Sunday, November 15, 2009

various level of epicness

Just updated this post again with Pat Caldwell's contribution at the very bottom. Thanks a lot!


Just did a meteo appendix to the very end of this post. Stay tuned for uncle Pat's reply.


Goodness, what a swell episode we just had in Maui...

Let's start with Thursday.
The early morning NW buoy readings were around 10-12 feet and 10 seconds from ENE.
I drove Waiehu side and even though it definitely looked kinda big from the beach, I thought I could have fun in those big windswell chops. Usually in fact, the short period gives a character of mushyness to the waves.

Well it didn't take me long to find out that the reality was quite different out there.
I just couldn't believe how much those waves were shoaling upon meeting the reef. Something that looked like head high, grow to double overhead + in the last thirty yards right in front of me... I have no problem to admit that I got scared a couple of times.
The big sets were sucking the water out Teahupoo-like, like I have never seen in that spot that is mainly hit by windswells. I just couldn't believe that 10 seconds period waves could do that.
Anyway, I managed to survive a couple of washing machine treatments (thank god my leash didn't snap) and even caught a couple of fun insiders.

Later that day, I re-checked the buoys and noticed that the swell went up to what you now can see in the graph: an astonishing 22 feet and 15 seconds!!!!!
And that's the NW buoy that, given the ENE direction, is hit a few hours AFTER Maui.
Kinel, I was in the middle of a giant swell trying to catch waves on my trusty 6.10, while they were towing in at the next break at Paukaukalo...

Let's now see, thanks to the photos sent by different blog readers, what was happening elsewhere.

Early morning, a friend of mine, spotted Robby Naish, Dave Kalama and someone else entering the water at Hookipa with their standup.
A different friend, visitor Rick from Australia took a few photos. It looks like Lanes and most of the times it looks like Michi Schweiger to me.

This one on the phone is definitely Robby: "What? The harbor is going off? We'll be there in a jiffy!"

Here he is (or is it Michi again?) dropping in a bomb and Kai Lenny trying to catch it on the shoulder.

How's the spray on the last one? (click on it to see better). These photos were taken by Alex.

Meanwhile, Norwegian blog reader Tormod (check his blog, he's got some cool photos of the lightning storm that happened Thursday night) took some photos of tow-in surfers at Honolua Bay.

Now, I've never done tow-in surfing (and probably never will, since I don't like jet skis... unless they're used for rescues, of course) and I shouldn't speak... but, as usual, I will nonetheless.
Look at the last photo. If that was Kelly Slater or any other good surfer, probably also the guy in the photo on a regular board, he would have a wider stance. Regular (good) surfers adjust their feet on the board almost at every turn. Having your feet stuck in fixed position footstraps must feel like an incredibly limiting sensation.
Bigger waves moves faster and if it's choppy straps are the only option, I guess. But on that wave in the photo, I bet the guy would have preferred to tow-in on a strapless board... but what do I know?

Let's move on to Friday.
The swell turned even more east and some veeery offshore and gusty trade winds kicked in.
Most of the reefs on the north shore of Maui were acting like huge right hand point breaks. Plenty people on the rocks at Hookipa, Lanes was mast and a half and so on.
BTW, I'm officially giving up with the Hookipa Rockstar Contest. Too difficult to keep track of the rockstars... Thanks to the sponsors that stepped in to support this idea, but it's a no go.

Where were we? Oh yeah, Friday afternoon wavesailing session.
I first rigged a 4.5, but the gusts were so strong that shortly I came back in to rig a 4.0. Like often happens, immediately after I went back out, the wind dropped and I sailed most session way underpowered. Which is a feeling that I usually like, but not with this size waves... check the first photo on the very top: that's me going out without much power in the sail...
And this is me again sailing out. Congratulations to Rick for taking such a beautiful shot with a no additional lens point and shoot camera.

This one is Pascal. Unfortunately it's the only photo Rick took of him, but I feel like mentioning how impressive his sailing was. I saw him on a couple of perfect mast high peelers doing three turns in the pocket and a final aerial.
"Yeah, I had a couple of good ones", he humbly commented...

This is Art, who sailed pretty damn good too.

This is the blog author who, instead, didn't sail good at all and was often off timing.
I'm going to blame the too small sail that didn't help to push the front of the rail down in the bottom turn (it was the first time ever in which I wished I had a heavier sail!) and the unusual direction of the waves and wind that made the waves behave differently. But that's exactly when the good sailors step up.
Live and learn...

At one point I lost my board and started a long swim. After a few minutes I saw a board far downwind. It was upside down and I had a clear glimpse of a black single fin, while mine was a twin fin.
"Whatever" I thought, "I'll swim for it anyway... I'll take any board at this point!!"
It was the board of this nice guy who was also holding mine. Thanks a lot and... what a wave!

French guy.

French guy aerial.

Well, thanks again to all the contributing photographers. I didn't have the time to take a single photo (too busy working, surfing and sailing)... it's great to have friends that take photos for you. And it's great to put them on a blog to share them with the rest of the world.

Internet rocks!

