Every fall, when foul weather stirs up the north Pacific, massive waves generated by distant storms roll onto the southwest coast of Oahu in the Hawaiian chain. With the coming of the big autumn surf, expert wave riders of Hawaii and California gather at a small beach called Makaha to compete in the annual international surfing championships. On the roughest days, when the waves are running 20 to 30 feet high, Makaha offers the contestants a special sort of trouble, shown at right and on the following pages. Because the crescent-shaped beach steepens suddenly from an irregular, gently sloping bottom, a big wave sometimes will rebound and roll back to sea, colliding violently with one coming in. As the two meet, the surfboard rider who a moment before was sliding confidently on the smooth, clean shoulder of the incoming wave, suddenly finds himself teetering on the back of a roaring white giant, steep enough and angry enough to swallow him whole.
As the wave he is riding collides with backwash from the beach, a surfer flails his arms to keep his balance in the violent explosion of water.
As the wave behind him suddenly steepens and starts to crest, a Hawaiian surfer tries to keep his board sliding fast away from the thundering curl of water. If he can keep moving ahead of the wave, he may be able to stay up; but if the foam of the crest catches him, he will be buried under tons of water.