In almost every corner of the world exist those who belong to the ocean and her extraordinary company; people who discreetly and daringly live on and for the water, while inspiring others with their natural, fierce spirit. Among us, we call these people watermen. In Sydney, Australia, big wave surfer Michael Clyne, his young family, and his community live in solidarity with the ocean, a force shaping their lives across generations.
Defining traits of watermen are soul and character, and indeed, the first remarkable and obvious mark of character is Michael’s genuine, loud, and slightly mad laugh. This is a laugh seen among those with a true obsession, those with the capability for putting themselves at the complete mercy of an unforgiving power that at the same time gives life true purpose. According to Michael, being a bit mad is a requirement for living his passion for the ocean, and his fearless addiction to big wave surfing.
“I started surfing as a child, and have always had a passion for open water and the sensation of riding big waves, the execution and challenge inherent in it,” he says. Michael’s dedicated fisherman father passed on a love of the water early in Michael’s childhood. Around age 12, he started freedive-spear fishing, descending 10 meters without fear. Entranced by the power of the waves, he was led to try surfing, progressing through classic stages of learning, but naturally bearing key psychological factors: fearlessness and obsession.
Michael is like the proverbial “kid in a candy store” when the surf forecast predicts big swell. He is, like many surfers, drawn by the mystery and magnificence of the open water, and is a purist, living for the Zen at the heart of surf riding. What makes the difference is his style: always seeking the ultimate challenge. What Michael does is “all about controlling adrenaline and execution of skills. You don’t ask questions.” This unchained attitude is what makes Michael one of the Australian pioneers of big wave surf foiling, the next evolution of the sport.
Michael says, “Foiling is the next level, and it’s opened up the twilight zone – there’s no going back. You can ride a wider range of waves, and ride waves much longer, than you could with classic surfing. For big waves, speed is critical. The bigger the wave, the faster it moves. Foiling lets you accelerate down the wave more efficiently and execute maneuvers.” Foiling is expanding the limits of wave riding, and in these early stages, it’s all about innovation when it comes to big waves. A true “big wave” foil design is yet to come to life, but for now, Michael is experimenting with TAAROA’s SWORD kite course racing foil for the maximum speed needed to successfully ride these challenging waves. “A fast foil is easier to tow up to speed with the jet ski. I’ve already been up to 60 km/h (30 knots) on foil gear, and on a regular day with waves of about 4-5 feet, we’ll easily hit 40 km/h (20+ knots). The engineering of the SWORD is really good, and it’s fast and stable without much cavitation,” he says about his foil.
Tuning and control of the foil are key, and Michael finds settings before a big wave session by testing the SWORD wake-style with the jet ski. By progressively towing up to predetermined speeds, he can feel how the foil will react at differing speeds down the face of a wave. “The jet ski gets you up to speed, and you can do laps to check the feedback of the foil – you want to make fine adjustments to get 50/50 balance between your feet,” he says. To him, the adjustable stabilizer is the most important feature of the SWORD. It took him four jet ski sessions to dial in the foil, and at up to 50 km/h Michael discovered the ideal settings to eliminate cavitation.
The SWORD, designed for kitefoil course racing, is a foil with excellent capacity for speed and remarkably, is naturally adapted to big waves. The quality construction of the SWORD in UHM Carbon and titanium is important for rider control, execution of skill, and security at these high speeds. Tall mast height and speed-oriented wing geometry also offer an edge of speed beyond the average surf foil - giving big wave capacity.
Beyond a good foil, it’s clear that there are definitely a few critical elements needed for big wave riding: a jet ski, consistent training, and most importantly, a group of the best partners and mates. The core people in Michael’s community include his wife, a skilled waterwoman, who is his primary tow-in and surf partner. As a gymnastics instructor, she is a partner in fitness as well. The pair have installed bars, a rope and climbing wall, rings, and equipment necessary for a natural approach to strength and bodyweight training. Michael starts his day with breath and bodyweight training, and then heads off to the water for one of his many sports. This includes a second, integral part of his surf community: a freewheeling group of surf foilers, the Lost Boys Foil Club...
To be continued...