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Tenerife has become the winter go-to spot for slalom sailors, but let’s not forget Tenerife in winter can also offer huge Atlantic surf on more exposed parts of the island. Polish PWA racer Maciek Rutkowski looks back to when he took a break from training round the buoys to sample the big stuff.

Words Maciek Rutkowski // Photos Michael Maeyer

This winter I headed out to Tenerife quite a bit later than normal. It had to do with a lot of reasons, but the main one was that in previous years I would peak in May and run out of gas by September. So after a slightly longer than usual winter break, which included an amazing month in Maui, I shoved my eight bags of race gear and myself on a Ryanair flight mid-February and headed to Tenerife. Since I had less time scheduled in the Canaries, I was 100% committed to racing and if I got a few days of wave sailing in Cabezo it would be a nice bonus. Signing with FMX Racing meant I was a “free agent” for wave boards, so I phoned up Puls Boards, a local shaper from Warsaw, to ask if he had any onshore boards around 59 cm and packed that along with only 2 wave sails – a 4.7 and 4.0, no point bringing anything bigger, I thought.

I arrived and the trades weren’t playing ball, which left us looking around the island for wind. Actually that’s not exactly true – I knew exactly where to go, but promised I wouldn’t tell even which coast it was on. Two days of foil testing into the trip we ran into a day which had not enough wind for slalom and too risky of a shorebreak to launch and come back in one piece with our super high-tech expensive foils. So we decided to drive up the coast to a place I had surfed multiple times and was pretty sure was the wave I saw German local ripper Jochen Stolz post pics of all winter on Facebook. And, as my friends hate to admit, as usual I was right (trying to keep a straight face while saying that). It was a bit funny seeing Jochen’s face when we arrived there, he was clearly not happy! But at the same time he kept posting pics on Facebook all winter, I guess that’s something to note – can’t have both the empty spot and the Facebook glory!

Enrico Marotti was with me and he didn’t hesitate for one second. He rigged his 5.6m and 98 litre board (that’s unfortunately what slalom guys have to resort to in float and ride conditions) and was ready to jump off the rocks, which is not as easy as it sounds. Every single set wave, and medium sized one too, washed over the last 15 metres of the rock with potholes everywhere. So what you have to do is wait for the last wave of the set to wash through, pretty much sprint over the rocks, jump in with the gear and swim about 30 – 40 metres to the channel before the next set comes and annihilates you. Tricky, but with the right spotter on the cliff and enough determination, absolutely doable. I took the latter role for Enrico the ‘Manimal and watched him get a mast-high bomb while rigging, wondering if the forecast was right, as the swell was supposed to build. The sets already looked straight up scary. I’m pretty sure if you’d be dumb enough to try you could get barrelled on a windsurfer there. It’s just a square wave! So anyway, I was ready to go and right as I was rigging, four more guys showed up out of nowhere, as if they placed a GPS tracker on my car or something! And everyone seemed to bring a photographer and somebody to film, so all of a sudden the cliff was packed too! 

Since I didn’t have myself as a spotter, I just told the boys, just shout if something is wrong. And of course, just as I was three quarters through my rock run I hear “waaatch ouut!” And yes, there was this wave coming totally from the side which meant it wouldn’t break on the point, but right on the rocks I was jumping from! I took a couple of extra steps to make sure I had all the momentum possible and threw myself and my gear over the head high wall. I barely made it over and now only had to swim another two minutes, hoping that another set wouldn’t arrive, dragging my gear towards the wind line to be able to float my way too small 4.7 out into the lineup.

I had surfed this spot before and while rigging I tried to study every set as much as possible, trying to figure out the lineup for how deep it was possible to go, which section you needed to be fast through, which is a bit slower and what if any, looked more ‘attackable’. But once you’re out there, it’s always a lot trickier than you imagine. The wave seems to go way faster and way more upwind then it seems from the beach, although every single one varies in angle more than any other spot I have sailed. And the way it hugs the reef determines pretty much everything. You tend to wait for it to stand up, but instead of doing that in a traditional fashion the bottom just gets sucked out all of a sudden. So you really need to be ready and the minute you see it sucking you just accelerate like crazy. The good thing about such a ‘slabby’ shape is that the second the bottom drops out, all the chop disappears off the face of the wave and it becomes pretty perfect. Not the longest of rides, but it offers way more wall then most of the known slabs and if you can stay close to the pocket you can get spat on pretty hard. I know I’m repeating myself, but I’ve never sailed a wave this freaking square and hollow.

