Published on Dec 12, 2016
Ken Bradshaw surfing giant waves at big-wave break Outside log cabins, located on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, between Waimea Bay and Pipeline. In 1998. Outside Log Cabins is the site of one of the biggest waves ever surfed, a 40- or 45-footer (about 60 or 70 feet from trough to crest) ridden by Hawaiian big-wave veteran Ken Bradshaw in 1998.
A right-breaking wave, Outside Log Cabins—also known as Outer Logs—forms over a reef located three-quarters of a mile offshore. It requires a huge North Pacific winter swell, doesn’t begin to take shape until the waves are nearly 20 feet, and might come into full-blown form just two or three times a decade. Shiftier and more lined up than the waves found at Jaws on Maui, Log Cabins can produce rides of more than 400 yards, with the curl often pitching out to form monolithic tube sections.
Big-wave zealot Jose Angel built a house in front of Log Cabins in the early ’70s, choosing the location in part so that he could study the break and see if it could be ridden. He never tried. In early December 1986, with a 25-foot swell running, Bradshaw and local surfer Trevor Sifon became the first to surf Outer Logs, each paddling into a 20-foot wave before getting caught inside and washed ashore by a 30-foot set. “It’s probably the ultimate big wave,” surf journalist Leonard Brady wrote of Log Cabins two years later, adding that the break probably wasn’t ridable “using standard paddling take-offs.” Fewer than a half-dozen attempts were made on Outer Logs over the next nine years.
In the early ’90s, a small group of big-wave surfers did in fact discard the paddling takeoff and towed each other in to huge waves from behind jetskies; on January 28, 1998, with Outer Logs producing what many were calling the best big surf of the decade, it was ridden by tow-in surfers only. Bradshaw caught his enormous wave at about 10:00 A.M.; six other tow-in teams rode throughout the day. Video footage from January 28 was used in The Moment (1998), Biggest Wednesday (1998), and other surf videos; 70-millimeter film shot from a helicopter was used to create a breathtaking 10-minute sequence for Extreme, a 1999 IMAX movie.
Iron-willed big-wave rider from Sunset Beach, Hawaii; winner of the 1982 Duke Kahanamoku Classic; often credited as the first surfer to ride a 40-foot wave. Bradshaw was born (1952) in Houston, Texas, the son of powerful steel industrialist. An All-City linebacker in junior high school, Bradshaw nonetheless had thought of himself as a surfer since riding his first wave at age 14 at Surfside Beach on the Texas Gulf Coast. He immersed himself in the sport after moving to California in 1969; three years later he landed on Oahu’s North Shore, a raw but game big-wave hopeful, and in 1974 he rode his first 20-footer at Waimea Bay.
Because Waimea breaks just a few times each season, Bradshaw generally rode Sunset Beach, the North Shore’s most dependable big-wave break. By the late ’70s the bearded and slightly manic Bradshaw was patrolling the Sunset lineup like a hair-trigger sheriff; anyone who interfered with his rides was ordered to leave the water, or told to dismount so that the six-foot, 185-pound Texan could disable the surfer’s board by smashing off a fin with the heel of his hand.
Bradshaw worked as a surfboard shaper—creating the Bradshaw Hawaii label in 1978, after working two years for Lightning Bolt Surfboards—but spent uncountable hours in the water in all conditions, and throughout the mid- and late ’70s, his surfing improved dramatically. He rode in a taut crouch, and was slighted by big-wave peers as a rider of average technical ability (“He’s a little off in his timing sometimes,” Darrick Doerner noted; “He doesn’t really connect his moves too well,” Mark Foo said), but by the turn of the decade he was in fact a fully accomplished North Shore surfer, and at Sunset Beach he rode with knowledge, precision, and power. He finished second in the 1982 Pro Class Trials, first in the 1982 Duke (beating world tour stalwarts Peter Townend and Dane Kealoha in the finals), and third in the 1983 Duke.
Bradshaw has been featured in more than 20 surf movies and videos, including Adventures in Paradise (1982), Journey to the Impact Zone (1987), and The Moment (1998), the IMAX film Extreme (1999), and Biggest Wednesday (2000). He placed third in the 1986 Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau big-wave event at Waimea; along with tow-in partner Dan Moore, Bradshaw competed in the 2002 Tow-In World Cup, the first tow-in contest held in Maui.