Dissect a slice of most any sport and it's immediately apparent there are boundaries, schedules, infields, outfields, starting lineups, timers and referees to monitor and judge the athletes and action. One can buy tickets online a month in advance, show up the day of the game, find one's seat and proceed to spectate.
The big-surf season in Hawaiian waters bears no such standards or schedules. Big surf happens of its own accord. The weekly schedule is pried and bent by daily wind, waves and weather reports. The surfer as an athlete is literally a product of his environment.
In the last week of 2012, the Pacific Ocean delivered a series of strong Aleutian groundswells, making it open season for any watermen or women with mettle enough to launch their big-wave guns. From Pipeline to Waimea, Jaws and beyond, Hawaiian waters were raging with long lines, big barrels and more than a few dramatic moments.
On what's being touted as the largest rideable day at Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu, it looked nearly impossible at first light. Huge 15-foot sets were rolling in from Third Reef to Second Reef and making a whitewashy mess of First Reef, where most of Pipe's renowned tube rides typically occur. Rain and wind whipped the beach. A few brave souls paddled out to begin the day's journey.
But as the day progressed, these intermittent moments of perfection were traded with surging swell. As the morning wore on, it only improved. By midday, Mack Truck-size tubes frequented the Pipe reef and guys such as Mark Healey, Gavin Beschen, Makua and Koa Rothman, and Bruno Santos were standouts.
Farther down the road at Waimea Bay, smooth, clean, 12- to 18-foot sets came in all day long. In certain parts of the day, a few straggling 20-footers heaved and guys such as Kahea Hart, Ross Clarke-Jones and Jeremy Flores were on it. Kudos to Keala Kennelly and somewhat unknown Emily Erickson for paddling into a few set waves, as well.
And then there was Maui, and Jaws: clean, 18-foot and well attended. There are so many good big-wave surfers out there now, and the paddle aspect only continues to evolve. The local boys -- Albee Layer, Matt Meola, Billy Kemper and the Walsh boys -- they're really setting the tone for what's happening. Meola is credited with the wave of the day, but there were a lot of good ones.
At the end of the day, as the various stadiums emptied, it can be said that everybody survived and all of the action provided an exciting end to a great year and fresh memories to start the new one.