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Randy Laine - 70 Feet and Holding
photos and video courtesy of the Randy Laine
by Ken McKnight
posted 2005-07-24

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It is a scene like no other. Almost unimaginable or surreal to most. A massive expanse of moving water. There is a lot going on and a nervous tension is always around. Huge, heaving slabs of open ocean swells are busting their tops and cascading over with enough ferocity to take out any man made object that might be stupid enough to get in the way. 35, 45, 65 feet and bigger. Waves so big they are beyond comprehension to most of us. Unless your one of a handful of adventurers that uses this scenario as a playground. Randy Laine is one those guys.

Photo by Jeff Divine
Photo by Jeff Divine

You can see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice. He lives for the danger, the thrill, the lure of the moment where few other humans can operate. He is Randy Laine and he rather amazingly "boldly goes where no man has gone before." They call him the "Mayor" and they call him a "Cowboy" but whatever you want to say, Randy is an all around Waterman in the pure sense of the word. From Jet Ski Pilot to Tow Master to Pro surfer Laine lives in a class by himself. And he has nothing to prove to anyone except himself. Just check out to see why.

Tall, articulate and super good looking you'd swear he was the model for the Marlboro Man commercial. Around the late 70's Randy and his friends pretty much invented the Tow In part of surfing that has amazed us so much these days with feats of bravado in big waves. He did it without back up and on equipment that was nothing like they have today.

To most humans this exciting scenario is something that stays focused on our television and computer screens. A world where real heroes ride into these moving mountains and perform feats of daring that simply blow our minds to think of. This is the world of tow surfing and it is the only way to ride these magnificent swells. It is undeniably the most dangerous of the extreme sports as the surfers and jet jockeys vie for waves upwards of 75 feet at 50 mph.

Photo by Rob Brown Photography
Photo by Rob Brown Photography

Pulled by a single rider on a personal watercraft, a surfer holds onto a tow rope at a speed that enables him to match the speed of the wave and be whipped in quick enough to outrace these aquatic monsters. The machines are necessary for huge waves as paddle surfers can't get into most waves over 35 to 40 feet. Paddle surfing may be the purest way to ride these waves, but Tow-In surfers go bigger, Way bigger!

Laine flies into a 50 foot swell on a jet ski and angles into the behemoth, right in the face of danger. Time and again on a 1500cc machine he pulls feats of daring that would almost certainly mean death if a miscalculation was made. To him this means Zero Tolerance, no mistakes.

Carving in and around huge waves is nothing to Randy, he has done it for years and was one of the first to pioneer this method of riding waves. He rides and exists, in this huge playing field like a moth before a flame, in waves that to mere mortals appear on fire, only this flame is the size of a six story high building and it is about to explode. Riding a Stand Up jet ski or a sit down Runabout to rescue downed surfers is one thing, but to do it for fun is akin to jumping off that six story building and then having it chase you down the street.

Photo courtesy of Randy Laine
Photo courtesy of Randy Laine

Lumbering around in Randy's driveway recently I was the helper, moving a ski here, a trailer there, watching that we didn't scrap the paint off his truck as he pulled a dual ski out of the garage.

Standing at attention in the driveway is a beautiful, brightly colored Yamaha jet ski that waits patiently for its chance at fame.

Today Randy is saying goodbye to one of his machines as DHX Freight company is about to take it to Tahiti for the ASP event. The powers that be have contacted Laine to request this machine as a replacement for a mental error made by a driver who put himself and others in a very famous and precarious spot only the day before.

"They pick up this ski tomorrow," Laine says with a wry laugh patting the front of a ski like he was a used car salesman, "to replace the one that almost took out Raimana Van Bastolear yesterday at Teahupoo."

Randy Laine is crazy with what he does and he is good. Call him psycho, madman, daredevil or just a guy having fun on waves the majority of us only feel comfortable around watching from our living rooms. He just might be certifiable and that is why we admire him for it!

AAS - How dangerous is it for you to ride a jet ski in big surf. Someone with years of experience and not the regular tow guys?

RL - Its really dangerous just because the jet ski doesn't have a fin system. Your riding on concaves so your real skittery. You have to be able to keep the pump hooked up or you'll cavitate. And when a ski hits you in the mouth, your teeth go away.

Photo by Sean Collins
Photo by Sean Collins

AAS - Have you been hit?

RL - Oh yeah! I've broken 5 molars, knocked some teeth out. I broke fingers, a big toe, yet I've actually been real lucky. I took up jet skiing cause I wouldn't break bones. I use to race moto cross, where I broke my collarbone and got all tattered.

AAS - How old were you when you first started jet skiing?

RL - I first jet skied in 1974. They had just been invented. An American named Clayton Jacobson invented it and then sold it to Kawasaki. They had these old bilge pump motors that went in their freighters. They built oil tankers. They took the motors, tricked it out and put them in this new American invention, the Jet Ski. But it was only 400CC. Today, they run 1400 to 1500CC motors with 300 horsepower.

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