Zeke Lau locking into a Sunset freight train.
Zeke Lau locking into a Sunset freight train. - WSL / Kirstin Scholtz

Spot Check: Sunset Beach - with Zeke Lau

By Cassady Ozimec / Surfline

By Cassady Ozimec / Surfline

Sunset Beach is not the deadliest wave on the North Shore. Pipeline is. Sunset is, however, the deadliest wave for competitive careers. For many years now, the second stop of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, the Vans World Cup, has tapped the famed open-ocean power of Sunset Beach to end punctuate the WSL Men’s Qualifying Series, right along with many surfers’ dreams of Championship Tour qualification. And even without the best surfers on Earth all vying for 34 elite spots, the wave is a formidable enough opponent all by itself. Torrential currents, colossal saltwater mountains, and the notorious West Peak are just a few of the obstacles. But with a decent amount of experience, the requisite physical fitness, and a hefty helping of foam, the wave can indeed be tamed. For more on how to navigate the break, we turned to Sunset Beach standout and former event winner, Ezekiel Lau.

“Personally, I don’t like to ride too big of a board out there because I like to be able to do turns and surf in the pocket — plus, if you want to get barreled on the Bowl, it’s easier to do on a smaller board.” Zeke Lau / WSL / Ed Sloane
“Personally, I don’t like to ride too big of a board out there because I like to be able to do turns and surf in the pocket — plus, if you want to get barreled on the Bowl, it’s easier to do on a smaller board.” Zeke Lau WSL / Ed Sloane

Best conditions

EL: “The best conditions are usually a northwest swell in the 8-10 foot range. Anything above 10 feet gets kind of out of control, and anything under eight feet can be kind of shifty, where it’s a little too small to focus on the West Bowl and it’s a little too big to focus on the Point. When it’s in-between like that, it’s really hard to find the right spot, so I prefer when it’s being enough for West Bowl, or when it’s under six feet so it breaks along the Point.”

“As for wind, the regular tradewinds are my favorite, which is east. Northeast can be good too because that blows into the left and holds the wave up a bit. Northeast winds also groom the face really well. When the wind is onshore, it makes it really tricky out there because of how bumpy it gets. It also makes the wave break quicker instead of holding the wave open like the trades do, so it’s more difficult to surf.”

Power surfing is a requirement when facing Sunset, Zeke Lau / WSL / Chlala
Power surfing is a requirement when facing Sunset, Zeke Lau WSL / Chlala

Crowd factor

“The crowd is a little different at Sunset. It’s not a Pipe crowd, and it’s not a ‘heavy’ crowd. Instead, it’s a lot of local people and a lot of older guys sitting way out the back. Sunset’s a great wave to surf a really big board, so you’ve got a lot of guys out there riding longer boards. When we’re out there on our shortboards or a step-up, it can be hard to get waves because you’ve got guys coming in from way out the back. I actually don’t freesurf out there as much just because of that factor, but when it’s firing it really doesn’t matter — there’s waves for everyone. When it’s big enough, I usually just sit on the West Bowl and I’ll find some waves. So the crowd’s mostly those older guys sitting way out the back on 10’ or 11’ boards getting into them super early. Usually just a fun, mellow, weekend crowd type of spot.”

Local legends

“I grew up surfing out at Sunset and always looked up to guys like Marcus Hickman. He was one of my favorites to watch out there. His surfing is just so powerful, and he grew up right there at Backyards. Him, Makua (Rothman), Pancho (Sullivan), Myles (Padaca) — all really powerful guys that rode really big boards and just threw them around. I grew up watching those surfers and admiring how they approached the wave at Sunset. But I don’t think anyone surfs Sunset better than Marcus Hickman. I’ve seen him get waves on 10 foot days where he took off deep on the Point and rode them all the way through the Bowl. He’s done things that I’ve never seen anyone else do out there.”

Marcus Hickman. / WSL / Kirstin Scholtz
Marcus Hickman. WSL / Kirstin Scholtz

What board(s) to ride?

“Personally, I don’t like to ride too big of a board out there because I like to be able to do turns and surf in the pocket — plus, if you want to get barreled on the Bowl, it’s easier to do on a smaller board. My magic number is something between 6’9”-6’10”. That’s what I’ve found works best for me. Lately I’ve been riding the Happy model from Channel Islands. When I won the Sunset contest last year, it was on a 6’9” Happy. I think that’s the best Sunset board I have right now. It’s a little flatter with straighter curves. There’s still a bit of curve in the front half, but the back of the board is pretty straight. It also has a bit more volume and fuller rails up front so that it can handle the turbulence and bumps. You have to cover a lot of area out there, so the straighter rail line gives you a bit more drive and projection through turns. It’s a board that allows me to draw big lines, which is exactly what you need to be able to do at Sunset.”

Best spot for an after-surf coffee/snack?

“When I was growing up, Ted’s Bakery was the spot. I used to surf out at Sunset, walk across the street and grab a bacon, egg and cheese roll, and paddle right back out (laughs). I think nowadays, the new spot is the Sunrise Shack, which is right in front of Kammies and is the quickest spot to grab something on your way to surf. I’ll grab a bullet coffee, go surf, then pick up an acai bowl on my way out. It’s probably the healthier option. So those are your two best bets for food when you surf Sunset — just the quickest, easiest places.”

With such a wide playing field it is easy to get lost at Sunset. / WSL / Heff
With such a wide playing field it is easy to get lost at Sunset. WSL / Heff

Where to replace a broken board on a minute’s notice?

“My boards come from Channel Islands, so I have to take care of myself and make sure I’m stocked up with extras in case I break one. During the Triple Crown, I usually stash a few boards at the Pipe house, but other than that, I try to keep an extra board with me that’s ready to go.”

Flat day activities?

“Flat days at Sunset Beach are the best for foiling. Last year we did a huge foiling session with all the boys — Josh and Seth, Griffin, everyone. Uncle Brian Suratt brought down a bunch of foils and let everyone go crazy. We were foiling all over the inside of Sunset Point and it was the funnest thing ever. It might have been a little dangerous but it was super fun (laughs). I love foiling. It’s almost like you can surf a small wave with a big wave mentality when you’re on a foil. That’s my favorite analogy and why I love it so much. Just drawing big lines and going really fast — it’s a really good time. When it’s flat, Sunset is one of the best spots for it because there’s so much space.”

Pro tips

“Sunset Beach is one of those waves where, when you’re looking at it from the beach, you don’t really see everything. So if you’re paddling out there for your first time, I suggest you really watch and analyze the lineup, and learn about the reef and the currents. There’s a lot of things going on out in the water that you can’t see from land. Other than that, the biggest tip I can give you is to ride a big board. Don’t paddle out to Sunset on your shortboard — unless your name is Barron Mamiya or John John (laughs).”

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