How Does Sunset Beach Work? - Page 4

We are now almost ready to talk about how things work while we're out in the water, and in closing this overview portion of the material, we'll start out with a picture of a standard day at Sunset Beach.

A standard day at Sunset Beach would, at most other places, be called a "There's no way you're ever going to ever get me out there in that stuff," day.

Standard Sunset is considered quite large in all but a very few places around the world.

On many occasions it looks like this, and although it's impossible to tell from the picture, the swell is more or less straight northwest. Not too west, not too north. Just more or less right in the middle of things.

A Standard Day at Sunset Beach
A Standard Day. Medium-sized Sunset Beach. Compare the rip in the foreground with the first image on Page 1.

The above image, as with all images of Sunset Beach, misleads greatly in a variety of ways. Simply put, it's completely impossible to reduce something that is as multifaceted and multivariant as Sunset Beach is, down to a single instance, a single image, a single anything.

Cannot be done.

The image above lies through its teeth in several ways, not least amongst which is the lethally-inviting look of the wave itself. This particular wave is coming over in the most forgiving and softest way possible, and gives no hint as to just how violently Sunset Beach will break when conditions align. And when it's your head that's bobbing in the water, located dead-center in the drop-zone with a slab-thick lip descending, split-seconds away from landing directly on top of you, an instant after you've just surfaced from the severe beating you were given as punishment for the mistake you made on the previous wave, possibly with a dislocated shoulder, or a bit of water in your lungs, or both, or maybe something else..... well..... where's the fun in any of that, anyway?

But for a generalized sense of the size of a standard day, this will work. I'll estimate this one at somewhere in the neighborhood of triple-overhead, perhaps a smidgen less. Somewhere in the eight to ten foot HSF (Hawaiian Scale Foot) range, depending on exactly who you ask. Triple-overhead Sunset can be considered, "Standard." Can be considered, "Medium."

Sunset Beach holds nice shape at larger size than this, and when the swell angle, period, and purity, is just so, it holds nice shape at significantly larger size than this.

On a respectable day things get ratcheted up above and beyond what's shown in the picture above, and it begins to enter a realm where things matter, where you're now playing for keeps, and where the stakes can become quite high.

Good images of Sunset Beach that give a sense of the scale of things when it gets respectable are hard to come by. I have none of my own, to show you, and I'm disinclined to just grab something that belongs to someone else, and just drop it in here. That is not right. That is dishonorable. I shall not do it. Maybe do a Google Image Search, or perhaps go to, click on the word "Surfing" over on the bottom right, and then start clicking through the images until you get to the lineup shot taken from the beach, with the two big peaks coming over, outside. You'll know it when you see it. Or, you can just click here, to go to it directly. I hope I'm not crossing any lines here, Kevin, but if so, please let me know, using the email link down at the bottom of this page and I'll sort things out straightaway. This is the best shot I've ever seen of the place from a size, power, and scale-of-things, point of view. It gets the message across pretty well. Thanks for making it available on the internet, Kevin.


This concludes our basic overview of the location, and the waves which might be found there, and we shall now proceed to descriptions, from a personal point of view, of what it's actually like to be out there in the water, to sit outside, to catch, and to ride a proper wave on a proper day at Sunset Beach, Hawaii.


We'll begin, on a respectable day, sitting the water out past everyone else, waiting for a wave.

Since you're the farthest guy outside, the presumption would be that, of all the things you might need to be paying constant attention to, getting clobbered with a cleanup set would not be one of them.

But this is not the case. Not at Sunset Beach.

Sunset Beach will clean you up, no matter how far you sit outside.

It's just in the nature of the place.

It is by far the cleanuppiest place I have ever encountered in all of my travels, and I strongly suspicion that it is the cleanuppiest surfspot in the world.

It gets bad out there, and it even seems to have eyes some times.

So, even though great long gouts of time will go by with nothing whatsoever going on as you bob over first one unridden set of waves, and then another, you can never let your guard down when it comes to those silent, subtle, telltale signs of a set that is coming which has no intentions of behaving like all of the sets that came before it.