After scoring a few and starting to feel the place out I grew a little more confident, the other guys also going for it helped. I didn’t think it was hittable until Adi Beholz decided to hit it… on his first wave, sending himself into some sort of push loop off the lip. Later he admitted it wasn’t intentional and the lip was so scary he’d never try again, but it looked pretty spectacular. Dieter Van Der Eyken was ripping too. Nothing too flashy maybe, but I’d see eruptions of spray every time he top turned so it must’ve been something decent at least! And finally my housemate, Enrico Marotti, went too deep, broke everything and got washed all the way over dry rocks multiple times. He didn’t die, which was a bonus, and walked away to fight another day! Only later I saw like a hundred cuts all over his arms and arse, but from the water perspective it looked like he got out from the worst situation imaginable, so it felt reassuring at the time!

I was getting into it, but unfortunately my onshore stubby didn’t really work that great in these conditions. I couldn’t really expect anything different, but one always hopes!  Way too fast, it just wouldn’t allow me to bottom turn tight enough to stay in front of it and ride up and down. I’d have to resort to trying to go deep and pre-time it which can be super tricky. Especially the going deep part. I kept going deeper and deeper and getting better and better first turns, until… I went too deep.

I started to bottom turn and saw the whole thing was just going to close out right onto me. I still tried to do a little mid face turn to get some speed down the line but it was too late for that too. I gave it a few of my best foil pumps and when the thing exploded behind me just pressed the eject button, hoping the initial explosion would disburse most of the energy. Maybe it did, but the beast still took me for a ride!

A couple of flips in every single direction and a very hard push down made me super scared that I would hit the bottom. Somehow I must’ve ended up in the only deep part of the reef. My ears popped and I needed five strokes to get to the surface, barely getting a breath before the next one. And luckily when I ejected my gear it travelled a few metres downwind and just missed the shelf. Amazingly nothing was broken! With my ears fully ringing and an immediate headache I swam in, grabbed my gear, swam back to the wind line and got back up to the lineup. I probably could’ve just swam into a little rocky beach, but for one I didn’t want to finish my session that way, and two there was quite some current pushing you out, so coming in on a wave and surfing it all the way into the beach was the way to do it.

The wind started slowly dropping, so after riding a little redemption wave, I decided to look for one that could bring me in. You needed a wide one, which would hug the rock shelf and have some sort of power to carry you through to the inside. I saw Dieter grab one like this and at this point it was almost impossible to get waves anymore, the wind was so light! Again I had to get myself deep and hope a huge set wouldn’t come. Luckily I got a medium one, but the minute I passed the launching rocks it just fattened out and didn’t bring me all the way in. It left me about 50 metres to swim. I scratched pretty damn hard and finally managed to get washed into the beach on a huge set. One that I probably should’ve grabbed to come in on in the first place. Anyway, after getting slammed against the rocks a few times I was safely ashore but the chest high shore break destroyed my sail. I couldn’t believe it! After all the sketchy bits of the session, the easiest part was the only one that ended in gear damage!

Anyway Adi Beholz and Ethan Westera were still out and at this point there was no chance you could get a wave unless you positioned yourself perfectly. They tried to swim in, but the current was too strong, so they ended up swimming back out into the lineup to basically try to sit there on their boards and as a set was approaching try to uphaul the sail (without uphauls of course!) and surf the wave in. It took them about 10 attempts each and over an hour of me and Dieter trying to help them and getting scared shitless how are we going to help them if they can’t come in, but in the end they just about managed. Ethan looked more tired than after a full day of Fuerteventura racing followed by a ‘party marathon until 8 a.m.’.

But once everyone was back to the beach and safe (minus Enrico’s destroyed bum) the suspense just kind of disappeared and everybody was laughing and sharing stories about their waves and wipeouts. That feeling after the session might actually be the best out of the whole day, like this completely stress free but satisfied state, knowing that you’ve done something rare, something you’re going to remember for the rest of your life. It’s definitely a good feeling.

P.S. If you’re having a hard time visualizing the day from my crappy English and lack of descriptive skill I highly recommend you check out the video (below). And if you want to see how a person looks like scared shitless, check out Episode 1 from Jaws as well!  Maciek Rutkowski.

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