The Ghost of Tom Curren
Updated: Nov 28
About 2 weeks before Christmas in 2004, I woke up in the dark and left the small basement room I was renting from 'Banzai Betty' in Waialua to check how the new swell was filling in.
I was under gunned with my Bushman thruster, but I was more focused on shooting and had a water set up and my Canon F2.8, 400mm telephoto lens.
I drove through Haleiwa crossing the bridge and up the Kam highway for my first real look at the waves at Lani's. In the dawn light it was pre-trades-morning-sick and the swell was very large, bumpy and mixed up.
After checking a few spots facing into the NW swell, I ended up at Pipeline just to watch huge bombs detonate on the reef in spectacular fashion. Pipe was out of control with big rips flushing through the line up in a way that reminded me of the rapids in the Colorado river where I had my first near drowning event. No one was out and no one was on the beach.
I decided to go back and check Sunset again and as I walked through Ehukai Beach Park I saw a figure in the shadows with a big Channel Islands pin tail that made me pause. It was Tom Curren.
He didn't stop to look at the waves or time the sets, he just jumped in the rip and paddled out like it was a 2 foot day Emma Wood.
I watched as he got sucked out in the rip towards open water headed for Rocky Point, or Kauai or Japan. Somehow he made it through mountains of white water and side chop from Second Reef and lucked right into the first wave I saw all morning that looked rideable.
I was so stunned and it all happened so fast that I didn't even squeeze off a frame when he dropped in, but clicked this image as he came roaring through the inside. Tom got some shade from the awning, but was eventually forced to straighten out as the wave shut down and imploded.
He casually rode the white water to the beach, trudged up the sand and made his way back to his car. The one wave session took less than 30 minutes. After throwing his board in the back seat, he drove away before the trade winds even considered a whisper.
I didn't see another good wave the rest of the day at Pipe and I never saw Tom Curren again for the rest of the season.