It’s been said that expectation is the cause of all disappointment—and when you make a habit of chasing swells, it can be pretty hard to leave your expectations at home. In the old days, before detailed, online swell forecasts—20 years ago or so—surf trips were largely educated guesses.
We knew what seasons were best for what coasts, but we also knew that surfing was a fickle beast, and that mid-season lulls usually outnumbered five-star days. So we tempered our expectations, hoped for the best, and booked trips blindly. If we scored, we were stoked. If not—well, at least we were on a trip away from the stress of work and home.
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But today’s surf travel is a very different thing. For most surf zones, we know two weeks out if the waves are going to pump. We look at swell charts, wind forecasts, and detailed spot forecasts like those on this very site, then make the call and book last-minute flights a few days before the swell hits. Barring some sort of unforeseen disaster, there’s rarely any reason not to score—at least if you have the flexibility to pick up and go at a moment’s notice.
Even trips to unconfirmed waves come with somewhat of a guarantee. Google Earth gives us a good idea of what we will find when we get to this reef pass or that sand point, and when you add whispered rumours from leather-skinned sailors into the mix, it’s pretty hard not to fall into the trap of expectation. Which is, of course, the best way to ruin a trip.
I’d heard some of those whispered rumours—rumours of a brand new, super heavy, virtually unknown sandbar—and had spent more than a year staring at a particular stretch of coast on Google Earth, waiting for the right swell to pop up.
It was a punt, we all knew that—but we were pretty sure we were onto something good
When it finally did, I compared notes with the MSW forecast team, then called up Hawaiians Noa Mizuno and Cliff Kapono and asked if they wanted to go find the world’s next best wave. It was a punt, we all knew that—but we were pretty sure we were onto something good. As we made our way from the Pacific over to the world’s second biggest ocean, the anticipation began to build. Not only were we going to score, we were going to do so in long, below-sea-level barrels that had possibly never been surfed before.
A lot of hours and a lot more dollars later, we arrived to find our sandbar flat as a lake. That was somewhat expected, since it was extremely shadowed and the swell wasn’t due for another 12 hours, but it was still a bit disheartening. It was even more disheartening when the sun set that evening, and the swell hadn’t started to fill in yet.
And the next day, when tiny, ankle-high waves limped down the point, we were downright depressed. It didn’t help that a relentless devil wind was blowing directly into what would have been the barrel, had the swell been bigger, or longer period, or from a different direction, or whatever combination of those factors this particular stretch of sand needed. Even if the swell were to fill in late—which we highly doubted—the wind was sideshore at best. We were skunked.
Obviously, none of us were happy. We’d just traveled 40 hours, without sleep, and spent a helluva lot of money to get to where we were going, and what we had come for was little more than a windy mirage.
Our only other option was an open beach break we’d seen around a bend in the coast, which would theoretically have offshore winds and be a bit more open to the swell—but it hadn’t been doing much the evening before, and anyway, we’d come for point break perfection, not some subpar beachbreak.
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Noa was over it, ready to fly back home to Hawaii, where a solid swell and light trades meant the waves were pumping. Cliff was putting on a brave face and trying to keep everyone stoked, but it was obvious that he wasn’t pleased. And I was the reason they’d both flown all this way, the one who had hyped the setup and planted the seed of expectations in their minds to begin with. To say I felt bad was a gross understatement.
But what are you going to do? We were there and we’d come to surf, so we could either sit around moping or we could go ride a few waves. We hopped back into the truck, drove back around that bend in the coast, and found waist-high sets filtering into the bay. After another grumble at our bad luck, we grabbed mid-lengths and twin-fins and surf mats, and headed out for a grovel.
Less than an hour later, we were all sprinting back to the beach for our shortboards. A dozen yards offshore, the best beach break any of us had ever seen was spewing hollow, peaky, overhead, Caribbean-blue perfection. It was four days before we even thought to drive back over and check the point.
So much for expectations.