suffers from a traditionally-maternal ailment called morning sickness.
As a surfer in a strange land, morning sickness can actually be a blessing. Unsettled conditions allow the weary traveler to sleep-in, drink a cup of coffee, steady his mind, and then confront waves of a violent size and nature.
After watching sets close-out the hotel bay over breakfast, the boys piled into a pick-up truck Logan had organized and drove to a shiny silver gate somewhere along the river.
Beep beep went the local driver, before waving to a camera that perched above the gate. Several seconds later, the reflective barrier slid open, revealing a property with a two-story bungalow, an enclosed miniature soccer field, and most importantly, a fleet of high-powered, multi-terrain vehicles.
We’re talking ATVs, jet skis, dirt bikes, and longboats with dual 300 horse-power engines in the back. And thanks to some incredible hospitality from the locals, this would be Seth and Benji’s all-inclusive Batcave for the next week.
With boards strewn across bench-seats and filmers huddled beneath a flimsy pop-up umbrella, the over-powered boat roared out of the river and into the sea, bouncing over 12-foot swells every 10 seconds—just enough time, as the boys would soon learn, to regather themselves before another spine-shattering thud.
As Seth and Benji’s boat approached the first “wave,” they realized it wasn’t a wave at all, but rather a runaway train crashing into a small, jagged island. The joint had a Cape Solander-esque backwash and an Aint’s bowl clamp, rendering only one of ten waves makeable.
First surf after a huge day of travel? Nah. This wasn’t the place. So the boys rounded the corner of the island, traveling a mere 300 meters to where the “other” right resided.
This wave had no backwash, but it was significantly steeper than the first and broke toward the island rather than away from it. These factors added a new level of anxiety, as the thought of riding a wave too far in and being stranded on the island, alone, with the snakes and the monkeys and the god-knows-what for Bill-Murray-knows-how-long, was not a pleasant thought.
While intrigued by this mystery slab, the boys’ mindsurf make-rates weren’t high enough to elicit a paddle. Especially because the boys knew of a nearby, relatively user-friendly left that was likely to be firing.
Following a 15-minute boat ride, these suspicions were confirmed. From the boat, the left looked like a slightly less perfect version of Cloudbreak. From land, a more sectiony version of G-Land.
The locals, who had surfed this wave for decades but rarely at this size, were shocked to discover that two Hawaiian pros had ventured such great lengths to sample their seasonal honey-hole. The regulars showed great interest and capacity on the “normal”-sized sets, but when something truly hideous reared its head, most deferred to the visitors, but primarily Benji, who swung late and fell into deep, multi-section tubes with remarkable agility.
Anyone who’s surfed heavy waves before knows: there are always one or two guys in the lineup who have that look in their eye—the glimmer of crazy that reveals a genuine desire for the big, ugly lumps that roll through every 45 minutes, as opposed to those who feign interest for appearance’s sake or avoid the waves altogether.
Videos rarely lend credence to these types of performances, as most clips only capture the last 20-percent of the moment, which is actually standing up and riding the wave. What they fail to show is the surfer finding his place in the lineup, holding that position while others scramble for the horizon, and when the wave achieves its most frightening form, paddling toward shore like a man possessed.
On the bright side, in Benji’s case, the clips (and images) are pretty fucked up too.
What else can be said about this place without dropping the proverbial pin?
For starters, it has unique swell patterns.
Unlike most major oceans—where wind-borne storms travel in one direction or another (but usually east to west) and send waves toward adjacent coastlines until the storm either dissipates or makes landfall—the swells here are stationary, but still very much alive.
Rather than moving longitudinally or latitudinally, the storms that create these swells form in something of a wind-funnel formed by opposing land masses. The winds get trapped in this little bubble, occasionally for weeks at a time, sending constant, short-period energy toward shore.
Because the nucleus of these storms is so close to the coast, swell periods rarely eclipse 11 seconds. Yet somehow, local winds are typically favorable.
