Surf Way Up, Surfers Way Out
WAILUKU, Maui — "It was the worst lickings I've ever had," said extreme waterman Brett Lickle, describing his wipeout Monday in a wave with an estimated 80-foot face.
Lickle, 47, suffered a severe gash on his left leg during an afternoon session at Outer Sprecks with famed big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton, who stripped naked to fashion his surf trunks into a tourniquet to prevent his tow-in partner from bleeding to death.
"It was the most intense thing I've been through," said Lickle, recuperating yesterday at his Ha'iku home.
Lickle made his name for being the first person along with Dave Kalama to windsurf at the notorious Jaws surfbreak at Peahi, Maui. He also is a member of the original Strap Team that pioneered tow-in surfing, experimenting with foot straps on surfboards. More recently, he invented the SurfBall balance trainer.
Lickle and other big-wave experts said Monday's storm surf created historic swells that rolled in close together, making it more dangerous for personal watercraft operators to swoop in and pick up their surfing partners before the next breaking wave.
"Those were the biggest waves that any of us have seen," said Buzzy Kerbox, another member of Maui's big-wave surfing community.
The storm surf roared in from the northeast in just the right direction to cause the swells to hit the outer reef off Spreckelsville and generate a steep peak, Kerbox said, much like the Teahupoo, also known as Chopo, break in Tahiti.
Lickle said Outer Sprecks is a "secret spot" that "most people don't want anything to do with."
"If ever you're going to find a 100-footer, it's there," he said.
The surf was "pretty monstrous" when Lickle and Hamilton returned to the outer reef in the afternoon after a morning tow-in session. Only one other tow-in team braved the giant waves with them.
Lickle said he was on a Honda AquaTrax three-seat watercraft while Hamilton grasped a tow rope before kicking out of a wave. Lickle turned back and picked up the surfer, but they were unable to outrun the looming 80-foot wall of water.
"I'm in big trouble," Lickle said he told himself before the wave crashed down.
The entire length of his left calf was sliced open by the high-performance aluminum fin on a spare board stowed on the sled trailing the AquaTrax. After surfacing, Lickle reunited with Hamilton, who provided makeshift first aid with his shorts. Lickle said that at that point, they were about three-quarters of a mile from shore.
Hamilton "swam like a bat out of hell" for a half-mile to retrieve the AquaTrax and return to his injured partner, he said. By then, Lickle had been pushed into calmer waters and was no longer in danger of getting slammed by big waves. But with the bleeding from his wound, he said he became worried about "the big guys" — tiger sharks known to prowl Maui's coastlines.
The two had a radio on board and were able to call for help. An ambulance was waiting when they came ashore at Baldwin Beach Park in Pa'ia.
More than 50 staples were needed to close the gash on Lickle. As soon as his leg recovers, he said he plans to hit the waves: "That's right."
Although he observed the Outer Sprecks break from shore, Kerbox decided to head to Maui's northwest coast to test the tow-in surf outside Honolua Bay. At about 3:30 p.m., the size of the swells doubled to 40-foot faces, he said.
"It was normal, nice tow-in surfing, but once it got bigger, it just jumped a whole notch," he said. "It was breaking in places we've never seen it break. It went from fun and easy to pretty challenging."
First, swimming half a mile of open ocean to retrieve a jet ski and then driving back to rescue the guy who was rescuing you and then using your trunks to tie an effective tourniquet and save his life? In EIGHTY-FOOT WAVES? I'm still trying to get my head around that.
Third, fifty staples in your leg and you're going out again as soon as you can?
These indeed are men of iron. Or boneheads. I don't understand, but I do admire. "Pretty challenging", well, I daresay. I do daresay.