Flyer: Youth and exuberance and a good set of lungs

Stu Nettle

If you’re a Frequent Flyer™ you may recall that two weeks back I constructed an argument about modern big wave riding that, with only a touch of bombast, I’ll call The Wisdom of the Elders.

In short, the biggest and best big waves of recent times are being ridden by older surfers who’ve accrued decades of experience which they’ve applied to the fearful complexity of XXL Jaws and Mavericks.

Exhibits A and B are Peter Mel and Twiggy Baker, but you can also count Kohl Christensen, Nathan Fletcher, Mark Healey, and other venerable surfers among the elders.

It’s a nice theory. Neat. It makes sense of new developments.

Yet a few days ago a teenager rode arguably the largest wave ever windsurfed* at Peahi. And not just any teenager. Adam Warchol was born in Poland but raised on the almost surfless coast of Tarifa, Spain, and this was his first ever trip to Hawaii. He had his first session at Peahi just six weeks earlier and can count his sessions out there on one hand, none of them in big surf.

So where does this teenage madness sit among my elegantly arranged theory?


Oh, I tried to make it fit. Toyed with calling it the exception that proves the rule - though I’ve never understood that saying anyway - and looked for all manner of caveats that’d keep my theory neat and complete.

And it wasn’t just my theory blown to pieces. In ‘Outliers’, Malcolm Gladwell suggests star athletes have 10,000 hours of practice behind them, so by my calculations that leaves Adam about 9,990 hours short of big wave training.

Clearly it made no sense to pack Adam’s ride into a box, to try and categorise it, and in the end I simply marvelled at what he’d done.

A ten-storey wave with an unfamiliar kid at the base, staring up the billowing face to a pitching lip, each aspect assembled in dimensions far beyond what most surfers - even those with decades of experience - will ever see.

Sure, Mel and Twig and Christensen and Fletcher have ridden big waves before, but their ascent to the top was incremental. In mountaineering terms, Warchol practiced on Mount Druitt and scaled Mount Everest.

This week I spoke to Adam about the wave, hoping to get some sort of insight, maybe a description to match his view, and while it was good to get a first person account, there’s a yawning void between the story and reality.

Watch the wave and see if your imagination can fill it.

- Stu

* Yeah, Adam was on a windsurfer, but the punishment is no less when things go awry - which they did.

Poles apart: Adam Warchol and his Pe'ahi colossus

Who? From where? The big wave totem pole was tossed aside when a Euro grom on his first trip to Hawaii split the pack during the last XXL swell at Peahi and rode into the record books. Read his first person account, plus a cameo from the guy who went over the falls on the same wave. Read More >

Watch: Free Scrubber

Did you put this one aside for weekend viewing? Well good on you for showing a discipline I'll never know. Now shut the door, toggle the volume knob, and drop all your expectations. 'Free Scrubber' is weird and wondrous and joyous, and I wish I could see it again for the first time. Read More >


A rambling conversation with Vaughan Blakey about Tom Curren

'Free Scrubber; writer/producer Vaughan Blakey raves about board design, weird times, and capturing Curren on celluloid. Chatting to VB was the highlight of my working week and I think you'll enjoy reading it too. Read More >

A Different High - Ray Collins and Jiu Jitsu

Between photographing beautiful yet formidable waves, Ray Collins likes to unwind with a Rear Naked Choke hold. This was the first installment of a new column about surfers when they're not surfing. Read More >

Bringing back the Mojo

The Madden Julian Oscillation - or MJO, or Mojo if you work in the Swellnet office - is back and with it all manner of tropical activity. Craig has a look at surf potential from the latest burst of disturbances. Read More >

Watch: Teahupoo // Hues

Enjoy five minutes of the Tahitian queen looking breathless and hypnotic. Slow mo and an original score makes her appear more meditative than menacing; so peaceful you can almost picture yourself paddling into one. Read More >


velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno Tuesday, 2 Feb 2021 at 4:55pm

Stu do you remember some years ago there was the most amazing Cloudbreak ever surfed, with all the pro big wave guys over it - then shortly after (before?) there was the biggest waves surfed at Ulus and it was just some Russian guy getting a tow on a jetski. The wave (and his achievement) were nonetheless astounding. Haven't heard anything more from the Russian hellman - was he young and crazy?

Remigogo's picture
Remigogo's picture
Remigogo Tuesday, 2 Feb 2021 at 6:10pm

Probably one of those kids that flow through life without any sense of danger until they hit 60. And only then because their hip doesn't feel like it used to.

rooftop's picture
rooftop's picture
rooftop Tuesday, 2 Feb 2021 at 7:54pm


In "the exception proves the rule," prove doesn't mean to verify, it means to test the quality or veracity of, as in proving grounds.

You owe me a buck.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Wednesday, 3 Feb 2021 at 9:33am

Cheers Rooftop. Cheque's in the mail...


zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain Tuesday, 2 Feb 2021 at 8:06pm

You forgot those old-timers, Kai Lenny, Billy Kemper and Albee Layer.

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boykee's picture
boykee Wednesday, 3 Feb 2021 at 8:49am

Laurie Towner