How Does Sunset Beach Work? - Page 23


The Rip.

Sunset Beach has a rip.

Everybody knows that.

But the scope and magnitude of the thing..... well, that's a different matter.

Not everybody knows that.

If you'd decided to design and construct a setup for the express purpose of making the most powerful rip current you could possibly devise, using the available (very substantial) wave energy to absolutely greatest effect, I'm not sure you could do any better than the rip at Sunset.

The rip at Sunset Beach is a thing of majesty. A force to be reckoned with. A distinct entity, complete and unto itself. And it brooks no disagreement about things.

Even today, when everybody's wearing cords, the rip can never be dismissed and can never be taken lightly.

Cords occasionally break, and when your cord breaks at Sunset Beach, you and the rip are going to become acquainted with one another, on a very close and personal basis.

The water comes pouring in and across, being initially fed and reinforced from a vast source area, starting from all the way from over at Outside Backyards, gathering a head of steam as it sweeps along into the shallows around and beyond Boneyards, gets added to by still more water coming in from the area of the main peak at Sunset, and then all of that flowing water gets funneled down into a surprisingly narrow area (considering the overall size of the place) where the bottom drops off into a well-placed, well-aimed slot that sits directly in front of where it's all going, the inside section shoves even more water into the mix from the side just for good measure, and the flow rate then ramps up to highest speed deep within the smiling mouth of that slot, and then it all gets forcibly disgorged out of the mouth, around the corner, and back out to sea in the very deep water between the inside section and the waves breaking over there on the other side of the channel at Kammieland which serves as highly-efficient barrier, preventing the water in the rip from making any further headway downcoast toward Haleiwa.

It's one hell of a fine-tuned setup, and it does its job admirably.

And if that's not enough, the rip also just happens to travel back out to sea at an angle that matches the direction of the tradewind almost perfectly.

Boards, (and occasionally people) once they've turned that fateful corner around past the tail end of the inside section, get pulled by the rip, pushed by thousands and thousands of little (well..... sometimes they're not so little at all, actually) chops and wavelets, and blown by the goddamned tradewind, all in the exact same direction with everything enhancing the effects of everything else.

If your board does not get clipped by a breaking wave hitting outside at Kammieland, then it's gone.

And the farther over toward the end of the inside section that you become separated from your board, the better the odds that it will be deposited into the deep water of the slot by a whitewater which backs off into the depths, begin flowing along in the current of the river, turn the corner in there, and head on out toward the horizon never to be seen again.

Sometimes I wonder where those boards actually wind up.

People make jokes about them going to Kauai, and I'm sure that a few have actually washed up on Kauai, but for the most part those boards are simply never to be seen by human eyes again.

Poof, and they're gone!

Take your beating up point, and you don't really have to worry about your board. It will most likely wind up on the sand over there up point from Val's Reef.

Take your beating farther down point, and there become certain considerations that you must take into account even as you're getting the living hell pounded out of you by the succession of waves that keep coming in after the one you made your mistake on.

And the situation is a dynamic one and the considerations constantly evolve. You have to actually think and consider even as you continue to get beat.

You can't see the goddamned board in there anywhere, so you've got to just kind of know what to do next.

Is the set still pouring through relentlessly?

Has a substantial lull developed?

Is there a chance that your board may have been kicked a little left, giving it a proper chance to be pushed all the way to the sand?

Should you attempt to sprint swim to get to it before it turns the corner?

If you do sprint swim, are you still going to be in good physical shape to then turn around with enough stamina and strength in reserve to endure the long-distance rough-water swim as you head back toward the beach if you don't catch up to the board?

If you don't sprint swim, will you be able to get to your board in time, before it takes the turn in there?

Where the hell is the goddamned thing, anyway?

Did somebody paddling out encounter it?

If they did encounter it, did they further decide to be a nice guy and put a foot on it and come back through the rip with it, looking for a someone's tiny head momentarily appearing now and then from behind the long-period surges and short-period chop and jumble?

Where the fucking fuck is my goddamned surfboard?

How far out into the outbound part of the rip do you think you can go, burning energy at a high rate, futilely trying to catch up to a board that's moving, before it starts to become an issue that no longer revolves around retrieving a wayward surfboard, but has now become an issue of your own personal survival?


Have you ever attempted to swim back to the beach by trying to swim in across the channel, dealing with the nightmare disorganization at Kammie's, on a day when Sunset Beach is rolling?

There's a place way over on the very inside at Kammie's where the wave gets warped around bizarrely, and it can sometimes wind up coming at you as broken whitewaters from three near-equidistantly spaced directions (including one that's coming just about straight back outside from the beach), and it does this over a frighteningly shallow stretch of reef in there, and are you ready to deal with that in a state of befuddled exhaustion?

Where the fuck's my goddamned board?

And eventually you slog back in, beat, battered, dejected, out of breath, and short one surfboard.

It can get hairy out there some times.

Miraculously, over the course of my entire four-year graduate program at Sunset Beach, I never lost a single surfboard out there.

But I watched literally more than I can count, and I had a couple of pretty close calls, too.

Probably the closest call to losing a board I ever had came on a fairly sizable day when the inside section was working and there wasn't much of a dead spot between the outside and the inside. Take the drop, look down the line, "oh shit," drive like a demon to thread the extended needle and come out the other side, and then barely, just barely, squeak over the top of the wave as it was throwing the next section, the lip snatching my board from beneath my feet as I did so.

I landed happily across the back of the wave and did not get sucked back over the falls, but, realizing the position I was in, I knew I was going to have a problem with the goddamned rip getting my board, and had the minimal good sense to immediately start swimming directly toward Kammieland, completely cutting the corner taking a direct straight line, just as fast as I possibly could.

Just burned it, sprint style, in a direction sideways to the direction you might ordinarily think you should be swimming in. Sufficiently sideways in fact that I did not encounter any breaking waves during the entirety of the swim. I headed for the deep water of the channel at flank speed, crossed the channel still churning, re-entered the main body of the rip which was by now outbound, still swimming just as fast as I could, over toward Kammieland, and, just as pretty as you please, intercepted my board perfectly as it was happily bouncing along on its way to oblivion.

Had I decided to swim in any kind of direction in the general vicinity of toward the beach, it would have been gone forever, so that was kind of nice.

Once in a while the rip will get tourists or maybe some fresh green recruits from Schofield Barracks.

People that don't know the place, and that don't understand how any of this stuff works, will come down to the beach on a large day, and see all of those people out there bobbing around on surfboards in the distance, and think to themselves, "Ok, this must be a nice beach for swimming. Look at all those people in the water out there having fun together," and not realize that they're staring at a protracted lull, with essentially no waves at all, on a ten or twelve foot day.

The lulls can be far more deceiving than you would ever imagine possible.

It just lays down.

And it stays laid down.

For far far longer than you can possibly conceive of, especially on such a substantial-sized day.

One event in particular stands out, and the image that was indelibly etched into my mind consists in the air mattresses which the unfortunate army guys had been swimming around on, flipping over and over and over in the roaring tradewind, farther and farther out to sea, maybe half a mile out, in the outbound part of the rip, maybe even farther, I dunno, even as the very very lucky owners of those air mattresses who had gotten themselves out that far by paddling furiously toward the receding shoreline, directly against the rip and the wind, and who traveled backwards the whole time, were being plucked from the water at that same distance, with a basket that was lowered from a Coast Guard helicopter.

Close call, guys. Close fucking call. The hand of death was hovering just above you, and I know for a fact that you felt its chill as its shadow crossed over you, but it chose not to take you.

This time.

Return to

Maybe try to email me?