Only a very special few are capable of handling the very worst that the ocean can deal out. No one is a fitter, stronger, tougher, braver and more skilful all-around water man than Titus Kinimaka from Kauai, Hawaii. On Christmas day in 1989, Titus had the worst thrown at him and though he definitely did not walk away unscathed, he, at least, survived. Most of us wouldn’t have.
For months Kinimaka had been preparing both mentally and physically for the Eddie Aikau Big Wave event. Titus had won many surfing contests in his life but the “Eddie” was the big one he really wanted to win. So deep was his desperation to be prepared for the event that he got out of bed at 3.00 o’clock on Christmas morning in an attempt to be the first in the water practicing when the sun came up. Waimea Bay had started to pump the day before and continued to build throughout the night. When he paddled out at sunrise it was booming into the bay at around 18 feet so Titus knew that the contest would be called “a starter” soon and he intended to be ready.
For hours Kinimaka ripped apart the monster waves with a building confidence and aggression rarely seen in such challenging conditions. No one in the water was taking off later or deeper or risking manoeuvres the way Kinimaka was. By late morning Titus knew that he was getting tired and that one last wave would be just enough in what was likely to be his last practice before the event.
By late morning the dropping tide had made the conditions even more challenging than earlier. Many of the bigger set waves were now throwing out massive, unrideable barrels. As Kinimaka was looking for a final wave to top off his session a series of set waves loomed on the outside. While others in the water decided to avoid the potentially lethal monsters by paddling out to meet them before they broke Kinimaka decided that conquering the first of the set waves would be the perfect finish to his impressive morning’s surfing. He turned and paddled into an almost vertical face and free fell possibly fifteen feet before his fin and rails grabbed some traction at the bottom of the pit. As Titus carved a huge bottom turn the massive lip twenty feet above and to his right pitched out viciously creating a huge barrelling section that would potentially close out his wave and smash him horribly. Titus’ one chance of making the wave was to charge into the barrel back door and with a full head of speed attempt to bust out the other side. The wave had other ideas. As he entered the barrel the massive lip smashed down on him with tons of water compressing him onto the board. The board slipped out sideways as the wave sucked him up at huge speed and the board was catapulted into the side of his leg.
For ages Kinimaka was thrashed about as the energy of the huge wave slowly dissipated. When he popped to the surface he was aware of a pain in his leg but was unable to investigate as the wall of white water from the second set wave was about to smash into him. When Titus finally bobbed to the surface again he was mystified by the strange object that kept banging into the side of his face near his ear. Imagine his horror when he realized that the stray object belting him around the jaw in the churning water was the bottom of his foot. His leg (femur) had been snapped high up near the hip and what remained of a formally functioning leg was flopping around in the swell like a ragdoll.
Answers to Kinimaka’s calls for help were answered by many who were out in the water. Louie Ferreira, Darrick Doerner, Ken Bradshaw, Tom Carroll and Michael Willis were just a few of the surfers who came to his aid. All present knew that Kinimaka was in no shape to negotiate the monster shore break even with the help of his buddies. To make matters worse Titus’ serious injuries and tiredness sent him into severe shock. He began to shiver uncontrollably. The only solution was for all of the surfers present to form a human life raft and support the injured surfer until a rescue helicopter arrived. With twenty-five foot waves exploding around the surfers the group supported Titus for around forty-five minutes until he was finally winched to safety by the chopper and carried to the beach and a waiting ambulance. As he was being bundled into the ambulance to be rushed to hospital he was still asking his mates whether they thought that his injuries would cause him to miss the contest!