Article for SUP Magazine – tips for surfing Maverick’s

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Hi…Wade Lawson from Team Tomahawk here.

It was 2004 when I first saw the movie “Riding Giants” at the Arclight theatre in Hollywood. Walking out of that place, I had no idea my world was about to get a lot more…interesting.

That night, I made the decision to learn how to surf.  I was also gonna surf that place called Maverick’s.

Understand that I live in Los Angeles – that’s not something we surfers do down here.  I wasn’t aware how lofty that undertaking would be…until SUP.

As more and more people are discovering SUP and its superior wave catching ability, folks are pushing their personal boundaries, taking on monster surf.

After my first failed attempt, a trip to San Mateo Medical Center and a week-long stay at St. John’s hospital in Santa Monica, it was November of 2007 when I made my next paddle-out to the Maverick’s line up.

The Half Moon Bay buoy was reading 17ft@17sec.  17@17 looks like the waves on the  “Deadliest Catch?”  This was my day… I had no choice but to go.

After four hours of paddling through “Victory at Sea” conditions, dehydrated and hypothermic…not to mention, terrified.  I got lost in the fog and was blown way off course.  Some nice folks in a big boat rescued me, about three miles offshore.

The day before, Peter Davi had drowned at Ghost Tree and there were news crews all over the place.  When I got off of the rescue boat, media mobbed me. After all, I was wearing a wetsuit and carrying a surfboard – so…I must have been a surfer.  I felt strange talking about something I had no business talking about.  Since I was dealing with the early stages of hypothermia, I had trouble completing a sentence.  Afterward, I met Jeff Clark in his shop and told him of my exploits.  He shook his head in disgust. So many bad things could have happened to me.  I don’t recommend that a new person do this.

So, it has been a few years of paddling out at Pillar Point. I’ve snapped multiple ribs, leashes, boards and paddles. Each outing I learn a new way to surf another day.

In the past few months, several surfers have asked me how I am able to take on Maverick’s with an SUP.  I am by no means the “authority” on the subject; that would be people like Haley Fiske, Ian Wallace, Mark Alfaro and, of course, Jeff Clark.

I’m not going to teach you how to surf Maverick’s…you’ll have to figure that out on your own. I am, however, going to share a few of the tricks I’ve learned over the past few years, so that you don’t end up as “that guy” on Surfline.  Now let me start off by saying there are exceptions to all my rules. I’ve come up with these because I have been in some very bad situations…situations that could have been avoided.


First, you’ll need a board that can handle speed. Not just something with a pulled in nose and tail, i.e., your favorite 10ft. (insert brand) quad/Chinese/pop out/swallow tail, etc.

What I’m talking about is something that sits in the water – instead of on top of the water.  It seems that most SUP shapes are super thick.  This limits your controllability in heavy surf.  You go really fast and the board skips all over the place.  The last thing you want is to lose control going down the face, placing you in a situation that can be very unpleasant…maybe even deadly.

I ride an 11’0 pintail.  It’s got soft, thin rails, low-profile entry rocker with a little kick in the nose. It’s not something you’d paddle to Catalina…it’s a rocket ship made for heavy conditions. I’ve experimented with every fin configuration and have found that a thruster set-up works best for me.  I have had bad luck with big singles for two reasons: 1) it’s too hard to spin around at the last second – which is bad in a few ways, and 2) it’s easy to over-torque, which means a busted out fin box.  I’ve lost a lot of good fins that way.  Trying to paddle a half-mile back to shore in fifteen ft. chop can be a challenge.


As I said earlier, I’ve broken boards and leashes.  I’d rather break a board, because that means you still have something at the end of your leash to float on.  The key to this is either having a beefed up, glassed-on leash lap or a dual leash plug.  Surfing Mav’s can be expensive.  Stay on the shoulder, have a good job or get a sponsor.

Crow Haley leashes are hand tied and seldom fail, but sometimes the Velcro strap tears in half.  “Stay Covered” leashes have addressed this problem by doing zig-zag stitching, on the same Velcro.  I haven’t tried it, but they claim it works.  Here’s a pic of my modified leash.

There’s a lot of experimentation going on out there. Ian Wallace has been using a waist-leash, which is nicer to your knees and hips.  It’s also easier to get to in case you need to eject.  You do tend to get hog-tied under water, which is not fun.  If you insist on the ankle, I run a carabineer through the quick-release tab, so that it is easy to find.  This one could save your life.


Paddles – don’t take your brand new $375.00 Quick Blade…because it will snap just like your board, or you will just lose it.  I did that once.  Did I mention that Maverick’s could be an expensive place to surf?  I use the wood 9:fish blades – they’re cheap. I also paint black and white bands on them, which makes them easier to find – thank you Fletcher Burton!

Yes…wear it.  You are holding on to a paddle and you’re tied to a big, floaty board – you’re going to get dragged. Might as well be buoyant.  Make sure your jacket has clips and is snug.  The zipper will come undone and the vest will be ripped over your head.  Some guys wear it under their suits. I’ve also started wearing under-armor.  You can get something at Sports Chalet for under $50.  You will look something that is the hybrid of Robo cop and the Michelin Man.  You will feel funny at first, but the first time you get blasted and sent 30 feet down, you will laugh at how fast you rocket to the surface – woo hoo!  It serves many purposes: insulation, protection from fins, flotation.  It will dramatically improve your confidence.

If it’s big…and you’re going a half-mile out to sea, you’re gonna get thirsty. Camelbaks are great!  I recommend the ones with storage. In my Camel, I carry paddle gloves, fins and a Cliff Bar.  You can even get the bigger ones that will hold all that plus a two-way radio, signal flares, GPS locator beacon, homing pigeons, whatever.  Get one.

Do you want to get in really good shape for SUP?  Join an outrigger canoe club.  I’m 42 and I am in the best shape of my life.  My resting heart rate is around 37 bpm.  I just completed the Pailolo Challenge.  My crew, Marina del Rey Outrigger, paddled from Maui to Molokai.  We surfed the whole 26 miles!

Okay, that’s it for now.  There’s a lot more to share, I just can’t think of anything at the moment.  Now get out there and charge!  Please don’t charge while I’m charging, though.  That wouldn’t be very cool.  Just joking.  See you in da watah.