ON THIS DAY IN SURFING: Condition Black / Biggest Wednesday — January 28, 1998
by Kyveli Diener
Twenty years ago today was a Wednesday of waves that still inspire awe after two decades of telling and retelling. Waves that sent swell crashing into homes, over bridges, and across the Kamehameha Highway by Three Tables. Waves that maxed out every spot on the North Shore, including Waimea Bay as the El Niño-backed monsters were declared too big for a running of The Eddie.
They were waves that lit up the outer reefs, most historically at Outer Reef Log Cabins, where Ken Bradshaw was ready to make history. Bradshaw was towed into the biggest wave on record at the time, having to pleadingly call his jet ski assist into the massive wave that looked terrifying but held the ride of his life. Bradshaw recounted the experience ten years later for a Forbes Magazine TV interview, viscerally describing the overwhelming roar of wind and water that most big wave surfers can’t explain.
The wave height of Bradshaw’s record-setting ride has been debated and contested, but most agree it was a solid 80-85 feet of water rising on the face. While Nazaré bombs ridden by the likes of Garrett McNamara in 2011 (90 ft), Ben Sanchis in 2015 (108 ft), and Hugo Vau last week (a horrifying monster said to have been 115 feet) have surpassed Bradshaw’s record on paper, that wave on this day in history remains a brightly shining and irreplaceable light in Hawaiian surfing history.