Halcyon Hawaiian Days

Philip Muller’s springtime visit to the Hawaiian archipelago along with Salty Brother’s Quinn Wilson proved fruitful in terms of both downwinder experience and accumulated media. Sadly, some of the media never made it (RIP Philip’s hard drive), but Quinn still had his shots, and the experience is one that Philip’s not going to forget anytime soon…

Words: Philip Muller
Photos: Phil Muller / Quinn Wilson / Salty Brother

Quinn Wilson and I flew to Hawaii in February to commune with the pioneers of downwinding. With a truck full of foils and cameras we followed the voyagers for a week around the Hawaiian archipelago. Downwinding has so profoundly changed my life that I wanted to capture it in 4k, craft it, and shout it from the internet’s rooftop.

You’ll never see the magic that bloomed before us; our week of shaka throwing, couch crashing, boat borrowing, poke slamming, pickup truck shuttling, downwinder addict adolescence that swirls through my psyche like a haze of shimmering Polynesian sunlight – because I lost it. All of it. My toddler was helping me clear our dinner table and her tiny hand grabbed my hard drive. I fumbled the plastic brick and it fell to the floor. When I picked it up the internal parts rattled like a window unit air conditioner.

No, I didn’t back the footage up on another drive. Yes, I had already formatted the four SD cards after spending the plane ride home and the entire next day labeling and organizing the footage: the Waimea session, the illegal Maui drone shoot, three insane Maunalua downwinders, the Wind Club Hawaii wing session, interviews and hours and hours of beautiful tropical footage…

Before the trip, I didn’t know what to expect in Hawaii. I have since learned how liberating it is to approach something without any preconceived notions or expectations. Just take things as they come. There’s some wisdom there that my hamster wheeled brain struggles with. Perhaps losing the footage was the Universe's way of teaching me to let things come and let things go – to try and capture the energy of the river, you’ll find all you’ve gathered is a pail of water.  Perhaps the magic revealed to us was too great to capture, and that’s okay. As some consolation what has survived from our mind-bending celestial circus of voyaging is a few rolls of film I shot and photos that Quinn snapped. Enjoy.

Day 2: Maunalua Bay run with Jack Ho, Mala’e McElheny and Brady Hurley

We’d been texting the groms all day to organize our run from China Walls to Black Point. A few of us had done the run that morning and charged the dinghies back upwind dodging the breakers over the reef line of Maunalua Bay. Bob Hurley pulls up in his minivan to the boat ramp, stoked and is taking photos with his phone, “The boys have never done this before.” Mala’e and Brady roll out and assemble their boards like teenage sloths.

Jack drops his ski at the ramp and starts doing donuts off the dock. Something with the gearing breaks. We tow him back to the ramp with a dinghy. After tinkering a bit, Jack says, “It’ll only go in forward. No reverse. We’re good to go.” Quinn and I share a concerned look. We know how gnarly it is off the cliffs. The venturi of wind and swell collides against the sheer rock, sending plumes of spray and mist to wet the memorials of thrillseekers who missed their final slippery step. We look back at the crew, “Ok, let’s load up!”

For Quinn this was the make it or break it shoot. The stars had aligned, and we’d flown across the Pacific to capture this moment.

Day 4: North Shore dawn patrol and pinballs

I was up at 6am and ran through the soft sand from Rock Piles down to Ehukai. I took a voice memo on my phone of the raging sea crashing against the shoreline. There’s a primordial, formless noise of energy mashing and mixing, gusts of wind scratch against the speaker, and then the occasional thundering of that energy colliding with the face of the Earth. In the darkness I can only feel the spray and distinguish the black grey of the sea from the white grey of crashing surf.

Quinn and I surfed Off the Wall at daybreak, alone for about 40 minutes, until two body boarders kicked out to the lineup and smiling, laughed at us for not wearing helmets. We both got great waves, for our standards, and I pushed my personal limit, getting stuck a bit too inside when a four-wave set marched through. I did watch from the shoulder as the biggest vortex of wave mass I’ve ever seen ground against the reef.

Once our adrenaline subsided, we roused the grommets and went to Pinballs at Waimea. Mala’e, Brady, and JP Lattanzi chipped in just above the rocks and did laps in the lineup. They beachstarted and rockstarted and pumped around the sunbathers getting slammed in the shorebreak. After lunch, Bob dropped us all at Kammieland and the boys chipped in and downwinded back to Log Cabins. In the evening we bodysurfed while Mala’e and Brady traded off towing each other with an eFoil in front of the house.

Day 5: Kaiko’os to Tonng’s

The shady side of the Kalakaua Avenue is littered with boards, beside their still wet owners, their mouths grinning and sparkles in their eyes. A truck pulls up and it’s only a few minutes of foil tetris to load as many boards and bros for the shuttle back upwind around the base of the Leahi crater to Ke’ahamoa. Before the truck pulls away, a few more guys come out of the water and find space where there was none.

Down the path between mansions to the rocks, the riders line up like school children at the ice cream truck before paddling out for a chip and another run downwind. Each journey is different. The ocean has a lot of energy from the chip-in to the lighthouse. Then the swell gets a little flat at the corner and you need to find a good bump to stay connected to and follow it as it bends around the coast. The winds start howling off the backside of Leahi near the end of the run and it takes a few good pumps if you’re stuck between sets.

Every run I did I was greeted at the shoreline by another rider who was coming in just as stoked as I was, and we’d scuttle down the alley to the road for another chairlift back up.

Day 6: Breakfast with Kai Lenny

We parked at the post office in Paia and crossed the street to meet Kai Lenny at a cafe. He and I had been emailing over the last few months about windsurf foil racing and he was keen to meet up while I was on island. Maui’s “no wind sports before 11am rule” worked in our favor. Kai had come from the gym and our crew was going to shoot a wing session with Otis Buckingham at midday.

Everyone was frothed. Kai told us about the underwater wave that wedges off the cliff at Nazaré and snaps foil masts if you don’t line it up properly. He talked about his jetski getting pinned on the rocks at Peahi. We compared notes on sandpaper grits for foil finishes. Sitting with him, while everyone at adjacent tables snapped selfies with him in their backgrounds, it became clear how he performs at such a high level: his brain is always focused on performance and his stoke is on ten.

We got fired up, but Otis was hesitant to charge Ho’okipa alone. It was big, windy, and the north swell was closing out. “It’s too far to shoot anything good.” So we parked in front of a beautiful house and walked the path to the rocks at Kuau.

Otis and JP had an epic wing session…

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