Cody Clearing a meaty section in Maui
In the world of extreme sports, the hairy edge is getting hairier. It wasn’t’ t enough for motocross demon Travis Pastrana to go careening around tight courses with bone-shaking jumps, he had to redefine himself by driving rally cars, sky diving, and most impressively, flinging himself off a ramp, into the Grand Canyon, armed only with a parachute and pads in a hellish hybridization of Motocross and BASE cliff jumping that could have easily left him deceased. On Youtube, you can find videos of guys SUP’ing down crazy whitewater rapids in the notoriously perilous Gauley River in West Virginia.
How did these thrill seekers decide to combine completely different sports into something entirely new and potentially fatal? How do you make something that is already considered “extreme”, even more incredible? Now we’ve got local extreme skiing legend Cody Townsend taking his alpinethrill ride to the ocean, strapping on skis instead of a surfboard, to shred mountains of water.
Townsend grew up surfing in Santa Cruz just like all the other kids in his childhood neighborhood of Pleasure Point. Unlike most of his peers, however, Townsend had another calling that pulled him away from the surf.
“I was always the weird skier kid that went missing on the weekends heading up to Tahoe” recalls Townsend of his early years. It wasn’t long until Townsend’s skiing skills gained worldwide recognition, earning him numerous competitive titles, as well as high profile roles in freeride ski flicks. All the while, he always stayed true to his surfing roots, moving back to Santa Cruz during the off-season to regain his saltwater fix. Townsend’s love of surfing, what he calls “the yin and yang” of his skiing, was where he first got the idea of combining the two.
“ I got the idea to ski on a wave was when I was about 12 years-old. I distinctly remember carefully watching the waves and realizing that the slope of a wave was similar to the slope of a mountain. From that moment I knew it was possible to ski on a wave,” Townsend said of his initial revelation. While uncertain of how to exactly pull it off, Townsend told himself that one day he would combine his two favorite things on earth, and the idea of skiing on a wave has been in the back of his mind ever since.
This year, Townsend and his good friend Mike Douglas decided to put the theory to test.For the research they took a little bit of information from a couple of people that they had heard about attempting to ski waves. Chuck Patterson, Dave Kalama and Cambell Farrell had given the wave-skiing a go, but from the information they had gathered, they had been pretty unsuccessful. The skis weren't fast enough, the boot/binding system wasn't stiff or safe enough and serious beatings were doled out on most attempts.
After that they headed out to the lakes and towed behind boats on tons of different skis and boot/binding systems. They tried out 4 or 5 boot and binding set-ups and quickly figured out that the typical alpine ski boots and ski binding set-up was the absolute safest and highest performing. For the skis, snow skis ended up being not manageable at all on water, so they had some custom water-skis made for them and utilized called wake skis, which are twin-tipped water skis designed to be ridden wake to wake, on rails or with a winch.
This November, Townsend and Douglas flew to Maui to test out their theory. Townsend chose Maui for it’s legacy of innovation in innovation in ocean sports.
“From Rush Randle to Laird Hamilton, Maui has always been quite open to innovation and since our project was about as far off the wall as it gets it was good to have a community that welcomed us. Plus they've got some pretty good waves.”
After all the testing on lakes they thought they had figured out what would work the best but after getting out into the waves, they realized that the technology for the skis is decades behind anything in surfing. Because of the impossibility of getting into a wave while strapped into the ski’s, Townsend and Douglas used Jet Ski’s to tow them into the surf. What they found was that it was extremely difficult, but thrilling and exciting at the same time. At first, they wanted to ski like a surfer would surf; hitting lips, punting airs, getting barreled.
Ultimately, that proved to be harder to do than it was to imagine. “The skis were much trickier to ride a wave on than I could have imagine. Hard cutbacks and big bottom turns were out of the question. But on the fourth day of riding we did start to figure it out, we did manage to hit the lip and even boost some airs, re-enter the wave and keep going. So although it wasn't as perfect as imagined, we started to touch on the potential”, says Townsend of their initial attempts.
“If I could, I'd scrap every ski we had and redesign everything,” Douglas agrees, “It was a bit of a challenge to pump the wave for speed, like you do on a surfboard, but I think this had more to do with our ski design than just being on two skis”. Furthermore, Douglas adds, “If someone was motivated they could go a long way with it and do some impressive stuff. It would take somebody with some good resources and patience though, because it's definitely not easy to get out there and ski on waves”
Townsend and Douglas tried to take everything they knew about surfing and everything about skiing and combine the technologies to make something work, but in the end it actually took riding on waves to figure out that something entirely different would have to be created to ski on wave with the same level of performance as a surfer. Like Pastrana, who in an interview with Motopress.com called his Grand Canyon moto/BASE jump, “ A quick rush, but it was the best thing in the world”, Townsend and Douglas are simply adrenaline junkies looking for something new to quench their thirst for thrills.
In this case, Townsend wants to make it clear that all he wanted to do is fulfill his childhood dream of combining his two lifelong passions.
“I definitely wanted to say that we have zero intentions of creating a new sport. Logistically it's extremely hard to do, it's far more dangerous than normal surfing and for riding waves isn't as efficient as a surfboard. Ultimately all we wanted to do is see if it was possible. So in my opinion no one has to worry about all of sudden seeing skiers crowding line ups”