If Earth was in fact designed by a Creator, this place would either be his/her biggest mistake or greatest surfing Easter egg. Where else can you find long-lasting, high-intensity, short-period swells with regular offshores?
It just doesn’t happen.
All of which is to say, the next week hardly faltered in terms of wave size or quality. But after exhausting the world-class if relatively tranquil left, the boys wanted to try something a little more…confronting.
Upon entering the lineup of the second right—the one sans-backwash that breaks toward the island—Seth and Benji made a few quick discoveries.
First, the majority of waves, and often the best waves, had no point of entry. Mid-sized ocean lumps turned to over-vert office buildings in less than a second, meaning most if not every drop would include a freefall—unless you got a chip-shot, of which there were few.
Second, this wave had no true channel, so even if they made the drop, Benji and Seth still had to avoid falling in the tube or even kicking out improperly, as the second and third waves of the set could easily put them on the island. With the current constantly sucking toward the impact zone, one could theoretically make the wave of his life, perform a flying sack-grab kickout, and then receive a rogue, 10-foot mutant on the head.
So that’s the psychological burden Seth and Benji were faced with.
This being their first session at a totally new, borderline-surfable slab with legitimate health ramifications, the boys erred on the side of caution, taking curious glances over two-story ledges but committing only to the “playful” waves (read: Hawaiian six-footers) and surfing them mostly in the pocket.
Completion after completion, the boys gained confidence in their ability to read, ride, and escape the crevice unscathed.
One of the water photographers wasn’t so lucky.
In an effort to get #theshot, the shooter, Agustin, positioned himself a little too deep in the bowl, diving underneath one of Seth’s waves successfully but emerging in the impact zone of wave number two. With a 10-second swell period and the current pulling him deeper into the bowl, Agustin did all he could to escape the inevitable, but with only a few feet of water between him and the reef, there was nowhere to hide.
Agustin didn’t slam too hard the first time around, but he was dragged briskly toward the island. The following wave pinned him against the jagged, forward-leaning reef wall, holding him underwater for an uncomfortably long period of time.
Seth and Benji, watching helplessly from the lineup, were in shock.
“Do we go in to get him?” one of them asked.
But they both knew the answer. Going to “save” Agustin would do nothing but put another life in danger. So they sat and waited for his head to pop up.
It never did.
At this point, the jetski (which was being used primarily for filming purposes) ripped toward the island. Seth and Benji watched as the Yamaha did laps up and down the front-facing part of the reef wall, before abandoning that strategy and going around the back.
Ten minutes later, the ski came flying around the other side of the island. Agustin was nowhere in sight.
The boys’ hearts sank.
“Oh my god, where is he?” one of them asked.
“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”
The jetski driver then proceeded to drop the filmer onto the main boat and race back around the island, which restored some hope. Five minutes later, he returned, with an in-tact but thoroughly shaken Agustin on the sled.
The boys decided that that was enough drama for one day, so they paddled back to the boat, not totally fulfilled with their session but glad everyone would return home in one piece.
Once on the boat, they found the photographer out of breath, in shock, and bleeding from his ear. Most assumed that Agustin had broken his eardrum from the pressure of being held underwater, but it turned out he’d caught a reef spine in his ear canal while trying to find the surface.
Agustin—who excluding a vaping habit, was in peak physical condition—explained that after a lengthy hold down, he was eventually ripped around the corner of the island and was able to clamber up over the razor-sharp reef.
“We didn’t see him for so long,” the jetski driver would later recount. “After a certain point, we were just looking for a body. Luckily, Agustin had climbed up onto the island, but we thought he was gone.”
While thoroughly spooked by this incident, Seth and Benji knew they couldn’t leave this place without giving the right a true crack. So they recruited more skis for safety, sent their moms heartfelt messages, and left the port early the next morning with one goal in mind: pack a true bomb (secondarily, survive).
Benji was first to commit.
