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Maui Surfer Dege O’Connell recalls the worst wipeout of his life with GrindTV

Dege O’Connell in the midst of the worst wipeout of his life. Note the capsized boat in the channel. Photo by Brent Bielmann/Surfing magazine.

Right about the same time southern California was getting rocked by the biggest swell of the year, waves of far more consequence were lashing the boulder-strewn shore of Jaws (aka Pe’ahi) on the North Shore of Maui. Charging headfirst into the 25-foot-plus (Hawaiian-style measurement) surf was a dedicated crew of surfers hell-bent on getting the biggest waves of their lives. Among them was 24-year-old Hana resident Dege O’Connell. Dege, who’s been surfing Jaws for several years now, was on a borrowed 10-foot, 6-inch board and caught exactly one wave that session—and it ended up being the worst wipeout of his life. Here, he dishes on what happened....

Tell us about that day at Jaws …
When we got down there I had this, like, 1991 single fin I was going to ride because I didn’t have a board. Then I texted Matt Kinoshita from Kazuma Surfboards and he told me that he had a board for me. The swell was really west and there was a west wind to it that makes the surface look smooth, but creates bumps in the trough of the wave. I was going to ride this 9-foot, 9-inch, then we saw this big set, and he’s like, “You should take my 10-foot, 6-inch!” So I grabbed that, watched it for a little bit, and paddled out at around 8:30.

What did the wave look like as it approached you? Was it bigger or thicker than the others you saw?
It was weird because that day, there were just one-wave sets. That thing came in and I was kind of sitting inside of the pack. The wave kind of snuck under everyone and had this weird double up on it. Nobody else was paddling for it so I just whipped around and went for it. I got a nice chip shot into it, but then had to go over this big lump. That’s when it hit the reef and got big. Water was sucking up the face and I hit like two or three chops on the way down. I was trying to hold on and set the rail but when I got to the bottom I had no speed, looked up, and knew the lip was coming down on me. I hit the eject button and just jumped off.

Was it the biggest wave you’ve ever paddled into out there?
Yeah, definitely.

Check out the Video and rest of the interview by Justin Cote HERE

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