THE BENDS

11 Jul 2012 0 Share

Mike Jennings

Senior Writer

Kai Otton and the Volcom Fiji Pro heat that could have killed him

By Mike Jennings

Three lay-days were spent in quiet anticipation of the looming swell. And then, as predicted, the giant waves came and history was made. Courageous men conquered great water and for just a little while, proved man can defy nature. But before the wind turned and what some are calling the greatest big wave session ever took place, four men paddled out in ASP rash vests and completed the two remaining heats of Round 2. Adam Melling and Bede Durbidge paddled out first and took to the wild and uncertain conditions with conviction. Then it was Raoni Monteiro and Kai Otton’s turn. Raoni pulled into a barrel and travelled through unmakable section after unmakable section before pulling halfway out from a curtain that drove him hard into flat water and compounded his knee like a retractable drinking straw. Kai Otton found a couple out there too, including one he calls the best and worst wave of his life.

Were you aware that the surf for the event might get huge? Were you prepared?
KO: We were all aware there was swell on the way but no-one thought it was going to be that crazy. It was breaking out off the back ledge at Cloudbreak and in the entire history of all ASP events that have run in Fiji, if Cloudbreak gets anywhere near that size the comp moves to Restaurants. So no one ever expected to surf that sort of stuff. We were just thinking, “Well, the comp will run at Restaurants, because that’s what it’s always done.” And it’s only because all these mad dogs have started paddling into such big waves, I guess everyone expects us to surf ’em too now (chuckles).

So you think big wave surfing, specifically big wave paddle surfing, has changed since the last time a WCT event was run at Cloudbreak?
Yeah. Two years ago nobody would have paddled that swell, they would have had jet skis and towed it. It’s only really since guys started paddling again, like Cloudbreak last year and Jaws recently, that jet skis have dropped off the scene.

You were in the second heat of that morning. Did you watch Bede and Melling’s heat at all?
Yeah. I was still scrambling around the back of the boat trying to find a bigger board. Trying to think of a strategy, like dodge the big sets and hopefully get an eight foot barrel on an insider? But then those guys paddled out and started catching sets straight away and they were doing turns. Hats off to Melling too. Melling grabbed a 6’8” and was sweet. He caught waves and almost got good barrels.

When you started paddling out did you carry the same competitive mentality as any other heat?
Nah, Raoni and I were pretty nervous. Neither of us had surfed Cloudbreak’s outer reef. We didn’t know where to sit. I had no idea where it was going to break. I paddled for three waves and missed them all. So I was like, “Well, I’m too far in.” And then a big set came and nearly landed on me. Raoni caught it out wide. Then I caught one and it didn’t have any wall… it was shit. There was a really shit wind and when you stood up there was a two foot chop coming across the face of the wave. No-one could see that but it’s really dangerous. I got a good score for just a little high line barrel. Then I pulled into a really big wave and the chop just blew me off my board. I couldn’t even ride a wave on a 7’2” out there. It was too windy.


How about that fourth wave where you fall on your board on your back?
Yeah well that’s me trying to turn a 7’2” I’d never ridden before. I tried to turn and the chop’s hit me and blown me off like a little dandelion. I had a feeling they were going to score cockroaches that day so I went for one (laughs). That one just dragged me for a bit and I kind of penetrated and went under it. After that I was like, “Okay, well, I’m not going to try and turn again.” I got a little barrel and a couple of scores and at that stage I thought I was pretty safe. Then Raoni gets the hell barrel and had he made it, 10, for sure. Turns out he got licked but he still got a crazy score and fair enough. It was just absolutely incredible.


Then he’s back on the boat injured and you’re all on your lonesome?
I was out the back. I didn’t know what was going on. I knew after his barrel we had similar scores so I just said to myself “Well, if a wave comes I have to take it.”

Were you scared?
Yeah it was scary because there’s no buoy, there’s no marker, you’ve never surfed it before so you can’t line up with the tower. You’ve just got to hope you’re in the right spot.

And then a wave comes...
… a wave that could have been the wave of my life. Had it not been as choppy and had I been ten metres wider of where I was, it might have been the wave of my life. Instead it was the worst hold down of my life.

The worst?
I was talking to myself underwater. I was saying, “Stay calm.” I was under for a long time. We aren’t used to surfing waves like that, you know. I’m not used to getting a hold down like that. You get the odd one or two at Sunset every now and again but that was incredible. I climbed up my legrope and had to do a few little out breaths. That’s when you know you’re under for a long time. And I got this miniscule little breath and then got hit by the next one, which was probably 15-foot too. And I had to seriously talk to myself, “Just stay calm.” Luckily Jamie (Mitchell) was there on the ski. Hand of God as Bemrose called it. I didn’t even have time to take my leggie off. We almost got swamped because my board was dragging. It was comical. Comical but serious at the same time.


What do you make of the armchair criticism of the call not to run?
I don’t care what anyone says who was not there. If they say we should have run, well, whatever. The four guys that got made to surf all went heavy waves and that just proves a point right there: if we had to surf we would have. But as it was, the conditions weren’t good. When I came in the conditions were shithouse. It only got good about two hours after that and by then it was already three in the afternoon and twice as big. And sure we could have borrowed bigger boards and paddle vests and all that sort of stuff but I’ve never even paddled into a wave with a paddle vest on. I wouldn’t have a clue what that feels like. There were guys paddling around with little oxygen devices on their wetties and others with inflatable wetsuits with a pull cord… that’s kind of next level. I think it’s pretty embarrassing that there’re a lot of computer cowboys that want to write people off because they didn’t want to have the heats. Do you really want to see someone die or drown just for your own amusement? I dunno.

So when you came in did you watch the rest of the day’s action?
I went to sleep. I was proper exhausted. I was joking to Johnny Gannon and the boys how I felt like I had the bends after my hold down. I was completely and utterly exhausted.

So you play your part in an historical day and then sleep through the rest of it.
Yeah I had no choice. I was absolutely exhausted. Had I had not had that heat maybe I would have gone out and caught a wave, maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe I would have shit myself and said there’s no way I’m paddling out there. We’re there to try and get through the comp. Given the choice of being a hero and getting a big barrel or staying fit and winning the comp? I would have chose the latter.

This article is featured in the current issue of Surfing World magazine, FIJI: No Story Left Untold which is on sale right now. You can subscribe to that most excellent surfing publication here.

Tags: kai , otton , fiji , volcom , pro , 2012 , surfing , world , magazine (create Alert from these tags)

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