Video: Wall of Skulls – Teahupoo, May 2013
A Coastalwatch Exclusive
Film by Kendall O'Brien
Starring Laurie Towner, Wade Goodall, Manoa Drollet, Ricardo Dos Santos
Gulp! –A beginner's guide to towing giant, manic Chopes...with Wade Goodall
By Jed Smith
Until Tahiti's most recent Code Red swell, Wade Goodall had never even towed a left bigger than four foot. But after Dylan Longbottom - tow partner to Australia's premiere big wave surfer, Laurie Towner - was forced to miss the swell due to shaping commitments, Wade received an invitation to tow the formidable wave. He accepted, though with considerable trepidation. "I've always wanted to, but, you know, it's obviously really scary," he tells Coastalwatch. More renowned for crisp backhand cracks, a world class aerial game and his smooth brand of power surfing, Wade admits he was well out of his depth among the barrel chested heroes and barrel sized egos of the big wave surfing community. Still, he managed to snag a couple and here describes the experience of surfing giant Chopes for the first time; also how he managed to get his partner into a few without making a Reef Mcintosh of himself; and recounts for us his experience of what was one of the most peculiar days in surfing history.
CW: After all these years, what made you wanna grab the rope at Chopes, Wade?
WG: I had never really had an opportunity before and I got the opportunity so I thought well I'm not really doing anything else exciting, I might as well have a go. I've always wanted to, but, you know, it's obviously really scary. Just knowing it would be me and Laurie and that we had a ski, we'd be mad not to have a go. I'd be kicking myself if I didn't.
What were your biggest fears leading up to it?
I dunno, I was just scared of blowing waves mainly - taking a wave off someone legit and not riding it deep enough or whatever. I mean, obviously the fear is that you'll get really hurt but I didn't wanna think about that because I didn't wanna get hurt, so I just blocked all that out. The main thing I focused on was just riding the waves as good as I can. I didn't really go that nuts. Guys were going nuts, going really deep but all I did was go across a couple (laughter). It wasn't a breakthrough performance.
What was the scene like out there?
I felt like an outsider a lot, which I was really psyched on. It's like this little community and they've all surfed in crazy waves together for a long time. They're all trying to out-jockey each other and they all demand respect from each other. They give respect but they're still not bowing down to each other so there is all this battling almost. It's a big thing about who deserves the best waves of the day. It was really funny to watch that.
It's a very alpha male scene isn't it.
Totally. You're on the rope and there is say Mark Healey and Shane Dorian and they're all really cool dudes but they all kinda deserve the best, biggest wave and they all want it. It's pretty fun to watch them battle for them.
How does the battle play out?
It's like jet ski fighting pretty much (laughter). It's really cool. Everyone is just kinda jockeying for position out the back, like, just doing laps around each other trying not to let anyone go deeper than you. And if they do you get up and go deeper than them. It's like two hours of chess out there and then once the set comes there was at times five skis on the wave and some couldn't pull off because another dude was jockeying in front of them. It was super scary and dangerous.
It seems like we're almost at a point where the machines buzzing around the lineup are as much a danger to your safety as the wave.
Yeah, it was pretty scary. Me and Laurie didn't get involved in that much. There were a few times where it was Laurie's wave and I had to just sorta get him into it because it was his wave. But we try to avoid all the hassling, just 'cos I'm not trying to prove anything or do anything. I just wanted to have a go at getting big waves. I don't wanna be better than that dude on the other jet ski and Laurie is as humble and cool as it gets so we'd just chill when it got real busy. So, I dunno, I don't really know what was going on out there. It looked pretty hostile. Real man versus machine stuff.
Driving the ski, it seems there is as much at stake for you as the guy holding the rope. How did you find that?
Yeah, I was worried at the start. Shippies a couple of weeks earlier was the first time I'd towed people into big waves and it was really nerve wracking going down there. Before we do anything I get Laurie to show me exactly what to do. Before the big day at Chopes he showed me exactly what angle to hit and then how to flow over the reef and pick someone up, and just everything basically. I was actually surprised at my competence on a ski. I was okay at doing it. I thought I would struggle but I picked it up pretty quick so I was really confident really quick. It's a whole new thing and it really matters where you put the guy, so it was pretty nerve wracking.
What role did Laurie play in you surfing the place?
Without him I wouldn't have done it. He's really good at making you feel comfortable and confident. Himself he's just quiet and goes about his shit. In my eyes he's one of the top three guys out there. I was just feeding off him. I'd ask him and he'd tell me, it was just the way it was. If I had any questions about how to drive the ski or what wave to pick he knew and he just told me and I just did exactly that. I wasn't second guessing anything. It was just whatever he told me I was gonna do. It was cool, it was good to have that much trust in someone.
I understand you'd never towed into a left before that day. What can you tell us about the experience of actually surfing one of those waves?
Nah, apart from Shippies two weeks before I'd never towed into big waves before. It's hard to describe. It wasn't like riding any other wave I've ever rode. The one that really sucked out on me, it was more like going down a really steep snowboard hill. My main focus was pointing the board the right way and not getting the nose in the water. That was all I had to do. It wasn't like normal how you would pump and read the wave properly and all that stuff, it was real line work. The waves were so powerful that you can't use your rail properly in that situation. That was really hard to adjust, especially my first wave. I didn't know what I was doing, it was just survival. I was trying not to let my board nose dive. Laurie always said to me: you can read waves you'll be fine. But it's a total different style of surfing when a wave gets that powerful and steep. You can read a wave but you have to know what to do to keep your board from bogging.
What surprised you most about the day?
Just mainly how no one dies when they do that shit. I dunno, I saw a lot of people going really nuts and pulling in when they had no chance and they come up pretty hurt but no one is really dying. It's kinda weird. Like, what do you have to do to die surfing? You get to the point where it's not do or die in big wave surfing. You do it and get lucky or unlucky. You can pull into those waves and survive. It was fucked up and that was what surprised me; it's not certain death. You have to be pretty unlucky to die.
Is it now an ambition of yours to chase these kinds of waves a bit more regularly?
Yeah, yeah, any opportunity. Like I said, I'm no Shane Dorian, all I want to do is do stuff for me, for personal gain and to look back at the end of my surfing career and say, 'Yeah I had a go doing some tow stuff.' Because it's a big part of surfing.
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