Condition Black

NATURE’s Condition Black reveals how giant-wave surfers from around the world couldn’t walk away from the largest waves ever recorded.

On January 28, 1998, a monster weather system slammed into Oahu’s north shore. The Coast Guard called a Condition Black — all access to the water denied. It was every surfer’s dream and nightmare combined, playing and replaying on a seemingly endless loop, as colossal waves up to 40 feet high surged over the beaches of Oahu in a monstrous, unstoppable procession. The stunning footage, some recorded on IMAX film, the stories of the surfers, and the storm itself form the breathtaking core of Condition Black.

The surfers had a few days’ notice because a fierce storm forming off the coast of Japan was forecast to move eastward and toss huge waves ahead of it toward the Hawaiian Islands. Quickly, a buzz electrified the worldwide surfing network. It seemed like a perfect opportunity for the Eddie Aikau Memorial big-wave surfing competition, an event held on an ad hoc basis, when conditions warrant it, in honor of a local lifeguard who lost his life trying to rescue an endangered canoeing team in rough waters. But instead of the ideal, the surfers were confronted with the extreme. A combination of natural forces had intensified the effects of the storm, producing conditions that even the most experienced surfers had never seen before.

To order a copy of Condition Black, please visit the NATURE Shop.

Online content for Condition Black was originally posted January 2002.

  • jose esteller


  • Paul Postma

    Come on, folks, break out with the full video…it’s not like I wouldn’t consider buying it anyway so I can see it in high resolution…I’m jonesing for the big wave video because I missed the show when it aired, but I caught the preview…so break out with the full video so I can watch it online and recommend it to my friends. When I get a little extra cash I promise to buy it from the Nature store, OK? Thanks for having a nicely organized database that responds well to obscure searches, though, because I couldn’t remember the title for the life of me…so I entered IMAX+filmed because I remembered that from the preview, and voila! So kudos for your search engine, and, uh….break out with the video!

  • phil evans

    there is nothing explaining what condition black is.

  • Paula Abdule( jk)

    What is condition black? Its for school, but I can’t find anything :’(

  • greg

    i got to agree with everybody. when condition black first aired it was great then i came to the website to order the video there was nothing but a couple of clips… now there is absolutely nothing to see on the website, and i still want to buy the episode…it is an intense episode and very well documented. i just think you guys should be very well informative on the website like you were on the show. keep up the good work.

  • scott a moad

    come on pbs let it roll we want to see the those waves.

  • Betsy

    It absolutely seems so. Great stuff by the way!

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