Patri Mclaughlin grew up on the North Shore of Maui in the Hawaiian Islands. He first tow surfed Jaws at 17 years of age. A member of the Duotone International Wave Team, Patri is known to really come alive when the conditions get big. When conditions get serious you can see a switch flips, Patri becomes hyper focused and you can see he is truly in his element. On January 16th, Patri set out to tackle the biggest swell he’s ever seen or ridden at the infamous Jaws on the North Shore of Maui. The guys at Duotone caught up with Patri to get some insights from his session that day.
Hi Patri, we all saw the footage from what was considered the biggest swell from over a decade. Talk us through the waves you caught that day.
When we pulled up it was pretty hectic, there were 40 about 40 jet skis, 15 boats and 2 helicopters flying overhead. There were still a bunch of people still tow surfing at that point and the wind still wasn’t really filled in yet so we sat in the channel and watched the action for an hour. I saw this girl get a crazy barrel and make it. Every single wave was just huge! Even the smallest waves coming through would be considered big sets on any other day and when the big sets came through, i’ve never seen it like that before, it was giant! I went kiting after about an hour of watching from the channel. I started to pump my kite on the back of my jet ski.
This windsurfer kid Adam got a pretty huge wave and I guess got smoked, I was pretty happy I didn’t see that. I was out the back with all the windsurfers and you could visibly see they were rattled and scared as they witnessed Adam wipeout on a 65ft (20 meter) wave. It was probably the most stressful day I’ve ever experienced out there, with all the jet skis and boats, cameramen, thousands of people watching from the cliff and helicopters buzzing around.
Generally on windy days when the wind picks up the surfers leave and the whole media circus leaves with them and it’s just a few kiters and windsurfers left. This day was different, there was such a scene out there. It was sketchy even catching a wave, you’d make it to the end of a wave and kick out into the channel and have 40 jet skis and boats, you didn’t want to crash your kite and hit a boat or cartwheel into a jet ski, so this added another stress element to it. I caught maybe 20-25 waves. The first two or three waves I caught I was definitely playing it safe and then I started to relax a little more and then tried to hunt down some bigger sets.
With all the windsurfers out there and being the biggest day in a lifetime, how difficult was it to get a wave?
Yeah it was definitely pretty challenging to get a wave, there were probably ten windsurfers out there and eight jet ski tow teams, but everyone out there were friends of mine so it wasn’t too crazy. Everyone’s goal was to get the biggest wave of the day, so a lot of the jet ski teams and even the windsurfers were letting a lot of good ones go that weren’t the 65 -70 ft (20-23 meter) waves, but they were still a solid 40-50 feet. I tried to pick off the second wave of a set instead of the third or fourth wave because everyone else was trying to catch those ones. I ended up catching a lot of waves but there was definitely a competitive element to the line up out there.
Tell us the sensation felt when dropping in on one of these monsters.
It was definitely the most energy I have ever witnessed out there. I’ve been out on big days before, and usually there are a couple of big waves that come through, but this day it was non stop! Every single set that came through was filled with so much energy and so much water, millions and millions of gallons of water. Jaws is kind of a unique wave, it doesn’t really get taller on bigger wave days. Waves such as Nazare get really tall and peaky, whereas the bigger Jaws gets the more angry the wave gets, bigger barrels and more power in the lip and overall it’s more dangerous. It was super hectic for sure!
How does the power of the wave affect the kite?
In wind sports we have apparent wind, if you put your hand out of your car window on a non windy day and you’re driving down the road at 40mph, you feel 40mph of wind on your hand, this is apparent wind. Jaws is like that on steroids. When you drop down one of these waves you are going as fast as you possibly can on the water. Our boards are designed to go fast, everything is just for speed. Your kite gets a crazy amount of apparent wind and it gains so much power. I generally try to rig a size where I am barely able to stay up wind, but when you drop down a wave you end up way overpowered. Also the wind is so offshore there, generally our trade winds on Maui come from the east or north east and the Jaws swell comes from the west, so it’s almost straight offshore wind conditions, so you are fighting against the kite.
You don’t want to have too much power or the combination with the apparent wind will just pull you out the back of the wave. When the waves are so big it creates turbulence to the wind. If you catch the third wave in the set, the wind is swirling off the back of the second wave. Oftentimes you’ll drop down the face of the wave and the kite will be falling out of the sky with the lines going slack. It’s super stressful. That is conditions on normal days out there, so this day was just giant! This was another reason I was trying to go for the second wave of a set, but it’s also a lot more dangerous to go for these early waves because if you do fall, you get the entire set on your head and that is not something you want to happen, so ideally you just don’t fall!
