Poles apart: Adam Warchol and his Pe'ahi colossus
No-one predicted it.
With the Pacific in the grip of la Niña, this northern hemi winter was forecast to be middling at best - a prognosis that persisted even after early-season swells hit Hawaii and northern California.
Now, with the season half over, we're comfortable calling it one of the best in recent memory, and not just for size but also for conditions with many XXL swells making landfall under light winds. It's been eminently surfable, and when it wasn't it was windsurfable, which thrilled us equally as much.
No doubt you've already seen this wave, ridden at Pe'ahi last Saturday week, but perhaps you're not aware the pilot was just 19-years old with nary a handful of Pe'ahi sessions under his belt.
Say g'day to Adam Warchol, and also to his interloper Rafael Kroeff who provides an end section cameo:
I'm 19-years old and originally from Poland, but at the age of 7 I moved to Tarifa, which is in the south of Spain - in fact it’s the southernmost point of continental Europe. That’s where I learned to surf and windsurf.
We don't often get big swells in Tarifa but when we do I always hunt for the bigger waves. It’s a different kind of big, however, as big waves there can still be ridden on a shortboard.
This is my first time in Hawaii, though I’ve been here for one year. I came last January and then Covid hit and I didn’t go home. I would love to come here every season.
My first ever windsurfing session at Pe'ahi was on December 2nd, so six weeks before the big wave, and I surfed it for the first time the day before. It was also my first time trying to surf a gun, which I received that same morning.
I’ve had a couple of wipeouts at Pe’ahi but nothing crazy. My first one was when I was surfing it for the second time and I got caught inside and had to dive under three waves. I didn’t pull my vest and it gave me confidence knowing what it’s like and what I can expect. I felt really nice afterwards, as it was the first time I’d experienced this force of nature.
On the big day, I hadn’t even been out five minutes when I caught that wave. That was supposed to be just a warm up wave [laughs], yet it turned out to be the most amazing wave of my life.
I saw all the jet skis hunting for that wave, they were towing the best surfers in the world, and they were looking at that wave, but I was in position so I had to catch it. I couldn't resist it! I knew this could be the wave of my life.
The wave got bigger as it felt the reef, but I wasn’t surprised, as even before then it looked gigantic. I knew I was very deep, but once I saw that the surfers give way and let me have the wave...well, I had to go!
The ride was the most incredible, wonderful, and magical moment I've ever experienced.
The feeling of riding that monster with all the adrenaline rushing and with hundreds of jet skis and boats sitting in the channel looking at my ride is just something I can't explain. Feeling the huge power of Mother Nature at my back, the speed that I had, and the shape of that beautiful wave was the biggest joy I could ever imagine.
As I was slowing down, I looked above me and saw the most terrifying and magical thing at the same time. I will never forget it. I saw this huge lip with a mass of water coming at me. That was like, wow!
I already knew how it was going to end, so as soon as I felt the lip coming down I bailed. I wanted to stay as far as possible from those windsurfing footstraps. If I’d left it one second later I would've lost my legs, [laughs].
Just as I bailed, the wave took me with a violence I couldn’t imagine. I went over the falls inside the barrel, didn't have a chance to take a breath at any point, and what was happening under that wave is impossible to explain or compare to anything. I was just pulled in all directions, and for a very long time. I felt helpless, and I knew the only way to survive was to stay calm.
Surfing has helped me a lot with getting the confidence to stay calm. Also, I did a freediving course before coming to Maui and I’ve been doing breathhold training while here.
I pulled my vest, but honestly when it's that big you have to wait anyway for the wave to stop pounding you.
Many people think that the worst part of the wipeout is the first wave, but then there’s all the waves you have to deal with later. I almost had a two-wave hold down on the first one, then I took three more waves on the head. I was underwater for a very long time and I went super deep on the second and third one. So deep I thought my eardrums will pop from the pressure.
I was so focused on my wave, I honestly didn't notice anyone else on that wave. It was only afterwards when a friend told me that there was another person that got annihilated by the same wave. I’ve since met Rafael, he’s an expert in breath holding techniques so I guess he was just testing himself [laughs].
Later, everyone was cheering me, and everyone was talking about that particular wave. I met so many great people, the reception was amazing. That wave marked a turning point in my life.
It’s a wave I will never forget.
// ADAM WARCHOL
And now for a quick word from Rafael:
I was surfing all morning. At the time I was being towed but unfortunately I made a small mistake when I was adjusting my strap and lost the rope. I could see what was happening but I couldn’t dive; I held onto my board because I was worried that my board could hit Adam if it went over the falls. As it happened we both went over the falls.
It was the biggest Pe’ahi I’ve ever seen...but I trust my life on my training program in any kind of conditions.
I knew right away the situation was pretty bad. I felt the pressure on my ears and had to equalize so I knew I was deep and I took six more waves on the head. The rescue was really gnarly, almost on the cliff.
Nothing I’ve ever experienced can compare with that situation. I’m glad to still be here.
I’ve spoken with Adam and he was grateful that I decided to hold onto my board even though both of us got destroyed by the wave.
// RAFAEL KROEFF