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.
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Online content for Condition Black was originally posted January 2002.