When the biggest swell of the winter hit the Pacific Ocean in January, world-class waterman Chuck Patterson grabbed his boots, bindings, poles and his pair of Starr Surf Skis and headed to Maui for a first-ever attempt to ski the fabled Jaws (Pe’ahi) big wave break.
The results are a huge leap forward for the nascent sport of surf skiing, a notch in the belt of skiing as whole and a fruitful bit of R&D for Vermont-based Starr Surf Skis.
A classically trained ski racer, Patterson carved giant slalom-style arcs down 40-foot faces during a swell that came in a little bumpier and windier than expected. In front of a lineup of tow surfers from around the world who convened on Maui during the swell’s Jan. 20 peak, Patterson proved that waves not only can be skied, but skied with style, power and poise.
“I had a good idea that it was possible, but it really made a big difference having a solid background in skiing and big wave/tow-in surfing to really push it in big waves,” Patterson said. “There is a lot that goes into making it all happen safely even before you hit the water, and after that is when the fun begins.”
The skiing of Jaws comes 15 months after accomplished freeskiers Mike Douglas and Cody Townsend first took Starr Surf Skis to Hawaii for initial testing. They successfully towed into and skied waves on the north shore of Maui, and used the windy down days to push new ground in kite-skiing, introducing freesking style to the kite sports world.
The trip was featured in an episode of the popular Salomon Freeski TV web series last year. Freeski TV is working with footage from Patterson’s accomplishments at Jaws to produce a follow-up episode expected for release in the coming weeks.
Patterson describes skiing big waves as similar to “backcountry, Alaska-style terrain.”
“Gliding into a 40-foot, clean open-faced wave has a lot of the same characteristics that you find when dropping off a cornice into a steep chute with fresh snow. Aside from the surface being water, it’s almost the same feeling,” Patterson said. “Once you let go of the rope and glide down the face making turns to stay in the pocket, it’s totally addicting.”
He added: “It’s important to have a really good understanding and respect for the power of the ocean as you would have for the mountains and the backcountry. All waves are different and I find it really important to take your time in studying the lay of the land, always making sure you have a safe exit strategy. It takes time and if you can think outside the box a little, anything is possible.”
Starr Surf Skis founder Jason Starr has led the way in surf ski design, approaching the challenge of skiing waves from every angle: Tow-in, Kite, Wake and Stand Up Paddle. He offers lessons and demos through his Vermont Stand Up Paddle company Paddlesurf Champlain.
“The surf skiing that has taken place over the past two years fulfills years of persistence in chasing this dream,” said Starr. “While it is stunning, it is also something we knew skiers would be able to do. There is a vast new playground out there on the oceans for skiers to take their skills.”
As for the future, Patterson is dialed in with his Starr Surf Skis setup and motivated to ski bigger and steeper waves with a special focus on getting into the barrel. Starr is introducing people to surf skiing on the stand up paddle side through Paddlesurf Champlain, and Starr Surf Skis is distributing a limited run of kite skis this year to further develop the sport and the equipment and push toward greater manufacturing capacity.