You're always told that it's cool to push your limits a little when it comes to big waves, to paddle out and give it a go if you're feeling a little nervous and that it is all part of the learning process of being a surfer and of being a human.
It's not all true.
It's sometimes very foolish to paddle out when you're obviously out of your depth, and two elements come into play when it comes to big surf and having a go.
The first is the bravery of youth. Totally cool, the only way to learn is to experience it, so go out and have a go, get your beatings, lick your wounds and reassess. This only works on the young.
The second is that discretion actually is the better part of valour. We waited all day for Sunset Beach to pick up. I didn't want it to pick up, and I wanted the afternoon to fly into the night so that I could grab a beer and chill on the deck at the house overlooking Phantoms and Velzyland.
Late in the afternoon, real sets were coming through at Sunset, and the entire household headed out, including me on a borrowed 7'6 blade that did not feel comfortable under my arm.
The West Peak. All my life I have head about and read about the west peak at Sunset. I grew up in fear of this loathsome, lumbering miscreant lump of water that would materialize in the channel, hit a chunk of coral, and do a sharp left turn and bore down on hapless surfers, mowing down anyone in its way. I grew to dread the west peak, and whenever I got caught inside by any wide set at any surfing location in the world, I would consider it a 'west peak' moment.
The first wave of the set looked like the wave I had been waiting for all my life. Ten-foot solid, with a wall stretching all the way to Waimea. I was in the perfect spot, it even seemed like there was a chip-shot forming as I paddled. This was going to be a cinch. There's nothing like a ten-foot wall with an easy take off….
I missed it. The wall of water passed underneath me. The opportunity for the wave of the day, of my year, possibly of my life was gone. I turned around and saw that the next two waves were quite a bit bigger than anything I had faced so far in my life, and they were going to break in front of me.
With the perfect vision of hindsight, I could have dealt with the situation way better. I could have paddled further into the channel to try and get away from them, or I could have paddled in as hard as I could to get away from the imminent explosion of them breaking. Instead, I paddled straight out.
I scraped over the first one and fixed my eyes on the next wave. It was that very instant, as I put eyes on it, and as I understood that I was not going to make it, my brain did that little wobble.
I had a split second to decide. Stand up on my board and dive off to try and get as deep as possible, or quietly take the biggest breath; hold my nose and slip underwater. Either way, I was about to enter a world of unhappiness.
I probably could have made it under the wave. I perhaps could have slipped under the breaking lip. My timing was totally wrong. Waves move fast in Hawaii, and they seem to carry more weight.
I could have died out there that day. My borrowed board disappeared in the most violent thrashing I had ever experienced the instant the lip hit the spot where I had slipped under the water, and I was sent deep and tumbling.
These days I think things through a bit more, and when I feel like it when I'm not feeling the surf for whatever reason, I just go the beer option on the deck.