Sponsors: SOS Surfboards, Kill Cliff, Sanuk, Xcel, Dakine, Pakaloha Bikinis, Wings Hawaii, Veg Out
One of Maui’s token female big wave surfers, Paige Alms is self-taught and self motivated. A jack-of-all-trades, the twenty-five year old maintains a career in surfing by working. A lot. Odd jobs like ding repair, house painting, construction work, surf lessons and catering supply Paige with the funds to travel, compete and surf. When this down-to-earth female isn’t surfing or working, you can find her making art, being creative, organic gardening or playing ping-pong in friendly tournaments at her home in Haiku.
Born on the island of Victoria B.C. Canada, Paige Alms relocated to the warmer island of Maui when she was 9 years old after traveling the entire breadth of Australia in a van with her mom. Ho‘okipa became the stomping grounds at age 10 and by the age of 14, Paige’s first big wave session had her instantly hooked. “It was to an outer reef here (on Maui). I was with Chris Vandervoort, who took me out on his borrowed 9’0 and I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was hooked from that day forward,” the regular footer recounts.
So it’s no surprise that Pe‘ahi is where this athlete honed the skills for riding mountains. A combination of mental and physical training, charging Jaws is no simple feat. Read on to find out more about this Maui surfer, her opinion on paddle vs. tow and what the line-up at Jaws is like from a female perspective.
When did you start surfing?
I had my first lesson at Byron Bay. I was born in Victoria, B.C., Canada and I moved to Hawaii when I was 9 years old. I bodyboarded a lot, always trying to stand up on it, so surfing was just a natural progression I guess. I pretty much taught myself to surf, and it was something that I instantly loved.
Tell us about your competitive timeline.
I stopped doing a lot of events when I was about 20. To do the QS full time you need to have a full budget. I got help from some of my sponsors and worked a lot to do the contests, but I didn’t really have the full travel budget. I still did contests in Hawaii and still do the Pipe event every year, but as far as shortboard contest stuff, I’m not really into it anymore. I did recently get invited to be in the Women’s Big Wave world tour event at Nelscott Reef, Oregon this winter, which I’m super stoked about!
Contest claim to fame?
In 2006 it was my final year doing NSSA and I won the Explorer Womens Championship, and beat Carissa! (Laughs)
Would you consider yourself an adrenaline junkie?
Haha, a junkie? That’s a little much, but I do love getting my heart pumping! I actually play it pretty safe I think. You definitely have to have a little screw loose to be out there (Jaws) because it’s just beyond crazy, I never thought I’d be out there paddling! Anyone who says it’s not scary is totally lying, it’s just working through that fear, and once you catch a wave you feel so accomplished that you’re high for a month.
Describe surfing Jaws in 5 words or less.
Spiritual, powerful, magical, thrilling.
Paddle or tow?
I definitely lean more toward paddling because my home big wave break is now a paddle wave. I’m definitely not against towing though because it’s so much fun. I kind of miss it some days, thinking ‘gosh I wish I could have caught 10 waves instead of 1,’ but there is definitely a time and place for it. If there’s someone paddling, you shouldn’t be towing. I love both, but my heart and passion is for paddling.
What’s the mood like out there at Jaws?
It depends on the swell. Now that it’s become so publicized people are showing up for s#!tty swells and you wonder why there are 30 guys out. But the mood changes depending on the swell. In between huge swells we have fun too, it’s still big but it’ll just be the local crowd. It can get pretty intense those big days, especially when it’s 50 of the best big wave surfers in the world. There is definitely a lot of ego and testosterone. It’s a bit tricky being one of the only girls and dealing with the people who show up just for the swell.
What’s it like being one of the only females in the line-up?
It’s already challenging being in a line-up as a big wave surfer, but a couple sessions I’ve been the only girl out and all my friends that are out there are super cool and supportive. But then there are guys who I’ve never met… I know a lot of big wave girls get looked at as being crazy, but I feel like I play it pretty safe and make good decisions, I’m not going on just any wave. I’m not there every time it breaks. I pick and choose my days, I like it when it’s not super windy.
Keala (Kennelly), I’d say she’s my big wave partner buddy so to speak. There’s been a few others who have come over- Maya (Gabeira), Jamilah (Star) , Silvia, and a few other girls, but it’s not like a set pack in the line-up every time.
How do you prepare physically and mentally for big wave surfing?
I think physically the best thing you can do to train for big wave surfing is surfing in general. Learning the way the ocean works, the currents, the bumps, especially here in Maui we have constant cross bumps from it being so windy. I also do a lot of training in the gym, just a lot of core strength and cardio.
I do breath holding but I’m not religious about it. Most of it is mental and teaching your body what it’s capable of. I was taught in a performance free diving class that an average human being should be able to hold their breath for 4 minutes. It’s like meditating- you put yourself somewhere else. It’s mentally draining though; I’m exhausted by the end of it.
I’m actually recovering from an injury at the moment, my worst one to date, so I guess I would have to say that one. I was in Mexico and I dislocated and fractured by shoulder in May. I got lipped by a 10-footer on my head and my shoulder popped out. It was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. I didn’t find out it was broken until a week later back on Maui.
What has this season been like?
This winter has actually been kind of weird for me because I’m still injured and not confident to go back out quite yet. It’s been kind of nice seeing big swells pop up and not worrying, because I’m normally very anxious. However, I definitely had a good cry the first Jaws swell that came, I was pretty depressed all day. But normally I hate the few days before a big swell, the build up. As soon as I get in the water I feel calm, because a lot of the anxiety was just in the preparation itself. I feel like I could just hide away before the swell comes, but when it does I feel like it’s a relief and I just try to enjoy and live in the moment.