Interview with Robby Swift
Continentseven: You shared the monster waves with two of your team mates from JP-Australia, Morgan Noireaux and even Jake Schettewi were out. How was it being out there with such a young grom?
Robby Swift: Jake is a legend and he took the opportunity of his mum being in the mainland with his brother Max to sneak out to Jaws with Kevin Pritchard. His mum called his dad while he was up on the cliff and he tried to avoid the subject of “where is Jake” but eventually she found out and was freaking out the whole time. Max was, of course, very upset that his little brother made it out to Jaws first, but Jake took his chance and got a couple of big waves. It was fun to see him out there and I remember when he got his first wave. Brawzinho and I were in position to take it but we were screaming at Jake to pump and go so that he would get one. He was in the perfect place and managed to manhandle his gear down the wave and catch his first one. I think that was the biggest wave he caught that day actually.
Continentseven: Did you feel a lot of responsibility for Jake. It’s a scary game out there and it was his first time out there?
Robby Swift: It is scary out there but everyone is looking out for each other. Kevin stayed on the jet ski for the first half of Jake’s session and then Levi took over when Kevin wanted to get some waves himself. It doesn’t mean there is no danger, but it certainly helps when someone is there on the ski ready to come and get you if you fall. I certainly appreciated having Chuck Patterson right there with Ashley Baxter on the ski to come and get me when I wiped out!
Jake Schettewi: “My first day at Jaws was really exciting. Kevin and I drove up in the Jet Ski and the first thing we saw was Morgan’s huge aerial and I immediately felt super excited. I got out on the water along with many of the best windsurfers in the world who helped me to get on some waves. After I caught my first wave I couldn’t stop smiling. I was really happy to be out there and ride some big waves at Jaws for my first time and I can’t wait to go again.”
Continentseven: An how was this session for you?
Robby Swift: It was actually a great session. It was nice to be able to get out there several times in one season and work on board and sail design and tuning for the spot. It’s such a special spot that you need to set your gear up differently from any other wave. Normally you only sail once or twice in a year, so you kind of forget how you had all your gear set up. I felt like I got to know the lineup pretty well over the winter and could choose the nice waves that would be smoothest and that I could line up deeper on this session than any before, to give me the best possible positioning on the wave. I really enjoyed it, despite the wipeout, and actually getting through a crash like that without too much damage or too many injuries made me feel more confident.
Continentseven: What gear did you use out there?
Robby Swift: I was on a 90L Radical Thruster Quad Jaws board with the outline slightly more stretched out and slightly narrower than the production boards. I love the 88 thruster quad and the 94, but at Jaws you need a slightly narrower and longer board but still with quite a lot of volume, so this board is the same width as the 83 RTQ but 5cm longer and with a little more volume than the 88L production RTQ. At the beginning I was on a 2017 5.3 Combat prototype (until I destroyed it) and then I had to use a 5.0 2016 Combat, which was actually fine too, it was just nicer to be able to move around and pick out the best sets when I was on the 5.3 and when I had to go down to the the 5.0, it was slightly harder to catch the best waves since there were several people out by then.
Continentseven: Back to Jake, how did he do? Did he take some of the bigger sets?
Robby Swift: He did great. I think that the first wave he caught was the biggest one. It’s so hard out there to catch waves. People don’t realize that almost the hardest part is getting planing on the wave and getting going fast enough to drop into the wave. It’s such a scary moment when you have to commit to drop into the wave, seeing all that water bending round in front of you and not knowing if you are too deep or not. If you sit right out on the shoulder, you simply can’t catch the waves when it’s that light and offshore. The acceleration you get when you drop in is insane and you have to be very strong to hold onto the sail during the drop as the wind picks up so much because the wave bends round towards you and moves so fast.
Continentseven: Did you teach him how to act at Peahi?
Robby Swift: Everybody who spends time on Maui sailing and surfing at Ho’okipa has a pretty good idea how to act. The local surfers and windsurfers are pretty quick to teach you a lesson if you are out of line, and that is even more so at Jaws where it is so dangerous. Jake is a very respectful and intelligent kid so he didn’t need any teaching. He is aware of where he is in the water and who is around him and what he should and shouldn’t do. He did a great job on his first day.
Continentseven: What gear did he use?
Robby Swift: I believe he used his Young Gun 55 and a 3.7 sail.
Continentseven: You had a monster bail out, but you obviously survived without any big injuries. Can you describe what happened?
Robby Swift: It was probably the worst wipeout I have ever had. I was just getting really into the rhythm of the day, picking off nice glassy waves and trying to push myself to line up deeper and deeper so I could really turn in the critical section of the wave, and that one felt completely perfect until the fins kind of overpowered the board and made it jump out of the water into a kind of take rotation. I probably should have just leant back, looking at the footage, and done a kind of air drop cutback but I wasn’t trying to do that, I wanted to do a nice turn, and everything happened so fast that the board just spun around and flipped upside down and I ended up body surfing down the wave on the upside down board and then getting stuck to the boom as I was whipped over the falls. It was really an awful feeling and one I don’t want to repeat! I have had a few wipeouts there surfing and windsurfing but being stuck to the gear like that was horrible and could have ended up much worse than it did. In the end I just had a little bruise on the bone of my ankle so I was very lucky.
