Hatteras Wave Jam "Extended" - The Epic Ocracoke Wavesailing Story, Featuring Keith McCulloch

The following is a guest writeup by Keith McCulloch, one of the fortunate Wave Jammers who ventured to Ocracoke Island on Sunday Sept 19, following Hatteras Wave Jam to experience the best wavesailing of 2010! Unfortunately, I missed this sesh but am stoked to give you Keith's perspective!

all photography: Janis Markopoulos (click any image to open gallery)

Well, after the somewhat grueling but successful conditions provided by Hurricane Igor for the 4 incredible days of Hatteras Wave Jam 2010, a crew of us gathered what energy we had left over and headed off to Ocracoke on Sunday. I caught the 10 o'clock ferry headed for OC, rolling on to the boat just as I pulled into the terminal, man you got to love that, sort of makes you think the rest of the day is going to go well. A few others made the 10 o'clock as well, Charlie an Dano had the box truck loaded with gear. I could tell the ferry was listing to that side! George and Janis Markopoulos, and Ian and Gordon Stokes were on the ferry as well. We could all see the break we sailed the day before as we traveled south on the back side of the island. The swell was big enough now that it was washing clean across the island into the sound in a few weak spots. Arriving at the north end of Ocracoke, as we all pulled out from the dune onto the beach, we could see stunning long lines of clean logo high swell with solid 20 knot NE side off wind standing the swell up and ripping the top off as it peeled for what seemed like a mile. Ocracoke at its finest!

The long flat bottom of the ocean floor at the north end of the island is created by the inlet constantly filling this area in with sand, this unique to Hatteras area can “tame” a powerful swell, organizing it and spacing it out. The offshore wind finishes the sculpture and polishes it into wave riding perfection. Giddy is the word that comes to mind to describe how I felt as I watched the first big set roll in. Wow, I've been waiting for this for 2 years, and here it is. I was thinking, I've got to make every minute of this day count. Start rigging! A 5.2 was the call. The outer bar was going off, Charlie was making it look easy as usual, catching huge waves again and again, three or four solid bottoms turns...kick out, sail right back up to the pick up point and do it again and again.

Ian sailed out like a pro and rode the wave of his life (so far:-), screaming down the line of a nice meaty logo high wave he looked right at home. A few more sailors began to show up and the day progressed, Emmanuel from DC and Scott from Charlotte joined in the fun midday both of which caught killer rides, it was like a free day on the best roller coaster you have ever been on, all you had to do was sail back up to the beginning of the line for another free ride. Jim Myers, Caleb and Andy showed up in the after noon, by now the tide was coming in and the wind had switched more to the north, more offshore. The outer bar wasn't breaking as hard, only the really big mast high sets were now breaking. Caleb was in good form working the inside with several long fast impressive rides which at any one instant looked ripped from a magazine spread. Jim switched over to a bigger board to compensate for the squirrely wind now on the inside making it difficult to get out, not missing a beat he snagged a few nuggets which put a smile on his face. Emmanuel was sailing strong, this guy amazes me, he comes in to these conditions after not sailing for months on end and sails with authority pulling into some of the biggest sets of the day. Andy McKinney with his better half made the trip to OC to see what all the commotion was about, text messages, voice mails were flying across the airwaves, get here now! After riding a few of these waves I'm sure he was glad he made the trip. George Markopoulos from Delaware made the OC trek and caught the wave sailing day of his life while his wife Janis documented the whole episode with the Nikon, big risk, big reward.

By now the low angle sunlight was really making the rides look dramatic from the beach, images of long sweeping bottom turns and top side cut backs looked like brush strokes on a tubular canvas are now burned into my memory, the shimmering light reflecting off the logo high swell was real life artistry unfolding before your very eyes, looking too good to be true; and no photoshop necessary.

Graham Ezzy was late to the show and was a little under volumed for the now offshore and lighter winds and larger shore break, but he made due with the gear that he had, working it hard to get in the right place at the right time, after which he could finally cash in on a few payday waves showing all that this guy can adjust to the conditions at hand, and rip it up anywhere.

