By Steve King and Scott Becklund
Editor’s note: The Tsunami Rangers refer to the wave at Mushroom Rock as Microwave for two reasons: it’s a mini-version of Maverick’s and there’s a naval station with radio and radar on the bluff above the break. Thanks to TR Michael Powers for all the great photos!
Steve: About a week before the epic Maverick’s Big Wave surf contest, my friend and fellow Tsunami Ranger Scott Becklund sent me a text suggesting a surfing session at Microwave or Mushroom Rock, a sweet surfing spot where the Rangers and many other kayakers have played and surfed for decades. I was game, the big wave was forecast to come rolling in for a Friday contest, and so to avoid the hubbub we selected Sunday for our session.
I spent part of Saturday with about a hundred spectators watching roughly 15 intrepid surfers paddle out to Maverick’s via the slot at the end of the beach. We all got to see black silhouettes charging down some very large waves, this time no prize money, no rescue jet skis, just very brave big wave surfers out to enjoy Maverick’s! I knew we were heading out the next morning early (not to Maverick’s itself but inside the reef where there were still some big fun looking waves).
Scott: Driving down to see King ” El Rey” I drove through the Presidio and along Ocean Beach. Seeing the Pacific at first light I realized choosing today for a surf play day was either very lucky or well thought out. I was driving down anyhow to hang with King and meet Padre Jack (the Tsunami Rangers’ official chaplain) to buy a Tsunami X-15 for my son. Arriving at King’s I learned that Michael “Don Miguel” Powers was meeting us for our paddle. There is something very special about both King and Michael for such different reasons. Now I really knew this was going to be fun!
It’s funny how many of my colleagues and casual friends know me as a kayaker yet have little knowledge of the time I spend with the ocean. As we prepared to launch I thought about how many times I had told people I was kayak surfing: no, not board surfing. And surfing at Pillar Point: no, not Maverick’s. I guess if you haven’t done it you just don’t understand. But as we paddled away from the beach that morning I forgot all this as I tuned in to what a beautiful a day it really was.
Steve: We got there Sunday morning and met Don Miguel, aka Wild in Spirit Powers, the elder Tsunami Ranger in his Tsunami X-15. He was a bit beat up from a fall he took on a 10-mile hike in the Santa Cruz mountains a few days previously but as usual his spirit and great health prevailed and he was raring to go!
When we got out to Mushroom Rock there was a paddle board and surf ski duo working the waves. As soon as we got close to Mushroom Rock, Scott slipped in to a building wave with a few paddle strokes and glided down the wave like a dolphin playing in surf. I think he was channeling Don Diego, our beloved Eric Soares, as he dropped into that wave with such ease and precision. A nice long ride was his reward. I tried to find the grooveline but found myself paddling hard with no go or flow. Then I caught one with Scott next to me but again he snabbed the sweet spot and I found myself riding the top of the wave, bracing to stay there with spray jamming up my nose. I ended up taking a long ride on top and then got dumped.
Scott: I hadn’t surfed here since Eric’s memorial in 2012. As we paddled up to the break at Mushroom Rock we joined a wave surfer and an SUP paddler both who greeted us with smiles. Man, this just keeps getting better! I thought. The NOAA forecast was for 5-7′ seas at 17 seconds. That looked accurate. The waves reflected early morning light off their glassy faces. I saw what I thought would be THE takeoff about 25-30 yards past the other two surfers and paddled straight to it without waiting for King and Michael to catch up. I’d been nearly creamed at this spot before so I kept a weather eye out for trouble. Just as I got there a nice wave approached and I took it. Okay, now this is too good! I thought. Off on one of the best rides in years on the first set!
Steve: I lined up for another wave as Scott continued to tune in ride after ride, smooth as silk. I was positioned a bit too far forward and found myself doing endos in my X-15. I released my seat belt as I was going through the washing machine and lost my boat for a few moments. It was a very big set and my antics provided great entertainment for my fellow surfers. For that I was grateful; it would be sad if it were all for naught! I got creamed by another set and bounced up (wave roll by Neptune) and found myself sitting in my boat, no paddle, on top of a wave like a bucking bronco. I got dumped again and was held down longer then I recall ever being held down in the past. It made me think about the courageous Maverick’s surfers and what a real big wave hold down must be like!
After my last mash-up I finally got in the zone and starting picking up rides, long and smooth. One ride was a tandem as I looked over to see Scott flying at about the same rate as me down the wave. By that time it had developed into a glorious Sunday morning surf session. Truly the core of what makes ocean wave riding so exhilarating.
Scott: It felt like we had the place to ourselves. We nearly did. As I paddled back from my ride King paddled up to me and we caught (or tried to catch) some nice waves. I seemed to be in the better spot and was catching a few more than El Rey when he snaked me! On the next big juicy perfect set I jumped on the wave thinking King would pull off yet there he was! No where to go but into his lap or straight down the face. I cranked as hard as I could and was barely able to pull off over the top. As I paddled around I caught myself both laughing and muttering under my breath, “Any one but King…” All this time Michael sat underneath in his kayak trying to capture that elusive pic.
Steve: It was so good I forgot about getting hammered. Then I found myself looking at the biggest wave of the day and I was not in the right spot. I had paddled up over the top of a few of these big guys and dropped ka-blam! on the backside but I could not get over the top or out of the way of this one. I did my best to ride the beast but it dropped hard and fierce on my head. It also creamed everybody else out there, I believe. When I surfaced I saw Don Miguel in the water, hanging on to his boat, laughing. He had had to bail to avoid being torpedoed by my boat. Scott was also mashed by this big boy. That was one hard dropping wave!
Scott: Anyone who has paddled with Michael can never understand how he never gets creamed. He’ll be right in the kill zone and then just off to the side as all hell breaks loose. Today as I paddled back to the takeoff spot I passed him laughing at how much air he got as he barely crested a wave. I looked up and there was King, looking as if he had changed his mind about going for a monster. Imagine his boat in slow motion stalling on a big wave, seeming to stop then changing direction and launching straight over the falls backwards, cartwheeling over and over, picking up speed as he rolled. He barreled toward me where I sat thirty yards away, lost his boat and got held under. It seemed like at least a minute before I finally saw him surface and swim toward his boat and me. Holy s#*t! That was one of the best kayaking crashes I’ve seen that didn’t involve a broken boat or… Minutes later a smiling King reconnected with his boat. I went yelling and laughing back for more. The three Rangers shared a few more rides and couple more crashes and lots of laughs with the other paddlers before we called it a session and paddled back for a hot tub soak. Magical.
Steve: We took a few more rides and then headed back toward the beach. Scott, Don Miguel and I rode one last wave three abreast heading to shore. Bliss on a Sunday morning surfing session! Thank you to the Great Spirit for the ocean, waves, and sun and to Jim Kakuk the designer and creator of these exquisite Tsunami X-15 ocean kayaks!