You constantly watch for things at the very limits of perception, and even if you are fortunate enough to pick something up, even if it's loud and clear, you still may not have enough time to paddle like hell to get away from it before it rears up in the near distance, folds over like hissing, roaring, death itself, and demolishes you.

Ever-so-slight bulges or darkenings of the horizon, so far away as to cause you to doubt their real existence, must be everlastingly, ever-vigilantly, scanned for and paid attention to.

Visual acuity is rewarded, but interestingly enough, tack-sharp vision (although that's always good to have too) may not be quite as important as a fine appreciation for subtle changes in light and dark, subtle changes in pattern, and additional subtle changes in the shape of the edge of the world, which was never a perfectly straight line to begin with, but which may now be evidencing the barest little bit of bulge imaginable, here, or perhaps there, and just the overall ability to detect faint alterations in things as the look of the horizon undergoes gradual and near-imperceptible changes wrought by sets that come creeping, stalking you ever so slowly and silently, from the invisible reaches beyond, sneaking stealthily into some dim and mysterious superposition of simultaneous existence and non-existence, off in the far far distance.

You really gotta keep your goddamned eyes on the sonofabitch, at all times.

"That looks just a little bit darker out there, what is that?"

You find yourself squinting at the extreme distant edge of the world, wondering if what you're seeing is just a shadow from one of those little puffy white clouds, smashed flat by perspective into a thread laying on the fabric of existence that's only just the barest bit darker than the threads beneath it; or is it perhaps something else?

"Is that a shadow or is that an incoming set?"

"Has the horizon bulged up just barely? Is that just a tiny little bit higher over there?"

"That's a hell of a long ways out there. I wish I could see that better."

"What is that?"

"Looks like a line out there, but it's too far away, isn't it? And the top edge. There's something funny about the top edge of that line way the hell out there. Is that something behind it? Something hiding? Something bigger?"

"What is that?"

And of course, since let's face it, it's out to get you, it's going to go to extraordinary lengths to cause you to drop your guard, to let down your defenses. To cause you to think you know what's going on, when in fact you don't. To cause your attention to drift. To lull you and gull you into a sense of frighteningly false security.

The watch on your wrist tells you that twenty minutes have gone by, and all you've been doing is sitting, staring so hard at the horizon that your eyes want to jump out of their sockets, waiting, checking and rechecking your distant marks and lineups, maintaining position, feeling the tradewind's chill, hearing the distant hoots and yells from the pack of people in there, far shoreward of you, even as you continue your endless tedium of nothing, nothing, nothing.

Thirty minutes.


Is the swell really falling off this rapidly? Is the swell falling off at all? Do I look like a complete fool sitting way the hell out here so far past everybody else? Am I a complete fool? Shall I move inside some? Shall I take a chance with it?

How long can this go on?

At which time, it will strike from its hidden place like a diamondback rattlesnake that strikes at you unseen from the thick grass, making its true intentions perfectly clear only after it's far too late for you to do anything about it, at which point it will have you.

And of course, since you're the farthest guy outside, when it gets you, it will be the biggest, most powerful, set of waves that's come in all day, and the instant it has you in its clutches it will beat the holy living hell out of you with a nightmarish ferocity, push you deep and thrash you long, trying its best to keep you far beneath the surface for longer than you can hold your breath, spinning you around underwater until you become disoriented and can no longer tell up from down, whirling you and churning you and violently shaking you in the darkness, working with fearsome diligence and effect to try and kill you. And then, after you have somehow managed to hold your breath throughout your beating for the requisite eternity, and after you have managed to return to the world of light and air up above the sinister depths which you were just, with murderous intent, compelled to enter, and after having snatched away your surfboard, and after having wrested from you as much of your stores of energy and stamina as it possibly can, it will further compel you to swim a mighty distance even as it continues to inflict dire violence upon you over and over again with the coming of each successive breaking wave.

You might say that there can be certain consequences to getting it wrong, to getting cleaned up, when you are surfing at Sunset Beach.

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