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The Ultimate Rush

Jul 29, 2008

Author: words by Jason Polakow photos by Nathan Secker/Red Bull

If you are brave enough to bear the freezing air and slightly warmer waters off New Zealand’s South Island, you can get a taste of what some of the largest waves on the planet look like. On rare occasions, a low-pressure system hurls itself up from the deep Arctic region, pushing a huge southwest swell of unbelievable magnitude.

I am having dinner with Campbell Farrell when the discussion of New Zealand comes up. He tells me a handful of tall tales about a place on the southern island called Papatowai, a big-wave location, home to a brave few who are willing to endure freezing temperatures and cold Arctic winds just to get the taste of pure adrenaline.
    Several days later I get a call from Campbell: “It’s going to be on!” A big swell is to hit in the middle of New Zealand’s summer. “Check out the maps and call me back,” he adds. “It’s going to be big on Monday.”
    So that’s what I do, and he is right. My buddy Robby Swift joins in too, and only days later we are on our way, seeking the ultimate rush.
    There are so many elements that need to work in your favour in order to make a windsurfing trip successful: the wind and waves, the swell and the light for shooting the right pictures. Preparation is everything, especially when you want to surf a place as isolated as Papatowai that has never been windsurfed before. We do our best with the short amount of notice we have.
    After 32 hours we finally reach our destination: Papas, south of Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island. We drive to the shore to get our first glimpse of what Papatowai has in store for us. I watch a local surfer catch his first wave.
    I turn to Robby and say, “Is that guy a midget, or is that a 15-foot wave breaking right now?”
    Robby smiles. “I think it is.”

JP bottom turns
    Campbell and his buddy Miles Ratama show up to jetty us to the outside break. We are eager to get out there. I can see two parts to the wave. The first main outside section hits the reef and just stands up and barrels like Jaws on Maui. The second part of the wave is the inside section where the wave becomes fat and turns on itself a bit, causing a new slab of water to stand up and catch you unaware if you’re not ready. This wave peels down the line and is more of a workable ride than the main peak. It still has a weird lump on it and some waves don’t connect to the inside, but it’s big, and that’s ultimately what counts. Out here, rogue sets also break in the middle of the ocean. There is no safe place to sit, so we help each other rig one at a time while keeping a close lookout for rogue waves.
    We take the first few bombs, but as the day goes on, the local tow-surfers want all the waves to themselves. Robby and I both pull off our fair share of set waves for the surfers, and finally, after a certain amount of frustration, we agree it’s time for us to have a crack. I take a bomb wave from the outside, and I can already see one Jet Ski start up and make its way toward the lineup. I decide not to pull off the wave, as I have done a number of times before. As the Ski cuts across me and the surfer lets go of the rope, I jump the tow rope in front of me and then drop into the wave super late, along with the local surfer. He is pissed with me and shouts out.
    The rest of the day is a battle between taking the good set waves and being respectful toward the surfers, considering we are in their realm. They haven’t seen a windsurfer out in real waves before, especially at their premier big-wave spot, and I’m sure they would never in a million years have expected a windsurfer to be out in these conditions.


JP and RS at a calm lakeJP and white waterRS and JP share a monster

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