PS. Something remarkable just happened. After many years of being the song that sounded best on my car stereo, UB40's Dance with the devil has been replaced by Ligabue's Happy Hour.
Considering the amount of shit I have in my wagon, I could definitely use some more space in the back. But I'd rather have no car stereo than a car stereo with no amplifier and subwoofer...
And I'd rather have no car stereo than a car stereo without the possibility of adjusting the levels of... everything.
Low: +1, Medium: 0, High: + 2, Balance: center, Fade: rear +2, SubW: +10, Volume: 35 (out of 50) were the magic settings I found tonight. They were so good that I played Liga's song all the way from Paia to Makawao.
If you see me at the beach and would like to experience that, just ask me. Unfortunately, I can't post that...

PPS. Let's talk a bit about what created this monster swell.
Watching the waves on the beach at Waiehu a local guy asked me:"btw, where was this storm coming from?"
"Great question", I said. "There was no storm!"
"That's right, I think this is the biggest windswell ever!"

Now, that was before I paddled out and before I saw the buoys showing 15 seconds.
I went back to the weather maps and couldn't find any possible low pressure that generated those monster waves. Here is what Pat Caldwell says on his last forecast on Friday.

A trough in the jet stream pinched off into an eddy just NNE of Hawaii on Tuesday. At the surface, near gales to gales set up between a developing surface low pressure trough below the eddy and a strong surface high pressure Midway between Hawaii and Alaska. Gales nosed to within a hundred miles of Oahu on Wednesday as Waimea and Kailua buoy wave heights rose abruptly up to 18 feet. The initial stages of the episode were mostly from 000-030 degrees. On Thursday, buoys still show elevated heights with the direction slowly veering to 20-40 degrees. Quikscat morning pass shows the strongest area of winds associated with the westward-tracking surface low pressure to the N to NNW of Oahu, beginning to exit the Oahu window. Winds still within the window to the NNE to NE of Oahu out 600 nm have decreased to mostly strong breezes to near gales. Thus, the peak of the episode is likely Thursday morning. The direction should slowly veer toward 30-60 degrees on Friday as the heights subside, yet remain high.

Now, Tuesday was the 10th and Thursday was the 12th.
Below are the weather maps starting from the 7th till the 12th. You guys see a fetch that can generate 22 feet, 15 seconds? I don't.
So I just emailed uncle Pat, maybe he will be kind enough to solve the mystery. My guess is that the maps were wrong...
Stay tuned on this post, eventually I will post his answer right here.


Hereafter are the emails that I exchanged with Pat Caldwell and the wind graphic he attached.

email 1:
Hi Pat, howzit!

When you got a minute, would you check my last post (some nices pics in
it!): ?

Where the hell was the fetch that generated that monster!? I don't
see it on the maps. What am I missing?
If that is a windswell, where is all the chop? I mean, look at those waves
at Lanes! They look just like waves of a serius groundswell that travelled
for days without active wind on it...

Help!!! ;)

reply 1:
Hi Giampaolo,

thanks for sharing, great shots. that fetch stretched from about 100 to
600 nm away from hawaii. Winds reached gales with some pockets of
severe gales. Glad it did well on your spots. Bigger stuff not ridable
here, too messed up, but filtered spots on the inside had some nice
form. I had some epic kiting friday-sunday, give thanks

Aloha, Pat

email 2:
Hi Pat,

thanks for replying. Clearly, I'm not done...

So, 100 to 600 nm is pretty damn close and the vicinity of the fetch
contributed to the lack of loss of energy for travelling, I was definitely
guessing that already.

But those weather maps still don't convince me.
What's gale to severe gale in knots? If it's more than 40, as I guess, it
doesn't seem to me that that high pressure, for high as it could have been,
could have generated such wind.

Or is Jamin (who just left a comment on my post) right when he says that the
maps didn't have enough resolution to show how deep that low that appears
barely on the 11th and then on the 12 was.
But even so, shouldn't it take a few days and a captured fetch to generate
such waves? I mean, we're talking 22 feet, 15 seconds!
And where did the chop go?

Sorry if I keep bothering you, but a few fundaments of my (presumed) wave
knowledge have been completely annihilated by this swell and I need some


reply 2:
Aloha Giampaolo,

Right, off basic meteor. chart, one may get a single ship report, and in
this case, a buoy (there is buoy 51000 NNE of Hilo now, it showed
gales), but one could not see the fine details.

It was the combination of a strong high and a "kona" low pressure system
that developed in the Hawaiian vicinity.

The best wind estimates over open ocean come from the QuikSCAT, see

Hope that helps.

Well, it does help, thanks a lot... now at least I can see a fetch!
Still quite impressed by the size of the waves... I guess I'm not used to fetches that are so close to us and can't really predict their outcome.

I can tell you for sure (since I've observed them for eight years now) that if that same fetch was up there were most of the NW groundswells we get normally get in winter time are, the resulting swell we would have received would have been way smaller.
And this is based on the observation that to get a NW swell that big, it takes a way bigger fetch and/or way stronger winds up there.
So what I learned from this episode is that the energy dissipation of traveling waves is bigger than I thought.
I other words, never under-estimate close fetches!

