In the annals of dumb-ass ideas perpetrated in the roiling, wind-hammered surf off the Hawaiian coast, towing into and then riding big waves on skis could have been the dumb-assest of all. But when such a first-time venture is pulled off with such style and receives a ringing endorsement from big wave mad-scientists like Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama, dumb now seems brilliant and the spectre of bush league has suddenly become big league.
Such was the case for new school skiing "Godfather" Mike Douglas and acolyte Cody Townsend last November on Maui's infamous North Shore. But like any accomplishment in outdoor sport, having succeeded in what was variously imagined as impossible, impractical and at least imprudent, the pair find themselves wondering: what's next? Neither is sure, but there are worse places to be as an athlete than pondering the next step after an unexpected success. For the time being, however, big wave riding on skis is just a damn good story.
It's an idea that burns in the back of the mind of many a surf-addled skier when they look up at the smooth, jacking face of a massive wave: could you actually ski on one of these things?
Whistler-based Mike Douglas had wondered just this ever since he got into surfing. Cody Townsend, who grew up surfing in California, had long-entertained similar thoughts. Then in October 2008 the pair found themselves at a Salomon meeting in France. Townsend, Douglas and a few others were having a beer at a reception before the meeting, conversing casually about diverse topics like skiing, surfing and Salomon Freeski TV (Mike's latest project, then in its second season). As the conversation ranged around, the topics converged and a light bulb went off. Someone said, "Hey-why don't you try..."
Townsend and Douglas lit up.
Crazy ideas often come up in conversation, especially where beer is involved, but this time it happened among people who had the talent and the resources to pull it off. From the start, there were no delusions of grandeur about starting a new trend, no bigger or longer-term picture in mind; it was always pure novelty, a "wouldn't it be cool to try" fantasy.
Mike happened to be going almost directly to Hawaii from France for a three-week family surf vacation and he thought about the idea every day he was in the water. He tried to imagine the size of wave they would need in order to generate enough momentum to ski it, how they would tow into it to start the ride and all the other attendant logistics. He invested enough thought in the idea that when he returned to Whistler he was confidant it could be done. The main questions were where, when and exactly how? At least one answer was clear: Hawaii was the logical venue because of its well-established offshore tow-in surf scene. It was also the closest big-wave destination to B.C. and California and offered the highest probability of finding qualified co-conspirators.