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Evaluating an Historic XXL Thanksgiving Swell

The Thanksgiving swell has come and gone, and now that the spray has settled, we have some time to sit back and see how things went.

First of all, this was an historic swell, on multiple levels. It was the biggest swell to arrive in November in recorded history. It was also the third biggest buoy reading on the Waimea buoy with greater than a 20-second period in at least 20 years, and possibly as far back as 1996. At the peak of the swell, Waimea buoy read 20.7 feet at 20 seconds, with Buoy 1 hitting an apocalyptic 26.2 feet at 19 seconds.


For those who came up to the North Shore to check it out, the swell was just as impressive in person. Cleaning crews are still scraping sand and debris off of Kam Highway, including in places that generally never get washed out (such as the area by Three Tables, which is protected by a stone wall at the back of the beach park). Authoritative sources are calling some of the sets that hit very early Friday morning in the “near 30-foot range,” and that’s Hawaiian scale, so we are talking 60+ feet on the face. And although Waimea didn’t have closeout sets all day long (the energy was more focused on the outer reefs, due to the extremely long period), some of the best and most experienced at the Bay contend that this would have been one of the most perfect Eddie days if the swell had come during the contest waiting period.

Despite the nearly out-of-control conditions, the swell involved very little drama and carnage. Due to both luck and preparation, very few surfers at Waimea (which was the epicenter of the action) got washed into the shore break, and those that did were rescued by the safety skis, which arrived at around 8:30. Meanwhile, Saturday remained XL throughout the day, with dreamy conditions and 15-foot sets as late as sundown on Saturday night. And even Monday saw the odd 10-foot set apexing at Sunset Beach.

Big Waves Hawaii

Virtually every big wave surfer on the North Shore who wasn’t injured or chasing the swell to Jaws found their way into a few fun, huge waves this weekend, and most did so on the back of a lot of offseason preparation and training. The prep for an XXL swell of this nature is equal parts physical and mental. First of all, the body needs to be prepared to handle the hold downs and the violent beatings that occur in waves of this size. This includes cardio, strength training, stabilization work (such as foundation training), and yoga—not to mention a lot of paddling. At the same time, the mental game is what helps you stay calm and relaxed in heavy situations, such as when scratching over a closeout set or enduring a long hold down. Mental preparation can include meditation, visualization, and the confidence that comes from knowing you have prepared your body and equipment as well as possible beforehand.

The end result—and ultimate goal—of all of this training is a seamless experience when the swell finally hits. Everyone wants to go home with a few exciting memories and no major injuries—and for the most part, that’s what happened this weekend. Congratulations to everyone who was out there charging! Enjoy a much-deserved rest, as the winter is just getting started!


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