Red Letter Day: Birthday Bumps

Rider & Words: Cole Kawana
Photos: Surf Haleiwa Photography
Location: North Shore, Oahu
Date: Friday February 25th, 2022

All-time birthday sessions are one of those rare treats, where everything comes together just perfectly, and the entire day sits evergreen in the memory banks for many years after. Things aligned just so for Cole Kawana recently, as he prepared to celebrate another lap around the sun…


If you were to go through my family scrapbooks and land on any of my early birthdays, you’d see a squirming, frowning toddler being sung happy birthday to. I used to chalk up my hilarious baby scowl to a general dislike of being the center of attention. But that’s not entirely it. To me birthdays are a time to reflect on growth and change – marked not by how memorable the cake and celebration were, but in physical and mental tests of personal fortitude. That is to say, there is no better way to celebrate than a major send! And on my last birthday, surging swell and nuking winds promised a banner red letter day.

I preempted the looming forecast with a week of moderate sized, groomed prone foiling with a solid group of visiting friends. We rented a Uhaul truck so that we could cram all the boys and the foils in one vehicle – turns out Uhauls really make ideal downwind shuttles. Every run and prone paddle became the most epic foil jam. What a special sport, where more really is merrier. Jared Watts was there getting the water shots and Jimmy James was on the drone. I was really stoked to get lots of great shots of the guys. We finished up the night with some massages from Kawika Drummond with the Uhaul as a backdrop.

This winter it was common for medium size swells to get a midnight bump up on the buoys. The anticipated birthday swell was no exception. The night before, it went from something like 12’ at 14 seconds to 16’ at 18-20 seconds. I had missed out on the previous couple big days this season due to injury, so the anticipation that night was electric. 

We woke up at 6am and prepped the ski for launch. The harbor was buzzing, must’ve counted at least 20 skis launching, mostly tow surfers. Luckily almost everywhere was firing so the crowds were well dispersed, and the spot we ended up choosing only had frothing foilers. Conditions were ideal, light offshore enough to clean up the face but not too much as to induce any surface chop.

I was riding a 12lb weighted balsa wood tow foil board with the Lift Foils 60 V2 Front Wing on a 36” mast, rather than my standard 32”. I decided to strap up with my One by One foot straps for this session, which I normally don’t do tow foiling just because the heavier boards can tend to “walk” underneath your feet when the processing harmonic motion of the foil gets catastrophic. Think speed wobbles on a bike. The longer mast ended up being the right move this day as the waves were reeling and steeper, with a smaller shoulder. Meaning if you wanted to really engage with the wave you had to take the initial drop down the face of the wave pretty straight on…

Kyle Knox was a new tow partner but one with lots of experience. We had done a practice day earlier just to get in. I think we picked up that nonverbal communication through the rope pretty quickly. Over the course of two to three hours he must’ve whipped me into twenty bangers, set nice and deep. Although the waves had good size the channel was also incredibly well defined and orderly this day, so I don’t think I took a single wave on the head this session. We noticed that the second wave of the sets were often the best, and the sets were coming in twos. Towards the end of the session one particular set came through with three. Lucky for me, because we were last in priority and third in line. It swung much wider than most waves that day and had a hefty shoulder to it. Kyle set me pretty deep but I faded harder, not thinking the wave would bowl up much. Well, it did! And I found myself staring down the most epic closeout section about 100’ ahead of me. Not wanting to ditch and go for a spin cycle, I went for the ejection. But by this point the closeout had turned into a bit of a mega ramp. Surf Haleiwa photography captured my flying kickout from the channel. It had to have been the highest above the water I’ve gone – and this is including my mediocre kite air experiences. It was one of those moments when you’re midair thinking, “wow, I’ve been up here a while!”. Somehow the 60 was the perfect size to pierce the water and slow myself comfortably down to non-ankle breaking speeds. To my surprise I stomped the landing out the back and finished floating on my board ready for the next pull. The whole group in the channel was standing cheering. There’s nothing quite like some third-party verification! Thanks so much Kyle for finding the time in the middle of a family trip to whip a friend into some epic ones.

After finishing up the tow session the day was only half over. We gassed up the ski and immediately crossed the island to prep for the afternoon trades which were expected to come in strong. Although not nuking, the 20 knot gusts had been grooming the offshore waters for a few hours by the time we pulled up. We ended up doing about 20 miles of immaculate downwinding off the ski – nice low consequence skate park conditions where laying hard carves and boogie turns were a priority. I was riding the new Freedom Foilboards 4’ Fusion with the Lift 120 and only the front One by One foot strap. The board turns better than any other I’ve ever tried and the monostrap really makes it next level for downwinding. We had two boats, a great group of friends and an epic sunset. We even had a few whales cruise by our side – I really couldn’t imagine a more perfect day!  

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