Jungle Boogie

Waiting out the dog days of summer isn’t easy if you’re a hardened big wave rider used to towing into and charging 100ft+ waves. But Benny Ferris – along with big wave tow-in partner and friend Laird Hamilton – aren’t the type to sit around and let the waves come to them. So they sought out some Central American swell opportunities and chucked the foils in the boardbag…

Photos: Dan Jenkins

Hey Benny. First up, where were these shots taken and how did you come to be out there with Laird?

These photos are from a recent trip we did to Central America. Laird and I ended up there because summertime gets a little quiet in the Northern Hemisphere and you gotta get out and go explore. We wanted to go somewhere we hadn't been and this spot, deep in the jungle, we've never been to before. So it was exciting to go check out somewhere new. I think we always have to keep our horizons extending and even though we've been somewhere amazing, we gotta go somewhere else, even though we don't know what we're going to find.

This seems like quite a playful session compared to some of the situations we often see you guys in…

This was a very playful and fun session. Definitely a lot more mellow than some of the other conditions that we ride in the wintertime. We do appreciate though how the foils, even when the waves are head high or a foot overhead, make the waves feel a lot bigger than they are. It can still be exciting and a lot of fun, even when it's only head high. And that's something that a lot of foilers understand and it's what keeps us intrigued.

You and Laird seem to have a great dynamic. How did you guys first meet? 

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Laird and I first met on Kauai about 15 years ago, he had lived on Maui for a long time when I was a young kid, and then when I was a teenager, he moved back to Kauai and we met in the water, surfing I think, and over time became friends, and yeah, now we have a great dynamic and we're good friends and have a lot of fun riding waves together.

Outside of the times you both meet up in mind-bending swells with the jetski, do you guys train together for those days in advance?

Laird and I don't end up actually training together too much in the summertime, he's in California and I'm in Hawaii. So, outside of then is when most of the training happens, although we will link up some here and there. I just got back from spending some time with them in California and training, which was amazing. Him and his wife Gabby are amazing in their pursuit to continue getting better and progressing, no matter how good they already are. It's inspiring to go and be around that and to learn from it, and to continue pushing your own personal goals and challenging yourself endlessly. So yeah, we don't train together too much but in the wintertime we spend a lot of time on the water together and ultimately that's the best training, actually doing what you want to do to get better at it.

“That's kind of how these trips tend to go – go and hit it hard, spend five to eight hours in the water every day for a handful of days and then come home!”

We hear you wear multiple hats, Benny. Is it true you’re also a firefighter?

Yes, I do wear multiple hats! Foiler, farmer, firefighter, fisherman, all kinds of things. A lot of f-words ironically, but yeah, my real main job is as a firefighter on Kauai and it's great, I love my job.

You obviously manage risk very well, which I’m sure is a good trait to have in any big wave tow partner? 

Firefighting and riding big waves have a lot in common for sure. You don't know what's going to happen and in the situations that you find yourself in, it's really important that you remain calm and collected and really just don't do anything stupid. If you just slow the situation down and think about what you're doing and think before you act and then everything turns out okay. I would definitely say that the big wave riding helps the firefighting. The firefighting is interesting because every day you go to work – relating it to big waves – it might be the equivalent of a hundred-foot swell and it might be the heaviest session of your life, but you don't know, because there's no swell forecast you can check beforehand. So that aspect of firefighting is extra challenging, and we have the saying “always be ready” because you never know when you're going to get the big one.

Tell us about what you guys were riding in Costa Rica.

Down there on this trip to the jungle, Laird and I were both riding our go-to SUP rigs. We can ride these rigs anywhere from like one foot to triple overhead and they work really well on all those conditions, which is nice because you can invest a lot of time and really get familiar with the setup. Laird's board is a 7'4 shaped by Terry Chung. He's on an aluminum mast that Lift made for us and he's riding the 150 Surf V2 wing with the 38 tail, and then I'm on a similar setup. My board's also 7'4 but it's a lot narrower and thinner just because I'm a much smaller guy than Laird, and I'm on the Lift 100 Surf with the 32 Glide tail and that setup is so sweet… Literally like knee high to triple overhead, that setup works good. It's amazing.

How did this day pan out? And what else did you guys get up to while you were out there?

This session that these photos are from was in the morning. We ended up doing a pretty long session that day and then that afternoon I think we changed locations and went a little bit more to the south. I don't remember real clearly, but pretty much all the days on the trip we'd do a morning and afternoon session, spend most of the day on the water, and that's kind of how these trips tend to go – go and hit it hard, spend five to eight hours in the water every day for a handful of days and then come home!

Nice tee that Laird's wearing. For those yet to SUP foil in decent surf… is it a lot harder than it looks?

Yes, it is definitely a lot harder than it looks. Pretty much anything Laird does is a lot harder than it looks. The guy is beyond talented and dedicated to everything that he does. But the stand-up paddling is definitely in there… It's challenging and Laird makes it look easy. It's funny, we were out in the water in another lineup and a surfer randomly said, “Wow. You know you guys make that look so easy…” and I looked at him and smiled and said, “You know, it's a lot harder than it looks…” 

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