Continentseven: How do we have to imagine a crashing at Jaws. Is it to compare with anything else in windsurfing or is it the hardest impact the body can get. You landed a few doubles really hard on your neck at Pozo for instance. Is that a similar impact?
Robby Swift: The wipeouts at Jaws are different from double crashes and push loop forward crashes. In the double/push forward crashes you land from pretty high, going really fast and hit the water while it still has a lot of surface tension. Anyone who has jumped off a high diving board or something like that and landed wrong on their back can tell you that hitting the water at that speed is almost like falling onto concrete. It really hurts and really gives you terrible whiplash. I have had many bruises on my back and ribs just from hitting the water.
The wipeout at Jaws is not a big smash like that and it feels like you have more time to process what is going to happen before, so the fear level is way higher and then the thrashing that you get under water is much worse than the impact. Your body gets thrown around like a rag doll and you can easily get a whiplash in your neck. Then the problem is that you stay under water for so long that you think your lungs are going to explode or make you breath in water involuntarily. It’s a really scary thing but somehow, surviving a wipeout gives you more confidence afterwards. Jason used to always tell me that but I didn’t believe him until this day when I came out almost happy that it had happened as I got over a fear barrier in my mind.
Continentseven: Can you remember your first session at Jaws. When was it and how often did you ride Jaws with your windsurfing gear?
Robby Swift: I do remember my first session. It was probably in 2002 I think. I sailed there with Ross Williams and had great time but it wasn’t huge. We caught hundreds of waves and I don’t think either of us fell in, but the waves were only about double mast high. I have probably only had 20 sessions up there since then on my windsurf gear, maybe 25 in 15 years. That’s how rare it is. 5 of the sessions were this year, so you can definitely say it was a great winter this year! I have surfed there a lot more than I have windsurfed. I think it helps to surf as it lets you learn the lineup by looking at it from a different perspective and, obviously, you can’t just escape with the windsurf sail!
Continentseven: Do you risk more nowadays as you know the spot better?
Robby Swift: I definitely risk more now. I want to do good turns and I would like to do aerials up there. Once you learn the wave and know which ones to choose, you can pick very smooth waves and they all pretty much break in the same spot depending on whether it’s a west set or a north set. That helps you to feel more confident and push yourself more.
Continentseven: Is it still a dangerous environment out there?
Robby Swift: Absolutely it is, especially with more and more people sailing and surfing there now. You have to put yourself in more and more critical places to get the waves as if you aren’t aggressive with that, you simply won’t get any waves. That makes it dangerous because you can easily just put yourself a little too deep and be in a position where you have to take the wave or risk getting the next one on your head, and if you are too deep, there is really nothing you can do but get annihilated by that huge wave right in the most dangerous position.
Continentseven: You have a son now. Do you feel more responsibility and do you withdraw more often when it gets critical?
Robby Swift: Yes I do. I push myself pretty hard windsurfing still since I feel pretty confident on my windsurf gear and it is so much fun that I kind of get lost in the adrenaline but I have been up there several times recently to surf and not even taken a wave because I just sit there thinking about Rocco and whether it’s worth it to get injured etc. and not be able to provide for him just for a selfish rush of adrenaline for me 🙂 It’s definitely not worth getting really hurt for so I just go when I think it looks really perfect and the chances of something going wrong are very small. Obviously windsurfing is my job so it’s important to get pictures and videos of windsurfing but surfing is just a fun hobby for me, so I certainly take much less risks surfing.
Continentseven: How much of a safety tool is the H2O jacket? Can it save a life in an extremely difficult situation.
Robby Swift: It is an amazing tool. If I hadn’t had that on, I don’t think I would have come up for ages. I was so deep when I finally pulled the vest that my ears had completely popped and it was very dark. I pulled the vest and was up at the surface in a matter of seconds. If you just get held under for 1 wave, then the time underwater isn’t too bad, even though it feels like ages, but if you get held under for 2 waves, there is a very good chance of blacking out and inhaling water and drowning. That is the difference for me. I can hold my breath for a long time but in a stressful situation where you have been winded during a wipeout, knowing that you can most likely come up before the next wave gives you so much confidence.
Continentseven: We saw a big wave surfing event at Jaws this winter. Would you like to have a windsurfing event, too? Perhaps an invitational?
Robby Swift: It would be amazing to do that but I doubt very much that we would ever get the permits. It’s so dangerous there that you have to have so many safety measures in place to get the permits that it makes it way to expensive for our little sport unfortunately.
Continentseven: Who should be invited for sure?
Robby Swift: Kauli, Levi, Jason, Brawzinho, Thomas, Morgan, Ricardo, Victor, Philip myself (hopefully :)) for sure a bunch of other people who I can’t think of right now after 2 days of flying!