Image courtesy of Jeff Divine.

Everybody Wants To Be Like Uncle Mike

“He literally just schooled every young pro out there and he’s about 50 years old!”

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It’s an entire story when you go surfing at Sunset Beach in Hawaii. It’s not just putting your leggy on and running down the sand and you’re out there. You’re entering a Colosseum, a giant expanse of moving water with life threatening challenges all over the place.

When it’s really big you have to psych yourself up for the whole experience. The first thing is timing the shorebreak so you don’t get absolutely flogged. It’s a gnarly, heavy pounding monster that has hammered a lot of the world’s best surfers over the years and if you mistime it for even a second it’ll rip your bikini straight off and deposit you back up on the beach before you even know what’s hit you.

Once you clear the shorey you hit this deep-water channel that will either suck you over towards Kammies reef (which is like a terrifying swollen river-rapid rip bowl on big days) or if you really blow it you’ll wind up under the lip on the Inside Bowl. Both situations are bad so even before you reach the line-up your senses are cranking and you’ve already got a solid buzz in your limbs. That’s saying nothing of getting caught inside by one of those infamous Sunset Beach West Peak sets. If you want a real nightmare to unfold, it doesn’t get much worse than that. 

If you’ve dodged all that and you make it to the line-up unscathed you can have a breather for a couple of minutes and then figure out where you want to sit. This is when I remember the first bit of good advice I was ever given on my first trip to the North Shore. “When it gets huge, do what the locals do. They’re always in the right spot, they always make the right call in any situation.” So when I reach the peak at Sunset I’m really only looking for one head. It belongs to Uncle Michael Ho.

Uncle Mike is definitely responsible for the best surfing I have ever seen. It’s not only about what he does, but how he does it. Sunset is such a challenging wave and to have an intimate understanding of its many moods and to be able to master it puts you on an entirely different level in my books. Uncle Mike is a legend out there and from the very first time I paddled out there I remember watching in awe because he would always be on the best waves getting the craziest barrels. And it’s not like he was a young man.

Back in the day, Uncle Mike put on many a clinic at Sunset Beach, and his affinity with this wave continues to blow minds today. (Divine)

I have a really fond memory of being out there and seeing him own the inside bowl. Everybody else was pulling into barrels and getting pinched or flogged. It was a super crazy day and some waves would throw but others would clamp and nobody had a read on it. The event was on so all the young pros were there and they were struggling. Next thing, I see this guy get pitted the entire length of the inside section, like, from off the point and right through the bowl. Everyone in the carpark was cheering like it was a football match and sure enough it was Uncle Mike. He’d literally just schooled every young pro out there and he’s about 50 years old!

The special thing is that he does all of this with the biggest smile on his face. I mean, there are a lot of female surfers that surf with a smile but it’s not as often that guys do because they are in a more aggressive mode where they are trying to charge and attack waves. But when you watch Uncle Mike or Mason or Coco surf they are just having so much fun and I love that. Even when it’s big and scary you can still see the fun they’re having. There’s a part of them that is really enjoying the ride. Especially Mike at Sunset, because the waves there give you a lot to enjoy.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with Uncle through my friendship with Coco and he’s so chilled and cool on land. He’s always up for sharing good advice. The thing I’ve found most helpful is when he said: “Remember to go with it. Just relax underwater. You can’t fight the wave, there is no point even trying.” Whenever I’m getting flogged at huge Sunset Uncle Mike always pops into my head throwing a shaka like, “Just chill man!” and it totally helps. Except then I start to laugh and swallow heaps of sea water anyway.

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Steph Gilmore