Waimea Bay “Ejection Seats”


So ok, we’ll file this one under the heading of “Kids Having Loads of Fun, Being Stupid” and see if we can even properly explain it.

I’ve tried hard to explain this one to various people over the years. Repeatedly, in fact. But I’ve never had much luck with it, and will probably suffer an equal lack of luck this time, too. And I’m pretty sure that’s because, at the core of things, it involves a most peculiar sort of hybrid wave/surge deal that occurs on the dry sand of a steeply-sloping beach, which most folks apparently have either never noticed, or never encountered. To complicate matters further, most occurrences of this phenomenon happen in the sub one foot size range, so imagining things scaled up quite a bit tends to introduce conceptual problems.

As a result, a lot of this ridiculous story is going to be explanatory background shit, where I attempt to allow you to properly visualize and understand what’s going on in the story itself.

You have my sincerest apologies for putting you through it, but without proper understanding of the phenomenon, there can be no understanding of the story at all.

Once again, the sense of the story is simplicity itself, but the goddamned phenomenon that permits it to happen is anything but.

So here’s a picture.

The only picture I’ve ever found that even begins to depict things accurately.

Hybrid Wave/Surge on steeply sloping beach
Image and Video Credit: shaun bws YouTube

This is a frame grab from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUXOZAinUPk and it occurs in the first five seconds of the video and it would be most instructive if you were to stop right here and go take a look at that video. Pause things, and then try to stop-motion through it as the wave/surge gathers itself together and then lets loose, paying especially close attention to how the water meets the dry sand on the extreme left side of the frame, during the moments when the thing stands up to its greatest height and then unloads up the slope of the beach from the bottom first. The five to six second time-frame is when this all occurs.

Notice that, over on the extreme left-hand side of the frame, the wave never actually breaks. The wave never actually topples over forwards from the top down. Instead it just sort of stands up vertically, and then collapses suddenly as if being squeezed from above, with the water shooting upslope across dry sand from the bottom, racing out ahead of the main body of the wave itself, until it swooshes all the way up the beach, like a normal wave after it has broken in a “normal” way.

Also notice that the horizon line in the still image above is greatly tilted, making the wave/surge look much larger than it really is. In the video, we can see our intrepid shorebreak warrior simply hopping over the thing, once it reaches him.

Ok, that’s about all I’ve got to give you on it. It’s a wave that breaks without breaking, but instead gathers itself up right on the dry sand of a steeply-sloping beach, and then unloads violently, bottom-up, as opposed to top-down.

Got it?

I certainly hope so, ‘cause all of what happens in this story depends on it.

So we were kids in our twenties, and there was no adult supervision to be found, and so we just went and did things, without too much concern for what might happen should things go wrong. We were also lucky, and things never did go wrong, but they certainly could have.

We were surfing Waimea Bay. Early 1970’s.

And, after a nice session on our big-wave guns outside, we’d come in to the beach and lounge around.

And at some point, I noticed something about the shorebreak over on the Sunset Beach corner of the bay, and was immediately intrigued by it.

Before I go any farther, I must make note that the sand in the Bay was just so at the time, and for all I know, this just-so aspect of the sand may have been a complete fluke, never to be seen again. I’ve heard that, once upon a time, before I arrived in the islands, they grabbed an awful lot of sand from Waimea and trucked it over to the other side of Oahu, to replenish the sand which was disappearing along the shoreline of Waikiki. Is this true? I do not know. Would this have drastically altered the aspect of the beach at Waimea. Absolutely. Would that altered aspect of the beach at Waimea have continued to change over time as things attempted to re-establish their pre sand theft equilibrium? Absolutely, again.

But who can know?

Not me, that’s for sure.

Back to the story.

To ride Waimea, it has to be breaking in the first place, and if it’s breaking, the waves have to be pretty damn big. A lot of this energy dissipates before the wave arrives at the beach, but even with this being the case, that shorebreak can really pack a wallop.

Over in the corner, on certain days, set waves would come in and behave exactly like what the abovereferenced video depicts in its first five seconds.

Except that instead of being small enough to hop over when the surge swept up the slope, it was well overhead.

Stop and imagine something like what the video or the still image shows, but maybe three or four feet overhead, or maybe even larger than that every once in a while.

That base surge whooshing up the beach was quite impressive to say the least.

So ok. So yours truly decides to have a little fun with it.

“I know what, I’ll just go get right in front of it and let it take me for a ride up the beach”

And that’s exactly what I did.

And maybe talk a couple of buddies into doing it too, while I’m at it.

So here it comes, gathering itself together, well overhead, on literal dry sand.

Run like crazy down the slope to meet it.

Get directly in front of it, at the closest range possible.

Spin around and sit down with my back turned toward it.

My skinny little twenty-one year old butt just about gets settled into the sand, my feet set upslope with knees bent, and just for fun, I’ll hold my arms out like I’m holding on to a steering wheel, and it’s coming.

We’ll hold the narrative right here for a minute to let you consider what this must have looked like and to further consider the consequences had the wave developed a six-foot-thick lip at the last second, which then would have come down from above and struck me directly against my neck and back as I was parked there facing away from it, on dry sand.

But apparently my judgement was good, and the gods were with me, and that never happened, not even once.

Lucky me.

Ok, it’s been two or three tenths of a second since I assumed the position, and now it’s time for action.

The surge strikes as it is intended to, right behind my hips and lower back.


And in an instant, without my head and shoulders ever properly going beneath the surface of the water, I am violently shoved at lightning speed, all the way up to the top of the slope, my butt dragging on the sand at a million miles an hour all the way up, only to be gently deposited in six-inch-deep water as the surge came to a halt, just before it turned and washed back downslope.

It felt like I was being fired up the beach from a cannon, or shot out of a fighter jet in an ejection seat, which is why I call this little whatever-the-hell-it-is an “ejection seat.”

And that’s it. That’s all you get. That’s the whole story.


Run back down and do it again!

It was amazingly fun and exciting. Indescribable, in fact.

Kinda rough on my boardshorts, though, and new ones would be required after burning through the ass-end of the ones I was doing this in.

But that’s ok. Even though I’m dirt poor homeless and living in a cave, shorts are cheap.

In closing, I must note that in all the times I’ve attempted to find any reference whatsoever to this little diversion on the internet, I’ve come up empty-handed. Neither descriptions of the act itself, nor images of the shorebreak at Waimea ever behaving like this.

We took it completely for granted, but I suspect that we were there by purest chance, at exactly the right time, and that time is now gone and may never return again.

I dunno.

Fun while it lasted, though.


MacLaren's Stories Home

Return to 16streets.com

Maybe try to email me?