Chuck Patterson is quite the Renaissance man when it comes to outdoor adventure. Whether he's chasing sharks, swells, or snow, he's usually turning heads at each stop. The 6'2" 220-pound waterman is best known these days as a racing champion in the fledgling sport of standup paddling, but come winter he always reverts back to his skiing roots, even if he happens to be riding 50-foot waves in Hawaii.
Patterson was enjoying some fresh powder in the Sierras with friends earlier this month when a storm in the Pacific began to light up surf forecasting websites. Massive swells were headed straight toward Hawaii. Rather than head back to his Southern California home to pick up his surfboard, however, Patterson just decided to bring his skis, boots, and poles with him.
The inspiration for this feat came from Patterson's friend who has been combining skiing with base jumping, launching off towering cliffs then pulling a parachute open. "He said that big waves are like liquid mountains," Patterson told SUP magazine. "So I should try skiing them."
The concept wasn't exactly new to Patterson. He first attempted the feat 14 years ago. But back then the equipment wasn't nearly as refined, and the waves surfers were riding weren't nearly as big. Both circumstances rendered those early attempts failures.
But when it comes to skiing down big blue mountains that are guaranteed to avalanche, Patterson made a significant breakthrough recently by conquering 50-foot waves at Jaws, the most feared big-wave break in all of Hawaii. His latest descents were on waves double the size of his strike there last year.
What's most startling about his most recent effort is he's not bound to his skis in old-school waterski fashion. Instead, he's wearing ski boots. He's clicked in to ski bindings. He's even turning with the help of his ski poles. "The ski poles made it feel natural and gave me extra balance," he told SUP. "I could feel where I needed to be."
Of course, Patterson is well aware of the fact that if he wiped out in those boots and bindings, he'd likely break a leg before sinking straight to the bottom. But for some reason, that didn't scare him. "More than 25 years spent in the ocean has taught me which waves to choose."