At the end of the day, Charlie, GS, and I went out and worked the inlet break. This was a little nuts! Next time your are riding the ferry across the inlet look out into the inlet...look way out.. you'll see two very large buoys on the horizon, a red one and a green one. The red one is east of the green one. Both are pretty damn far offshore, we were using the red one to line up the swell, this was the pick up point! This wave out here is completely different, FAST with barreling sections. Perfect formed, consistently peeling and made of smooth water while being caressed by clean wind, it was beauty-and-the-beast all rolled into one.

Sailing out on a port tack thru the “channel” you've got a front row seat of the action on your left, as the big sets hit the bar and begin to barrel it looks easy, it looks reasonable, it even looks “small” due to the scale of things out here, we are way the hell offshore! Looking back at the beach I can just barely make out some lumps on the horizon which appear to be our trucks or maybe that is the dune I'm looking at? Sailing out I knew the risks, I was thinking “man whatever you do don't fall...you'll never get your gear back and you'll have to swim at least a mile trough shark-infested water!”

Charlie snagged the first wave, he went in a little deep and had to bottom turn around and clear a section the size of a tractor trailer, so close the barreling breaking white water was pelting the back of his neck as he screamed down the line to safety. For my first ride, I chose a more conservative location to drop in, just a little west of where charlie just had his thrill ride, using the buoys to judge my position I picked #3 in the set. All day long the largest wave of the set seemed to be the 3rd one, its always a good idea to grab the biggest wave of any set. After about four solid turns on this one I kicked out and went back for more, a real confidence builder that was.

Now I returned to more east of the red buoy which put me further into the pit, tacking to stall a little while the next big set approached. Charlie was just downwind of me doing the same. Here it comes, bigger than the last. I went deep, real deep, dropping in and moving upwind while looking down the line. Now on the wave... stalling a little waiting for the moment to start my run. My vision narrows, its time and I begin the run, easily mast high, it was beautifully shaped, butter board smooth wall of continuous liquid momentum which allowed me to easily connect bottom turn energy with the top turn, man you got to love the acceleration you get off a properly timed bottom and top turn combination. As you come off the top in a nice arc, the wave shoots you out in front, this is the key to sailing big fast moving waves.

You've got to harness that top side turn energy, you've got to direct it, you can't control it... its a redirection, you are borrowing the energy and channeling it in the direction you want to go. Energy that came from millions of miles away from our Sun, converted to wind and converted again into this glorious wave made of water, like a freight train it moves on with no care to your presence and unforgiving. You've got to put your board and body in the right place at the right time.

On this one I made a mistake, I misjudged how fast this wave was moving, I just could not believe the size and speed of this wave and I was just discovering that this section was beginning to bowl up...and all on top of that, the wind was fluking out.. I thought “ughggh you can't be serious!” Three big pumps and I narrowly escaped real punishment, now I am barely planing out in front of this wall of water with a barrel behind me that you could park a truck into, one more second in this direction and I'm dead! I've got to turn back into the wave to get some speed to make the next section or I'm trapped. I make this next top turn about half way up the face, I'm late, if I went to the top I'd be drilled into sand for sure, as I complete the turn in the middle of the wave I begin to accelerate back down the face. I'm still running behind and the second half of the bowl section is still out in front of me and it is now beginning to pitch, there is this deafening noise in my right ear and I instinctively look back towards the noise, just where I was a millisecond ago is a silo sized tube of water arcing over the tail of my board blowing chucks of white water at me and my gear. Moving forward from this point, time seemed to slow down and I do almost an exact repeat as I clear the next section, with the bowl shape catching me off guard I really wasn't sure I was going to make it past those two enormous sections. Still a little stunned, now I was in the clean long section that I was after in the first place, I connected five solid top to bottom turns back to back cutting deep swaths in the hillside made of velvet water. Looking back I feel like I was watching the whole thing from a helicopter shot, I guess its the closet I've come to an out of body experience!:-) Charlie caught the 2nd swell after that one and had better positioning after the knowledge gained from his first experience and he worked it like he owns the place. With the wind waning it was time to end on a high note, we sailed in and called it an incredible day.