Windsurfing has developed to the level of the “death wish wave” with the pinnacle for many being Jaws in Pe’ahi, Maui. We talk to Jason Polakow about his recent outing and get some background on this niche sport
The surroundings are breathtaking, a paradise that encourages nothing but relaxation. Those coming to Pe’ahi on the north shore with a board in tow are here for something else though. The behemoth known as Jaws is one of the most feared and revered waves in the world, a spectacle to behold and a momentous challenge for those who come through it successfully. With speeds of up to 50 km per hour and a height reaching 70 feet, this is the one that separates the men from the boys. Many seasoned surfers can only dream of battling Jaws, but being able to shoot through the air like a motocross pro and skim those swells in one run is what brings professional windsurfers to this spot as they strive for the ultimate adrenaline kick.
The practice of windsurfing giant waves is a relatively new one. Big wave surfing took off in the 1950’s, and just as the size of the waves escalated for many such as Buzzy Kerbox, Dave Kalama and Laird Hamilton, so the practice of surfing had to reach new heights in order to keep adrenaline junkies satisfied. Flying through the air combined with the thrill of skimming along a wave as tall as a 7-storey house was just what the likes of Jason Polakow were looking for.
Windsurfing brings a new dimension to a sport, which has radically grown in popularity since the 1980’s and 90’s. Tackling the monsters of Maui is a privilege only few surfers dare, but add sails to your board and the number of partakers decreases drastically.
One of these hellmen is Jason Polakow, an Australian windsurfer of international renown who has been pushing his limits over the edge for over two decades. Now aged 40, Jason has sculpted an impressive career for himself and is one of the few pros to have created his own brand of boards – JP Australia. We spoke to him recently about what keeps him motivated to tackle the big ones and how he’s changed his methods after coming through a triple hold down at Jaws.
How did your unique style come about? Was it a conscious effort to do something other than what was common when you started out?
I think growing up in a surfing town helped out a lot. I was basically riding an enlarged surfboard shape, which helped me mold the style I have today. Also there were some great sailors that also helped me refine my style. My parents also gave me a lot of support.
What attracted you to windsurfing in the first place?
It was the whole package. The speed, the aerial jumping and of course the wave riding. I came from a motocross background as a kid so I loved jumping and flying through the air. Windsurfing gave me a similar feeling.
What were the main challenges you encountered entering in windsurfing when the sport was first emerging?
Back in the late 80's and early 90's the sport of windsurfing was on fire. Breaking into the competitions was not too bad for me. My first competition was in Japan in 1989 and it was one of the biggest of the year. I fortunately got a wild card entry from one of my sponsors who was a part sponsor of the event. It was the first time I had seen big names like Robby Naish and Pete Cabrinha compete. There was so much money poured into the event that everyone felt like rock stars. This was the starting point of my professional career. After finishing 3rd in this event, I was approached by sponsors and I never looked back from that point.
How would you describe a typical competition schedule?
Most of the time we would arrive a few days before the event and prepare the equipment. Registration day was always hectic as we had to rig all our sails and boards for the competition.
Some of the competitions like the Canary Islands we would go up to three weeks before to train and get used to the conditions.
You recently came through a double wave (or was it triple?) hold down at Jaws. How has this affected things?
The Jaws 3 wave hold down was the worst wipeout I had ever had and I almost lost my life. Since then I have taken precautions to make sure that if I get in a situation like this I will be better prepared. I am also wearing CO2 inflatable wetsuits that inflate once u pull the tag. All of this will help in the future.
You've enjoyed a long and successful career that many can only dream of. Do you find you need to keep challenging yourself even though you've been long established as a pioneer in the sport?
I do like to challenge myself as it’s just who I am. I am constantly looking for large swells and storms around the globe searching for the perfect big wave ride. I now take a film crew wherever I go. I love chasing down and riding these giant waves and I think I will be doing this for as long as I can.
Which waves are you looking to tackle in the future?
It all depends on where the storms develop this year. But the South Pacific is one of my favorite locations every year. Places like Tahiti, Fiji, Tasmania and New Zealand are all possibilities.
I may go to Chile in August if a large swell develops. But as always I concentrate my efforts on one wave every year and that wave is Jaws. I am constantly designing new boards to find an edge and progress my style and confidence. This wave basically shapes my life right. I am always preparing myself so that when Jaws fires I am 100% ready.
How exactly do you prepare yourself for those big waves?
Since my wipeout at Jaws I have been doing some lung expansion programs. One of the programs I do in the pool expands your lungs from 7 liters of air to 11 liters of air.
This program also helps you deal with the pressures and teaches you how to relax and conserve your oxygen. The program takes about one and a half hours and I try and do it at least twice a week.
What advice do you have for those starting out in windsurfing?
You have to be committed as windsurfing is a little difficult to learn but once you get into the straps and harness, it's the best feeling in the world. I would say that if you’re going to lean to windsurf you should be prepared to go consistently. Also I think getting some instruction for the first month would help out the person a lot. Also using the correct beginners rigs is important. Some people start on too small equipment and this sometimes makes it harder in the long run.
Do you only get your thrills from the water, or do you get your adrenaline rush from other activities?
I love to snowboard and ride motorbikes. Both of these sports provide me with lots of adrenaline. I recently did a 10-day heliboard trip to Alaska which is one of the best things I've done in a while.
Sometimes when you’re flying down a steep mountain and on the rail of the snowboard it does feel like bottom turning at Jaws on a big wave. I love to go fast and draw out big G-turns.
More information: www.jp-australia.com