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Adventures in Handboarding On The West Coast with Mike Baker

8 min read

mike baker in Hawaii bodysurfing

Slyde caught up with New Zealander Mike Baker as he was prepping for The World Bodysurfing Championships in Oceanside, and even had the pleasure of hanging out with him on the West Coast.  Below he shares with us the awesome recap of his bodysurfing adventures from NZ > CA> HI

California Dreaming:

My whole trip to California reads like a best-case, all-time dream. It began when I made contact with Ken Robbins on Facebook. Ken is a top bodysurfer living on Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands. We had been talking for a while when I was suddenly contacted by Vince Askew of the Del Mar Bodysurfing Club in San Diego, inviting me to be on their team to surf in the URT WOMP at Coronado Beach and in the 39th World Bodysurfing Championships at Oceanside Beach in August of 2015.

I was blown away by the invitation but had to turn it down because I couldn't afford to get there. Vince said that all I had to do was get there and the Del Mar Club would put me up, all expenses paid. I posted this on my FB page and the whole thing went viral - overnight my whole friends list lit up with everyone totally pusing me to go.

Almost immediately a besty of mine messaged me to say that he would pay for my return flight and I could pay him back when I could manage it. This was an amazing opportunity for me suddenly so at the suggestion of friends I set up a Givealittle page on the Net and all my friends began donating money into it so I could pay the flights loan back to my besty. I paid him back in two weeks and the rest is history. 

URT Contest & World Bodysurfing Championships:

I came over to San Diego, met up with Vince and all the amazing people (too many to mention them all!) he had organized for me to stay with from the Del Mar Bodysurfing Club - four different sets of people, finishing up for the World Championships in a great condo at Oceanside overlooking the Pier.

The first day after I arrived I entered the URT WOMP Bodysurfing contest and in small surf managed to make it to Second Place!

I was pretty stoked even though the waves had been small and I spent the day going between the Del Mar crew and the Slyde Handboards tent - great to meet Steve and Ange after all this time in a way so unlooked for and also the rest of the Slyde crew - totally cool to get in the water with all of these guys! Steve and Ange invited me to join them for a BBQ at a friends house after the contest and we all had a ball round there with a great pool, rocks and waterfall right out of Jurassic Park. 

Unfortunately a few days later I hurt my back, two days before the World Bodysurfing Championships and even though a good friend of mine rang around and found a great bodyworker - Bob Davis - thanks Bob! who got me back on my feet, it set me back a bit for the contest - I had to swim mostly on my back which slowed me down and I didnt get enough waves to qualify out of my heat. But ... even though I was frustrated with my performance, I was determined not to let it get me down and I still had the most amazing time, with incredible people and every day totally special in every way.

I left California with a big lump in my throat - a friend had bought me the new surfing book, Barbarian Days - you have to read this book - its the best! I took it to a big meal with most of my new friends at a great restaurant and asked everyone to sign and write something in it and I now have an incredible memento of my time at Del Mar and Oceanside! Humbling and very special - thanks so much guys - new friends from San Diego, Brazil and Australia and a load from all over on Facebook! Ive had a lot of invitations to come back next year, so ive saving already .... 

Hawaii Bound:

Flying out to Hawaii on the way home to New Zealand Aotearoa, I had one night on Oahu with my friend Ken Robbins. Ken made it into the finals of the Worlds and I was staying with his brother, Bruce at Oceanside and we had already planned to try and catch Point Panic in the morning before I flew out.

Ken took me for a great sight-see around Honolulu but we found that there had been a sewage spill into the sea on the South Shore so we couldnt go in the water - the next morning Point Panic was flat anyway so I asked if we had time to get to the North Shore. It was summer and the North Shore is usually flat at this time of year but I just wanted to sink my feet into the sand at Pipeline ... 

This extraordinary trip has come full circle for me now, sharing this last session with Ken. He was my first contact on Facebook which catalysed the progression of events resulting in my invitation by Vince Askey to go to the World Bodysurfing Championships at Oceanside beach, so I guess it is fitting that we finished up the trip together in a way I never would have envisioned.

Pipeline Ehukai Beach Park on Oahu:

We swam out and bodysurfed the Ehukai sandbar at the famous Banzai Pipeline. For those of you who are not familiar with the world of surfing, the North Shore on the island of Oahu has always been synonymous with big wave riding. This is the place where, sooner or later, every surfer is obliged to come and be tested if they aspire to make it into the ranks of professional surfing.

