A Warrior among Giants

Already familiar with Peahi's monstrous waves, Kamehameha Maui senior Simpson-Kane is ready to take on the world's best in the Jaws Big Wave Challenge

Ty Simpson-Kane rides a giant wave at Peahi in November 2018, when he was 14 years old. Simpson-Kane, now 17, is an official invitee to this year’s Quiksilver Jaws Big Wave Challenge, the holding period for which opened last week and runs through March. DOOMAPHOTOS photos

Ty Simpson-Kane has been chasing monster waves at Peahi since he was 13 years old.

After watching professional surfers compete from the cliffs, the 17-year-old will finally experience his ongoing childhood dream as an official invitee at the Quiksilver Jaws Big Wave Challenge alongside big wave champions from around the world– the winter-long holding period for the World Surf League event opened last week and will run through March 31, 2022.

“This was a longtime dream and goal of mine, was to be in a big wave contest invitee and to be in the contest with everyone,” Simpson-Kane said via phone on Sunday from California, where he was competing in the National Scholastic Surfing Association National Championships in Huntington Beach.

Successful Maui watermen like Ian Walsh and Kai Lenny, whom Simpson-Kane considers mentors and idols, are in the Peahi Challenge field, as well as four-time men’s winner Billy Kemper and three-time women’s winner Paige Alms.

Considering the high risk for serious injury, it is rare that groms and junior surfers even attempt to conquer the iconic surf break on Maui’s north shore.

Simpson-Kane poses for a photo with father Chris on the water in 2019.

Simpson-Kane, however, was among the first youngsters ever to paddle into waves at Peahi a few years ago at just 13 years old — it was recently documented that Steve Roberson, 13, of Haiku surfed Jaws in January.

By the following year, Simpson-Kane successfully caught a bomb on a tow-in board during the 2018 Peahi Challenge on a day when the event was put on hold due to monstrous waves.

Then at 15 years old, Simpson-Kane competed in the event on a wildcard.

“I’m super honored to have been given the opportunity to join the event again, being that I’m 17 years old,” said the Kamehameha Schools Maui senior. “It’s super humbling and to be out there in the Peahi contest with the world’s best big wave surfers is just absolutely mind-blowing.”

And it seems as though the skill and thrill of riding massive waves runs in the family. Earlier this year, younger sister Chrislyn Simpson-Kane became the youngest female to tow surf Peahi at 13 years old after getting the call to surf alongside veteran Andrea Moller, according to the WSL.

The siblings, born and raised on Maui, both competed at the NSSA championships in California this weekend. Chrislyn Simpson-Kane placed third in the open super girls (U14) division.

“I’m super proud of her being that she wants to surf big waves as well,” Ty Simpson-Kane said. “I’m glad that she’s taking the right steps working towards it, working with Andrea Moller and being mentored by her, and going at her own pace and when she feels that it’s her time to go and ride a wave, then she’s going to make that call, and I can’t wait until I get to witness her drop again.”

Other top-four finishers in open divisions at the NSSAs included Maui’s Kaden Awad (third, U12 mini groms) and Nora Liotta (fourth, open women).

A famed surfing destination for its record-breaking waves — and notorious for its dangerous conditions– Simpson-Kane is preparing himself physically and mentally for Peahi.

Between now and the official green light notifying Jaws competitors about an anticipated large swell, he said he will be working on his fitness, breath holds and just “staying calm and not thinking about anything else but the task at hand.”

“As soon as the heat comes on, it’s just head down and going and just put all my worries behind me,” he said.

Even though this isn’t Simpson-Kane’s first time at Peahi, he said coming face-to-face with 30- to 40-foot walls of water and having Jet Skis, boats and helicopters swarming around during the competition will always cause some level of nerves.

“I think being nervous is a good thing because that means that you’re still here and that you know that you’re in a spot where you have all the capabilities of either making a right call or a wrong call,” he added. “You just have to stay calm. I think that if anyone tells you that they’re not nervous or scared when they are surfing big waves, (that) is really different.”

There is no doubt that he is grateful for the guidance and inspiration by those who “got me where I am today,” such as his family, world champion big wave surfers like Shane Dorian, Lenny and Walsh, and many others.

“I just want to say thank you to my dad for always being out there with me on every swell, thank you to my family for always supporting me in whatever I choose to do and to my Baba for always helping me and for always taking care of me and always loving me,” he told The Maui News. “And to my uncle Kaleo Amadeo for always driving my ski and just for being out there with me on every swell and just watching over me for safety.”

Simpson-Kane noted that the safety and rescue teams are the “true guardian angels” that make surfing at Peahi possible.

When he’s not ripping waves, training with his sister, traveling, competing or going to school, Simpson-Kane is spear fishing, free diving and spending time with family and friends.

For the past eight summers, he has also dedicated hours to nonprofit Mauli Ola Foundation, a program that hosts surfing day experiences for youth with cystic fibrosis and other genetic disorders.

The salty ocean spray, resembling saline, becomes a “natural treatment” for the kids while they surf or participate in other ocean-based activities, he said.

He’s also volunteered several years with Paddle Imua, a week-long camp experience for children with special needs.

Through his surfing career, which is only just getting started, Simpson-Kane hopes to inspire others to “always chase your dreams and never give up and to just be yourself.”

“Anyone young or old can pursue their dreams, no matter if it’s on the water or on land,” he said.

* Dakota Grossman is at dgrossman@mauinews.com.


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