At 13-years-old, Ty Simpson Kane is one of the youngest, if not the youngest person to ever paddle into waves at Pe’ahi.
At 4 am on the morning of the Pe’ahi challenge, Ty was ready to fulfill his lifelong dream. He awoke his dad, Chris, and the father-son duo did one last check of equipment before heading to Kahului Harbor.
The trailer holding the family’s jet ski and sled was firmly attached to the truck. Ty’s gun, an old hand-me-down “Kazuma” shaped for Ian Walsh’s first trip to Maverick’s, was secure in the truck’s bed. The 20 gram C02 canisters on his Patagonia PSI vest inflated without issue. Ty had tested it the day before in front of the family home, to see how it felt in the raising swell. It was the first time he had used the device.
By 5:30, they were in the water for what is normally a 40-minute ride to the channel at Jaws. Off the coast of Outer Spreckels, Ty and his father hit the rubbish line, where the ski sucked trash into its engine. They killed the motor, Ty hopped off the ski to check the problem. Minutes later the debris was cleared and they were on their way.
There was only one other team in the water when they arrived. A pair of soul surfers in it for the love named Adam and Alex. All of the competitors watched from the cliff face above. The same cliff where at age 5, Ty watched Pe’ahi for the first time and swore his life to the goal of taking the drop.
For 30-minutes, Ty and his dad waited in the channel idling. “Doing the math”, as he likes to call it. They timed the lulls, looked to see what wave in the set was the best and how long there was between the first wave and the last.
Big wave surfing is a cerebral sport, not a bull rush. Ty is calculated and mature in his approach. He is no brazen youth who has yet to experience a brush with his own mortality.
Adrenaline began to take hold. It focused him and made him feel calm. He focused his breath and paddled out.
An adolescent’s body isn’t equipped to catch deep water monsters with their bare hands. For the most part, Ty is no different than any other grom with professional surfing dreams. He’s not an early bloomer, or a man child, by any means. His friend and mentor, Ian Walsh, said it is his drive and ambition that make the difference.
“Ty didn’t hop off the couch, turn off the cartoons and decide to surf Jaws. He realized his goal a while ago, calculated that it would take to achieve it, and worked in increments until he was ready,” Walsh said.
Twice a week for the last two years, Ty has been training alongside both 2017 Pe’ahi Big Wave Challenge winners, Ian Walsh and Paige Alms at Deep2Peak.
“He trains at the same gym I do. Training alone can get monotonous and I love having him in the gym. The groms kick my butt and motivate me to train harder,” said Walsh.
On the back of the jet ski, his father saw a dark looming mass on the horizon headed straight for Ty. His dad yelled over the hum of the idling jet ski, “this is the one.”
Sitting on the west bowl, Ty paddled harder than he ever had before. The wind coming up the face held the nose of his surfboard as he made the drop. He shuffled forward on his gun and got low to absorb the chop coming up the wave face. He bottom turned and exited into the channel. He had done it.
Watching from the boat as he got ready, Walsh said that Ty didn’t surf Jaws like a 13-year-old.
“He seemed to have a pretty good understanding of the lineup out there. His positioning, timing, and control of his surfboard showed a lot of confidence,” Walsh said.
Ty took off on a handful more bombs before the contest began. As the old adage goes, it's the last wave that always gets you, proved true for Ty. Wanting one more wave before his heroes took to the lineup, Ty swung under the lip on a north peak bomb.
“I was sitting further inside than everyone else for that one. It peaked up right in front of me. I made a late drop and stuck it. When I was doing my bottom turn, I hit some chop and lost my speed. I looked up and saw the lip coming straight for my head and realized I needed to go faster,” said Ty.
The wave sent him to the depths, rag-dolling him as he fought to remain calm. In the turmoil, he found the pull cord for the vest he had borrowed for this specific occasion. He pulled, the canister released, and he popped up.
After his first in what is sure to be a lifetime of sessions at Jaws, Ty and his father sat in the channel and studied the best in the world.
“Everyone that I respect and look up to was in one place. I sat in the channel and watched where they were positioning themselves, what waves they took off on, and what lines they took,” said Ty.
The day would only get better for Ty. After proving to his heroes that he belonged out there, Walsh gave Ty’s equipment an upgrade.
“I just dialed him in with fins and a brand new 9’0 Christenson that I had shaped for Maverick’s. I think for his height and weight it will be perfect for him surfing Pe’ahi,” said Walsh.
Having realized his life’s dream, Ty has his goal set on riding every big day at Jaws this season with plans to take on Waimea Bay and Maverick’s as well. As to when we should expect to see him on the Big Wave World Tour, Ty said “as soon as the WSL invites me.”
Walsh, who first surfed Jaws at 16, thinks it won’t be long till he’s regularly surfing with Ty at Jaws. “He started really early and for him, I’d say the sky's the limit.”
Cover shot: Ty swoops at Jaws by Pataorazzi