09 October 2015

World's Largest Wave Ever Kitesurfed

Written by Ben Wilson, Posted in Interviews

Cloudbreak, Fiji 2011

World's Largest Wave Ever Kitesurfed

Cloudbreak is such an iconic wave but nobody had attempted to kite it at that kind of size before. I’d been looking at it for five years, getting to know the wave and local weather patterns and understanding what it takes to make sure I was there at the right time. 

I studied the conditions constantly and it seemed like maybe twice a year something would pop up and look good, then it would come to nothing. To be honest the whole process is super draining. Even on the day I was completely drained! For a week it was a rollercoaster of, “it’s going to happen,” or, “maybe there’s not enough wind”. But during those times there were a lot of good moments when it wasn’t that big, just a good warm up session. On the day, I knew it was looking right so I brought the whole team in: helicopters, videographers, photographers. A lot of logistical preparation went into that wave.

Personally I’d spent a lot of time training, ensuring I was fit and healthy so I’d be physically ready for anything when the time came. Emotionally, I’m really into visualising so I imagined riding that wave long before the day. I considered my state of mind, what would happen if I got to the bottom of the wave and wiped out, all the possible scenarios. Of course confidence is everything, especially making sure I’m confident in my gear and preparations. In the lead up I spent heaps of time in the water, both surfing and kiting so I didn’t doubt myself. Everything was in place so I could just get out there and catch a wave.

In the weeks before, everything was looking good. I was super confident in the forecast model we were using, and the day before I knew it was on for sure. We had the tides and wind worked out and our plan was to tow surf it first and feel out the waves. We also had a helicopter booked to get the best footage possible. I looked at the swell for about an hour and tow surfed it beforehand. I knew the sets were about every 45 minutes and the second wave was always the biggest of the set. I tied everything in to give us the best chance of being in the right spot at the right time and it all seemed to be coming together perfectly. And then, in the first 10 minutes out there a bird flew into my kite and popped it! That made me doubt everything. I had to change my mind-set and regroup so swapped out my kite and after that it was all good.

Then I was just waiting – I know a place in the reef where the really good, big sets stack up. I waited out there tacking back and forth for 40 minutes, letting the wrong waves go past and the other guys get them. I knew when the sets came through I’d take the second wave, the biggest. By knowing what was going on I was giving myself the best chance and with only one wave every 40 minutes I had to be ready when it came. On days like that, everything is super calculated.

When that wave came I knew it was bigger than anything I’d seen. I was in the right spot and everything was perfect. I still remember clearly thinking, “I just need to get from this spot here, to that spot down the line”. What I didn’t anticipate was just how much water would be drawn from the reef. It actually felt like a motionless wave that kept sucking me up the face. It’s one of those moments that are really hard to describe – it just seemed to keep on drawing back from under me.

Afterwards I felt that maybe I wasn’t on the right board. I was on tiptoes and felt it was going to explode! But it didn’t, and I ended up making the wave. I probably shouldn’t have ridden my standard 6’1 shortboard, next time I’d use a narrower 6’ board, slightly thinner with more of a pintail and I’d set the fins straighter.

Looking back now and it’s still one of the best days of my life kiting or surfing for sure. It changed things for me in terms of endorsements - I’ve built a relationship with Jeep based on that wave. Overall it’s helped me with other sponsors and the BWS brand philosophy – ‘our search for perfection never ends’.

I want to keep going out there and kiting something bigger and better. It’s just about finding the right wind and swell. I have huge ambitions for the future, to see what’s possible with big wave riding on a kite. I actually believe that the biggest waves can only be ridden with a kite – a jet-ski can’t get in there, that’s my vision for the future. I’m never happy, I always want more! 

About the Author

Ben Wilson

Ben Wilson

Ben Wilson, a big-wave kitesurfer and co-founder of BWSurf. A pioneer of the sport, Ben was one of the first to use a surfboard in harmony with a kite and he continues to drive the sport in new directions.

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