I recently returned from a surf trip to Alaska with pro surfer and Grain Surfboards poster boy, Ben McBrien. Back in the early months of '06 Ben spent many weeks in our basement banging his head and building the first two 5'4 Waka's ever. Lucky for us Ben brought his board along for the trip to Alaska. What I witnessed over the next 8 days was pure magic between Ben and that board. After returning home I asked him to write a few words about his experience. Below is what showed up in my inbox only minutes later.
Ben and his 5'4 Waka's in '06"If you asked me a week ago to describe my wooden board I would have told you it was a novelty board. Sure it looks good. Yeah itâ€™s a miracle of modern woodworking. But looks only go so far until you combine the right board with the right wave and I had ridden it only 5 times with only marginal success in the wrong conditions for it.
Since then itâ€™s been on a tour of the world with Grain and then with Dave Rastovich, who took it to Japan for a protest of the 25,000 dolphins killed there every year. I hadnâ€™t seen it in 6 months, but it appeared in the mail out of the blue right when I had given up on ever seeing it again. Perfect timing as I already had my plane ticket to Alaska.
I hesitated while packing my board bag. Should I take the wood or the extra short board covered in sponsor stickers? Itâ€™s a risky decision but this was a chance of a lifetime. I donâ€™t know what I expected but riding a wood board in rugged Alaska just sounded like a perfect match.
Taking the plunge in icy Alaskan watersAlaska is more beautiful than any tropical destination on earth. For serious!!!!! Walking out of the snow and moss covered forest and seeing driftwood piled up on the dunes, four foot round trees thrown onto the beach like matchsticks, and oil slick glass with a perfect head high swell reeling just off the beach was a dream come true. It was clear that I had chosen wisely. But my first session with the wood board was not what I expected. First of all we were at a beach break and I was working against the weight of the board once again and second, I was chased from the water within 10 minutes by the Alaskan locals, Sea Lions; huge, hulking, masses of gristle and fat coming at me with teeth-bared. I was out of there.
This is where my attitude toward my board and all wooden boards was drastically altered. We discovered the sand point, and I rode my shortboard. The wave was perfect! It started on the sand, a boat wake sized left, and it grew as it peeled into deeper water. Iâ€™ve never seen an ankle high wave grow to be a foot over-head but this wave defied all definition. To add to the uniqueness of this wave, on a chart we discovered that that the wake breaks almost 180 degrees from the swell. We were riding a west swell and facing straight east. This place was bizarre. But the shoulder of the wave was a little soft and I was in no shape to ride a 200yrd point break. It was like learning to surf all over again.
When I broke both of my short boards, one while over excitedly jumping from the boat with my leash wrapped around a fishing pole holder and the other in the ankle deep shore pound of this perfect left, my first thought was that I was screwed. When I dropped in on my one remaining board, the aforementioned 5â€™4â€, 12lb. copy of a 60â€™s knee-board, I knew it was kizmet. Everything that was wrong with this wave for my short board was perfect for the fish.
Perfect trimGLIDEâ€¦ that is the gift of a wood board. Taking off on my first wave I realized that this board and this wave were meant for one another and I was along for the ride. I could go on for hours bro-ing out over how perfect my session was but it wonâ€™t do it any justice. Iâ€™ll just let Nickâ€™s pictures do the talking.
I had one of the most perfect sessions of my life the first night, I was on fire, (if I donâ€™t mind saying so) riding the board better than I had ever guessed I could.
Hard on a rail in AlaskaThis board has been through a lot in its life and put me through a lot as well. Like all the greats this board went out on a high note, in itâ€™s prime, like the Beatles or Seinfeld. I want to remember that session for the rest of my life and I may not ever ride it again. Iâ€™m never going to top that session, and thatâ€™s fine with me. Chased out of Alaska from all angles