Going into the session I know you also had a shoulder injury that you have been dealing with and in your mind crashing wasn’t an option. Was it a difficult decision on whether to even ride that day?
Yeah definitely, I dislocated my shoulder three months before this swell came in. If anyone has experienced a shoulder injury they know it takes a long time to heal. The shoulder comes out of the socket, stretches all the ligaments and cartilage, goes back in but everything is really loose. So I had been going to physical therapy and going to the gym to get it tight, but it still wasn’t close to 100% . I knew conditions that day were going to be giant and there are only so many big days in my lifetime, I haven’t seen it that big and windy ever, so I really didn’t want to miss it. I’ve been kiting out there for many swells so I know the wave and have a pretty good idea of how to ride it with a kite, be safe and not fall. I went out with the intention that falling was not an option, if I fell my arm might fall off! In a way I feel like I played it safe, I wish I could have had the mindset that I really want to charge and go deep and try and get even more critical on the wave but I wasn’t really comfortable to do that. I got to go out and have a safe mindset.
I think by anyone’s standards that was more than critical! It was also a strange situation as the crew you usually kite without there were either injured or away on other trips. How did it feel being the only kiter in the line up?
Yeah, Jesse (Richman) and I have been kiting Jaws together since either one of us started going out there. Jesse broke his leg a month earlier training for the King of the Air and my girlfriend Olivia (Jenkins) was on a trip in the Caribbean for Duotone so I was the only kiter out there. It was pretty cool but also stressful, it felt like I was representing our sport in front of the entire big wave surfing world. There were two helicopters, a plane circling and every big wave surfer in the world had flown in during a pandemic to ride this swell, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t kook it! It was fun and I got a bunch of waves so I feel like it was a success but it was a shame the crew I usually ride with weren’t out there with me.
You touched on the fact the big wave media circus was out in full effect, we were watching you live on surfline.com which is the first time I’ve ever witnessed kitesurfing on the site.
Did you know they would be streaming and how was the feedback from the community? I thought it was pretty cool Surfline was streaming the session, I had no idea, I was focused on my session. It turned out there was a helicopter that was live-streaming the whole session. They flew out in the middle of the day, a couple of tow guys were still out at that time. It was pretty cool, Surfline is a huge website with a big community that tunes in to watch those big swell days so it was pretty cool that I got to represent kiting in some big surf. I found out about it after my session, I called my girlfriend and she told me she had been watching me on the livestream from the Caribbean. Surfline never reached out to me, but it was awesome they had streamed the session.
Let’s talk about the preparation that goes into these big days. People see you out there riding these huge swells but what physical and mental preparation goes into riding big wave days like these?
I try to train and stay healthy and I also free dive which i think helps a lot. Getting worked on a big wave and being able to hold your breath for a long time obviously helps. I wish I could say I train more, I’ve always had this mindset that being mentally prepared is more important than being physically prepared and I definitely believe that but I also want to be strong and healthy and prepared to take a beating. To kite big waves, it helps the most to have experience in big waves. I’ve been tow surfing on the north shore of Maui since I was 17, I’ve paddled into Jaws and I’ve been pounded out there a bunch of times so I have experience in getting worked. That’s the most important thing, you can be as physically prepared, meditate and be able to hold your breath for eight minutes but if you’ve never experienced big waves then you’re not going to be comfortable. So I think mental preparation definitely outweighs physical preparation by a long shot but you also need to be strong to handle the fact that you are riding as fast as you possibly can with a giant wave behind you.Can you describe what a wipeout at Jaws feels like?
Dude, that wave is so powerful, it’s so violent! Getting pounded out there is definitely the most violent experience I’ve had in my life. When I dislocated my shoulder it was from tow surfing at Jaws and I got licked in the head by the lip, it blew my shoulder out and I then took a whole set of waves on the head! That was super gnarly. Paddling too, I have been pounded a few times. It’s so much water, a lot of people blow their eardrums out from the pressure changes. What I’ve started to do when I fall is take a deep breath and right away grab my nose and start trying to pressurise like I’m diving deep. You instantly have likely millions of gallons of water above you head, so the pressure changes are crazy! With my experience falling, I try to keep my limbs in and tuck into a ball for that initial violence and then you can start to swim to the surface or inflate your inflation jacket to get up. It’s so much power, it’s maybe like being in an avalanche that is going off a cliff!
