Perfection and chaos: massive swell hits Oahu's outer reefs

January 21, 2021 | Surfing
Koa Rothman: getting barreled at Oahu's outer reefs

The North Shore of Oahu is an open window to the powerful swells that often march across the Pacific Ocean. But this time, it was special.

On January 16, 2021, the Hawaiian islands greeted some of the biggest waves in years, with giant walls of water popping up on the horizon without previous warning.

The buoys never lie, and with records indicating 22 feet at 17 seconds, there is only one thing to expect, and that is extreme surf.

The Hawaiian big wave surfing crew woke up early to prepare for a historic day of action; there are boards to be picked and jet skis to be checked.

The surfers knew what was coming and where to go - Oahu's outer reefs.

Koa Rothman, John John Florence, Ezekiel Lau, Mark Healey, Anthony Walsh, Kohl Christensen, Grant Baker, Kelly Slater, and Mikey Wright were ready for Nature's raw power.

They were accompanied by a large group of jet ski drivers and media production teams, who provided support to those risking their lives in heavy waters, and captured the finest moments.

Oahu's outer reefs: January 16, 2021, delivered perfect, clean and massive waves like this

Perfection and Carnage

The setup was nearly perfect with offshore winds, sunny skies, and perfect, clean A-frame waves.

When the swell lines arrived on the outer reefs, surfers paddled into massive barreling cylinders that would either close out or provide the ride of a lifetime.

The lineup was a mix-up of machines and humans - motor and arm power.

But if you think a jet ski is always a safe personal watercraft and the ultimate high surf lifeline, then you should look at the footage below.

The memorable session witnessed several jet skis being caught by a humongous, sneaky wave set, leaving drivers disoriented and helpless.

Pure carnage. The ambulance even had to come down to pick a few injured soldiers. But the show went on.

Oahu's outer reefs delivered the goods, and at the end of the day, everyone had a story to tell.

"What an incredible day! John, Healey, and 'Twiggy' got some super crazy ones. I got barreled and finally pulled into a big wave, frontside," expressed Koa Rothman.

The Summer Surf Gear Guide 2021