Taking off on the steepest section of a massive teepee, the African-born Hawaiian released his rail and took the drop hands-free, which worked surprisingly well considering the magnitude of water behind him.
“I was bottom-turning up into the biggest right barrel,” Benji would later explain. “It looked like Chopes. But then out of nowhere, this giant chandelier landed on my back.”
The wave was so powerful that it knocked Benji, who is built like a bunch of oranges stuffed into a tube sock, straight off his board.
Fortunately, Benji found a pocket of deep water and avoided the reef. He then narrowly escaped an encounter with the island and was briskly returned to the lineup by the safety ski. This relatively harmless experience provided Benji with newfound confidence—a confidence that, through some sort of brotherly osmosis, transferred directly to Seth.
Moniz’s first wave was subterranean. We can state that authoritatively, because he disappeared from view when looking into the wave from the boat.
Over the next four hours, Seth and Benji rode a dozen waves apiece and didn’t fall once. Literally, not once. They paddled some of the heaviest, most technically difficult waves either of them had encountered and didn’t put a foot wrong. It was like watching the dream sequence of a Hollywood film—everything moved in slow motion, but it was over before we knew it.
Following their surf, Benji declared that this was one of the best days of his life.
“I’ve never surfed a wave like that,” he continued. “So steep and fast and short-period. It’s probably the scariest place I’ve ever paddled.”
While the boys chowed their boat-catered lunch, the “safety crew” took the empty lineup as an invitation to have some fun of their own, which consisted of whipping into empty, 10-foot kegs.
After several successful ventures, one of the towees—who happened to be a 50-something World Tour vet, Charlie Kuhn—found himself in a world of trouble. After kicking out of a successful wave, he was confronted by another double the height and magnitude. More pressingly, this wave had swung well wide of the first, rendering the “channel” completely useless.
As a man of great intestinal fortitude, Charlie attempted to duckdive the vicious mass. This did not end well.
After a near-two-wave hold-down, Charlie emerged painted in blood.
Even the application of salt water, which serves to temporarily pacify a wound, did nothing to stop the crimson flow. From the top of Charlie’s head down to his sun-stained calves, abrasions of varying length and depth gushed a deep red.
Like Agustin, Charlie was in adrenaline-induced shock.
“I’m fine! I’m good. Seriously. They’re just flesh wounds,” Charlie said, with a seamless Monty Python reference.
That night, Seth flew back to Hawaii to fulfill some prior obligations. Tagging in for him were Jack Robinson, Balaram Stack and Parker Coffin, who had heard all about the “decade swell” and wanted to dance in its dying breaths.
While smaller, the right provided some moments over the next few days. It was primarily Jack, a tube savant of the highest order and recent QS graduate, who connected most with the lurching, island-adjacent wedge.
“It’s like The Box and The Right mixed together,” Jack would later explain, in reference to two of the most notorious shelves of his homeland, Western Australia.
But this false sense of familiarity would ultimately cost Jack. After exiting a tube in his patently lax fashion, the Australian thought it might be fun to bang a little cutty on the end section. Big mistake.
Before Jack knew it, the reef had gone dry and he was forced to straighten out. This left him in an unenviable position for waves two and three of the set, which pushed him emphatically toward the island. Jack had no choice but to scale the chiseled sea ulcer, which he did one inch at a time.
“I’ve never felt something so sharp,” Jack would later describe. “It took me 45 minutes to move 20 feet.”
This kind of Type-2 fun is why the boys didn’t go to Bocas de Toro in the first place. Rather than a guaranteed score at a gorilla wedge, they had trusted Logan, and listened to him when he pushed. them to get something different. Something novel. Something with more inherent risk.
Logan gave us all a reason to zig when others zag.
Snapt4 will premiere this summer, and we can safely bet it’ll end up the surf film of the year.
*How “safe” the town actually is varies depending on who you talk to, but there’s a resounding consensus that the zone is on an upward trajectory in terms of general security. Also, the local surf community would happily open its arms to (respectful) newcomers.
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