SUP Survival Stories
Suzie Cooney, CPT Owner of Suzie Trains Maui and Naish Team SUP Rider
I’ve asked the SUP community of SUP Connect to write me about any experiences where they felt their survival stories could help our fellow paddlers or for those who may be entering the sport of SUP. I, Deb Driscoll from Maui and Andre Neimeyer take a moment to share theirs too.
Now you don’t have to ride giant waves or tackle huge rolling swells to have something go wrong. As conditions change or you fatigue or equipment fails, anything can happen. One needs to be ready and take precautions in advance if you can.
I hope that the following excerpts will shed light on how we must keep our heads calm, equipment in check and be prepared for anything and could change your life or someone you know who paddles.
So I’d like to write about what it feels like to have that sinking feeling your friend is either in a better, more peaceful place, or he has found his way back to land safely and you just haven’t found them yet.
My story: Maui, North Shore December 2nd 2010 was the day I decided to mount my Go Pro on my Naish 14ft Glide for some action video. It was a day with trades blowing 40-50 mph and the waves were topping out with 8-9 foot faces. My downwind buddy Bill, a very experienced waterman and I headed down from Maliko Gulch headed 9 miles towards Kanaha. We’ve done this many times in all conditions. But, today’s launch and direction of swell were enough to force the adrenaline through my body, (don’t laugh) causing my teeth to chatter. This happens when I’m totally excited and nervous at the same time. Keeps me in check I guess.
The easterly direction of the swell made for a treacherous exit of the gulch where one needed to time the sets just so, as not to get pounded on these huge boards. Here’s a shot of Jeremy Riggs and friend Mike Owens heading out ahead of us. Notice the break AND the size of swell behind it!!
Big Day Coming out of Maliko, Jeremy Riggs and Mike Owens
If any of you have ever done a Maliko run or have entered the annual Naish race, it’s nice and mellow and usually flat until you reach the open ocean.
Bill and I timed it just right, but my teeth were still a bit noisy and I was looking forward to regrouping as we always do, and plot the course for the rest of our paddle. First, passing Hookipa on our left was very exciting and there was a helicopter filming a few of the windsurfers. Big waves formed underneath us, and it wasn’t as bad as we anticipated as they usually rolled right underneath us. The glides were easy and gentle where I was hoping for a little more action.
With the winds gusting to 40-50 mph, all we had to do was hold our paddle up and stand there to get pushed along. Next, approaching Baldwin Beach the swell was getting bigger and bigger and the usual channels no longer existed. The water and wave pattern here is unpredictable and can pick you up and pitch you down so fast you have no idea what happened. Our plan to cut in front of Camp One in front of Sprecklesville, but on this day that may have not been the best course. The reefs are shallow and plenty and the waves were huge.
Just before Bill signaled a way in, a rogue set came through and that was it. No Bill, no board. I looked around, but did not panic. All around me were now 9-10 feet swells breaking soon on me. I kept looking and now on my knees, for I tried my best to stay on my board; I knew it would be me next. I thought to myself I must get in to shore quick to get help. We were now past the lifeguard station at Baldwin and I can’t imagine they could see us anyway for the waves were so big. Still no Bill and then came the first set on my head. Camera goes dead. It was dark and I prayed my leash stay attached to me. I came up for a breath and ready for the next beating. That darn paddle was torking ( new word ) my arm like Gumby and the board yanking my leg out its socket. Two more on the head, the board still attached.
By now, I was getting closer to shore, scraped the fin over the reef with winds pushing me hard at my back. Once on the beach, I had to burry my board in the bushes so the wind wouldn’t launch it. I looked back out to see if I could see Bill, no Bill. But, now I saw his board. It was spinning like a green torpedo parallel to the waves. So now I had to run like hell down the coast to find some help.
I found friends Jeff and Suzanne at Camp One and it was like a bad dream. The words would not come out of my mouth. I was on the verge of crying, but instead motioned to call 911. They didn’t recognize me in my gear and all they heard was get help and Suzie Cooney. So they thought it was I who was in trouble!
Knowing help was on the way, I had to run back to the spot where Bill’s board was last seen and hope by then he’d be spotted. Running into 40-50 mph winds is not easy in the sand. My water pack was heavy and paddle flailing everywhere. As I rounded the point, there was Bill’s board as if someone gently put it down as a bad joke. It was unscathed but the brand new leash was severed.
Before the fire department came and my all time favorite lifeguard, Tony Colletta on the ski, I could see Bill above Sprecks. I could see that his paddle was in the air and he was using the wind to help bring him in! Genius! He later told me he was sitting on the handle like one would sit on an old T ski lift to help him keep his head up and get him in. I was relieved.
He was a bit in shock but was not mad at me for calling or help! He was more concerned that he scared me and that he did.
Here is a photo of Bill’s severed leash next to mine, the stretched out coil.
Now here’s a photo of my new leash next to my old leash:
Bill is doing well and I’m glad he’s okay. He’s glad his board is okay. I hope I never have to experience that again, but I thought that was pretty cool how he used that paddle blade to get him to safety!
Now, here’s Deb Driscoll’s story. I might add that Deb goes quite deep and I’d put my life in her hands any day! She is my assistant safety sweeper at my clinics here on Maui. Thanks for sharing Deb:
Deb’s story: Aloha Suzie, my friend, its me, Deb …not sure it qualifies as a survival story but here goes. Last winter, out at Pier 1, I was SUPing with my friends in triple overhead surf (with some bigger sets). It was DEFINITELY the biggest surf I had been in to date. Double overhead was the largest surf before this day. I had caught a couple waves and was feeling pretty confident because I had made it to the shoulder each time without getting caught in the impact zone. It was only a matter of time before Murphy’s Law took over.
Continue reading BIG SUP Days: Some Good Tips In Case You Ever Find Yourself in Tough SUP Times