Maalaea is one of those “world’s best” surf breaks that doesn’t sing to me. Too much wind. Too little water on the reef. Nothing but relentless, brutalist speed. Sam Hawk—Sam Hawk—made one of four at Maalaea. Owl, Hakman, Owens, Ho—every Hawaii-based surf legend from the Age of Nixon to the Summer of Azalea who flies to Maui with their afterburners primed gets shut down somewhere in the echoey misty vastness of that Chunnel-length tube. And reef-rolled more often than not, too. Limping back to the airport covered in Betadine, gauze and tape.
On the other hand, make one from the top of the bay and you see God.
Anyway, just posted the Maalaea page, which reminded me of a 1976 SURFER-published interview with Owl Chapman. Legendary surf photographer Steve Wilkings did the interview in his Honolulu studio while projecting slides on the wall of Owl’s recent session at Maalaea. The shots are unavailable, so you’ll have to use your imagination. Owl, however, is at his jive-talking best.
Wilkings: This is just a bunch of random shots. This was when it was crowded, before the surf really started to come up. Maybe one in the afternoon.
Chapman: Steve, I seen you at Pioneer Inn that morning. Did you see my morning session? I had a hot morning session.
Yeah when we saw you, you were going to breakfast.
I think this was the best day at Maalaea since you shot Sam Hawk that time a few years back. Maalaea’s the most intense tuberide there is, man. You’ll go faster on a 6-foot wave there than you will on a 16-foot wave at Sunset. You’re breaking all the rules. You’re going faster, riding across the face, on a smaller wave than if you were dropping straight down into a big giant wave. How do you figure that out? I bet on those first five waves of mine that afternoon you were disappointed.
No, not really. You had bits and pieces that were nice. You know, an off-the-top here, a bottom turn there.
I was depressed after those first few waves. I was trying to put it together. I had four beers before paddling out. I borrowed a pair of Les Potts’ trunks; I got shitty-colored trunks in those photos. Worst pair of trunks I’ve ever worn. [New photo comes up] There’s the lip, you gotta be right under that thing, man. All I can tell Rabbit is that Kirra Point sucks.
I’d like to see Rabbit at Maalaea.
Those guys won’t make it. They’ll pull in, and they won’t come out. [New photo] That’s a classic, right there. Did I make it?
I think so.
Flaming entry. No, the fin came out on that one, I remember. I slipped down the face and ate it.
Almost all of these shots, you’re airborne just as soon as you come over the ledge on takeoff. It’s just a freefall, then you have to reset after you’ve dropped a couple of feet and go for it.
The wind, man. The wind blows you way back up in the corner. [New photo] Boy, that board is movin’.
Remember making this one all the way to the end?
Hmmmm . . . I’ve got a lot of alcohol in me there. [Photo shows Owl racing along the final section of the wave, standing straight up, heels together] That’s a classic shot. I never broke out of that stance. I wanted the lip to hit me in the chest and it wouldn’t.
This shot almost has shades of Mark Richards?
Hey man, I’m fazing there. That’s better than Mark Richards. He’s skinny. I’ve got a better body.
Long one, right here.
Gerry Lopez was on the beach. Said I got the best ride. This other guy afterward told me, he seen me go into the tube, and said “No way.” Bent down to pick up his board, walked 35 feet to his car, strapped one strap on, did the other strap, turned around and looked and I popped out of the tube.
[New series of photos show Owl disappearing inside a big one and not coming out] This is about three or four in the afternoon. Look at all those guys paddling up the face looking at you.
That’s classic. I thought I was gonna make that one. Maalaea’s bitchin’ because you stand in the tube and it’s so cold, and really dark, and if you make the wave you ride back out into the sunlight. Those guys paddling out, they’re goons, man. Is that the one I got hit on? That’s it, huh? That’s it, right there. There’s the dude I hit. His board got me in the teeth, under the nose. See this scar? My nose is sore to this day. I almost made it past him, too. The very last little bit of his tailblock got me as I was going by. Hit the coral, too. Hit so hard that the coral exploded! I had cuts all over my body. Was spitting blood for 40 minutes. Kept surfing, though.
I figured you had it made; that’s why I kept shooting.
No way. I got drilled. Look at that thing. That’s an 8-foot wave anywhere, man. Except Maalaea isn’t measured in terms of height, it’s in terms of length. And length is harder. That’s why the place is such a challenge. Yeah I’d rather be riding here than Sunset. You know what I like about Maalaea? It’s a bye-bye shot. You get inside there, you can’t see nobody.