At the same time you must have a lot of confidence in your safety crew, do you train and will other rescue jet skis jump in to save people who are outside of their designated crew?
It depends on the day. We’ve had many days where we get up there and it’s just us alone out there. One of us is always on the jet ski doing safety as it’s just a matter of time until someone falls. It’s also not a forgiving spot, it’s way out there and the coastline is a cliff, so it’s a long way to reach a beach to swim into. We always have someone on a jet ski ready to drive in to pick someone up or rescue a board if you lose it. We have a good crew of people that come with us every time we go out. My friend Zack Perry has been learning a lot, driving the ski and he’s had a few days kiting out there. We definitely train, knowing how to save someone is necessary if you’re going to be out there. I hear all the time people wanting to go out and paddle and tow surf Jaws, but it would be irresponsible to not have a way of saving yourself, so we prepare for that and it’s always in the back of our minds.Tell us about your preparation in the days leading up to big swell, what goes through your mind?
With any other swell, I’ve kited out there so many other times that I try not to think too much about it or let the nerves get to me, I try to leave it in the back of mind until the day comes. You wake up, get breakfast, get all the kites rigged up so you are ready to launch off the back of the jet ski. I try to keep my mind off what I’m about to go and do because that is what works for me. This day was different, I was definitely stressed. There was a swell two days before on Thursday the 14th and this felt like the warm up day. We loaded up the ski and went out to kite. It was a solid day with big waves, so after we kited on that Thursday I couldn’t help thinking about it, if this was the warm up day and it’s already this big, Saturday is going to be crazy!
It was always lingering in the back of my mind, it was hard for me to put it off and not worry about it. When the day came I woke up and took a drive to check Hookipa which is right by my house and there was a set that was just a continuous wall all along the north shore! Usually there are multiple breaks broken up with channels before the next reef, but this day the whole north shore was just one solid wall closing out and breaking way out to sea! I was like OMG! We were contemplating launching at the harbour which is a one hour jet ski ride straight into the wind, by the time you arrive at Jaws you are tired from being beaten up on the ride! So we decided to try and launch at Maliko Gulch which is about a ten minute drive up on the ski. We took a drive down to see if it was possible to make it out at Maliko.
We decided to go for it, we dropped the ski in the water when there was a break in the sets waves, I was driving, once we launched a huge set came through with 6 foot waves breaking inside the Gulch. I was jumping over them with the jet ski, my friend swam out and we drove up to Jaws.
On the way back after the session the swell was peaking. We timed it between set waves, drove into Maliko and I told my friend to swim in, grab my truck and trailer and meet me at the harbour as loading at Maliko we would have destroyed the jet ski.
I dropped him and made my way back out and headed down to the harbour narrowly missed another set that closed out the Gulch again! We kind of got lucky with it. The drive down to the harbour was pretty crazy, on one side it was quite a peaceful experience as I was alone on the jet ski but on the other side it was terrifying as I was the only one out there with no one else around with huge waves breaking so far out! There were swells coming through that were over 1000 feet wide and over 15ft tall. The thought of the jet ski braking down at that moment, what would I do? Once I made it to the harbour it was super calm inside, we loaded up the ski and called it a day, went back to the house, washed the jet ski with fresh water and that’s when the exhaustion hit as the adrenaline went away. It was a long one!
Did you celebrate that evening?
Yeah we did, we went to the Highly Milely General Store, it’s kind of a nice restaurant and we had a celebratory dinner with friends. My friend Orion has a really expensive drone and he told us he had crashed it in a tree earlier in the day.
Was he filming the action at Jaws?
Yeah, he was flying not directly at Jaws but further down the coastline getting artsy shots with the trees in the foreground and Jaws in the background, picturing the whole scene. He got some really cool clips and I’m about to release an edit from that day which he edited and features some of his footage too.
Well we look forward to seeing that! Thanks for chatting to us today Patri and we are stoked you made it out alive and in one piece!
I’m psyched I made it too! I would love to have another giant day like that before I get too old! Days like that are so rare and it was a privilege to be able to go out and experience it.
This article first appeared on Duotone’s website here.