Allowing for the mysteries still inherent (and which I hope fervently, will remain that way) in our individual and collective psyches, this earth of ours has become an open book now in so many ways, across every spectrum of physical, mental and spiritual endeavor. Within the realms of surfing, many other profoundly challenging locations in different parts of the world have become accessible to all comers and while some of these spots are now included on the professional surfing circuit, the short stretch of coast on Oahu`s North Shore still remains, perhaps, as the abiding trial by … water.

Like so many surfers of all disciplines around the world, all my life I have been familiar with the names of Kaena Point, Haleiwa, Laniakea, Waimea Bay, Pipeline, Off-the-Wall and Sunset Beach, (and the outer reefs, like Outside Log Cabins and Avalanche) to name perhaps the most prominent spots as you travel along the Kamehameha Highway. The North Shore comes alive in the winter months and subsides in summer. Where 25ft waves can be the order of the day at Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach in winter, summertime usually initiates a vacuum and these beaches can be snorkelled with impunity.

Together with all of the above-mentioned spots, Pipeline has always retained a profound and awe-inspiring mystique so it was with a certain surprise and mounting excitement that I walked through the Ehukai parking lot with Ken, to see a crowd of about twenty surfers scrambling to ride 6 - 8ft sets consistently hitting the inside reef. We watched the crowd jockeying for position and noticed a woman bodysurfing on the end of the left-handers, when she could find a space between board-riders, but they were few and far between so we walked down the beach a little way to check the sandbar next to the main Pipeline peak.

This was also consistent and coming through at a more manageable 3 - 5ft with only one person out on a stand-up-paddleboard. We took note of the large, random rocks awash in the shore break and speculated on the possibility of bodysurfing the right-hander coming in to meet the diminishing Pipeline left. We were not expecting any swell of consequence at this time of the year and I realised that this was another once-in-a-lifetime cubic centimetre of chance hovering in front of me. I could walk away or I could take hold with both hands. Ken and I looked at one another and said together, ‘Let`s do this!’.

So we returned to the car, locked up and walked our fins and my GoPro on my helmet mount and my Hexflex Slyde Handboard back to the sandbar. The swim out in the 80deg water (this was 9.30am and the air temp was around 85deg) was easy and pretty damn blissful (lol) and Ken and I began sharing waves with the SUP surfer, who soon got out. My first time in the surf in Hawaii, I noticed immediately that the waves had an edginess, a thickness and power to them which is not apparent in NZ.

Just wearing boardies (initially it felt like I had a parachute on until I realized my pocket was open and acting like a break. I became more streamlined when I zipped it up) and a rash vest with no wetsuit made it easy to go deep when diving under the waves and I was entranced by the clarity of the water - the reef was just below us and clearly visible. Then a big set of three or four waves came through, well overhead and suddenly we began paying more attention to the line-up and the implications of having larger waves arriving, (we had seen this happening before we went in but still thought it looked ok).

By then three other guys had joined us and I chatted with one about the surprise of finding waves this size breaking here in the summer. He agreed and said that it was a new swell and was forecast to get bigger tomorrow and the next day. Things were still in control but I started thinking about past stories of hapless surfers on the North Shore being caught out on ‘step-ladder’ days, when each successive set of waves increases in size and you keep paddling/swimming further and further out until eventually, you are hundreds of metres out and its so big you can't get back in again because you are too scared to take off … and you know, this was Pipeline …

I checked in with Ken and he had already made the decision that if the big sets hitting us suddenly decided to become the average norm, then we were out of there … I agreed, quite happily. So we traded waves, both of us getting good rides and diving under the big sets until it was time to go. Ken went in first and I followed after I had finished talking with a young lad who was bemoaning his fate of having to leave the next day to go to college … in Wisconsin - not a lot of surf over there. I enjoyed my last wave and rode it all the way in.

The steep beach was coming up fast and I considered riding right up the sand, then saw the shore break dumping inside-out and did a tumble-turn at the last moment, coming to my feet and walking backwards fast, in my fins - but not fast enough. Just to demonstrate that this spot is not to be trifled with, the next wave swatted me over and sucked my handboard leash right off my wrist. Gone. I thought I had lost it and did not fancy going back into the shorey to look for it, then saw a tiny piece of the leash sticking out of the sand - the board was buried and completely out of sight - and pulled it out of the sand before the next wave arrived. So we came through unscathed and I have yet more great memories - and footage - of my California Dreaming trip.

I am thankful though, that there was no surprise stepladder in evidence … and thanks so much Ken, for taking me up to the North Shore and what a gift for us, out of the blue, to go out and bodysurf at Ehukai Beach … who knew?

Pipeline Peak

The Spirit of Aloha at Pipeline

Ken Robbins and I - stoked after our session at Pipeline, Ehukai Beach Park

Ken Robbins and I - stoked after our session at Pipeline, Ehukai Beach Park

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