The lack of chop still remains a shock for me, but sure I'm not going to complain about it! Evidently the lifetime of the chop after the active wind has stopped blowing on it is really minimal and it doesn't travel much at all...

Stoked that I learned something new. Mahalos uncle Pat!!! Good job with your kiting!


Anonymous said...

One of the best posts in a long time! Keep 'em coming, brah!

Ely from NYC

Magnum said...

What a great post.

My respect goes to you for braving that big swell. About your timing, I think its the most difficult thing to learn, in fact I tend to think not everybody can learn that fully, you have to have talent (something I dont have). But dont we have fun learning anyway? You are lucky to be able to learn in the windsurfing paradise...

All the best

Jamin said...

GP - my guess is the surface low you see in the last map that is parked over Maui generated a very tight pressure gradient quite close to the islands, and when combined with a long trade wind fetch from the strong high upstream was enough to create the giant NE swell. Somewhere they mentioned strong gales being quite close to the islands but since the low was overhead we didn't get the wind here (its like we were in the eye, sort of). The NPAC surface map doesn't have enough resolution to show this local feature (the low) well. When there's a typhoon you often don't see an obvious fetch for the same reason but of course there is usually enough wind to generate swell... somewhere. I doubt the maps are wrong only because they are not predictions but the current weather situation. Plus NWS predicted this swell a few days in advance so no surprises (except it was bigger then anticipated).

PS - where do you get the archived NPAC maps - or do you just save copies? Cool post!

cammar said...

Ely, I agree with you!

Magnum, you're right on everything you say:
1) yes, you never stop learning: once in a while I even see Levi eating it...
2) yes, we have fun learning just as much as Levi or a beginner
3) yes, I'm lucky to be able to learn in the windsurfing paradise.

you were right too! See uncle Pat's confirmation of what you said.
Every morning I save the weather maps of both north and south pacific, so that I can match the related swells when they arrive to the fetches that generated them and learn from them.
I do it because I love meteorology and once in a while it does help scoring good uncrowded sessions.
Monday morning, for example, I surfed a break in Lahaina and it was three of us. Waist high, clean, sunny, warm... loved it!

Anonymous said...

Hey Giampaolo

great weather forecast problem...I know little about waves forecast but I would like to have a diagram like the one on the link ( or this in italian with also the distance from the fetch (I mean the distance from the main wind that is creating the waves. i.e. how the waves height decrease and period increase with the distance from the generating wind)...but I suppose that's why math models exists right? In addition, fortunately, ocean metereology is not math and significant errors occurs even in those diagrams/models...otherwise I wouldn't love meterology so much...
I would like to divide the problem in 3 parts:

1) the relationship maps-wind speed: I agree with you that from the maps it's difficult to spot a big fetch with force 8-9 Beaufort scale (gale - strong gale = 34-47 knots). But beware that I found in a book a way of calculating the force of the wind from the distance of the isobare and they say to add 1 to the wind force in proximity of an hi pressure and to subtract 1 in proximity of a low pressure (the hell why? I don't know but I probably trust the book of the Glenans). That's why you propably found a big difference (2 beauforts) with the "usual" low pressures. For sure resolution of the maps counts too.

2) the ralatinship among wind speed, fetch, duration of the wind and waves height. I have a couple of diagrams that shows that a 22 ft height waves can be easily generatated by a 40 knots wind blowing for 12 hrs in a 180 nm fetch (even if only with a period of 10 sec).

3) the decreasing of the waves from the "generating area": I learned 5 min ago (could you confirm?) that a wave decrease its height of 1/3 every time the waves run for his lenght but measured in miles (i.e. a wave of 22 ft let's say 80 feet long became a wave of 15 feet after 80 miles...that's a decrease bigger than I thought).

What about the period increasing with the distance??? Do you have some diagrams or equations for that relationship? Come on, if we solve that the all problem is "almost" solved: you have the wind speed from the experts, the waves height from the diagrams and period too.
About the chop I can tell you that in Italy I saw super glassy waves about logo height with mistral wind blowing at 20 kts and much stronger far from coastline (fetch less than 200 nm). Probably the chop disappeare fast as soon as we are out of the “main generating wind” (I think that the islands were far from the gale (200 miles??)...I cannot see how much with these kind of maps resolution but is surely more than in the Italian conditions that I mentioned).

Keep going with that kind of posts/problems...they keep my brian active and I continue to LEARN!!


Anonymous said...

Not sure "epicness" is a word - it sounds to me as though it should be something like epicitity but I just checked the OED and that's not a word either. Epical is the nearest I can get - you do know I'm a geek when it comes to words.

Anne x

Jamin said...

GP - Thanks for publishing Pat's explanation. Is there only one NPAC gif per day? I was thinking it would be cool to see a month's worth of these maps, animated or something like that. Must be a tool that could do that easily (yes I'm a techie geek and a weather geek).

We were just down from you at Launiupoko Monday surfing and indeed it was warm and sunny with fun waves (while Kanaha was all rain), and for a while no SUPS and uncrowded. Now I'm trying to decide what kind of long board to get - suppose that's another topic..