The most intimidating aspect of surfing Sunset Beach on a good day, is all the older guys, sitting way further out than everyone, and gliding into massive feathering west peaks on their way oversized blades. They come riding by you, and then they paddle back out straight past you, heading for a take-off spot so far outside and so wide that no one else can sit out there. They’re the real locals, these older guys, who have done their time of getting mowed down by west peaks, double-ups, and drop-ins out there, and now days they just want to keep their hands in and keep surfing.
There is nothing much to be done about them, except find a different place to sit. No matter where you sit however, there is always a good chance that you will get caught inside at Sunset Beach, the other most daunting and exasperating aspect of surfing Sunset Beach. If you paddle across towards Backyards, looking for those north peaks, you expose yourself to big sets pouring down from the north. If you sit inside you open yourself to north peaks and west peaks, and if you sit in the middle and try and get those few screamers that race through from inside the north peak all the way across the reef to the channel, you run the risk of getting smashed every which way.
There is always the option of sitting on the inside bowl, but this too is a risky affair all in. The inside bowl mutates, and the take-offs are always hard and unpredictable. The inside bowl often barrels but more often that not it pinches and squashes, making it difficult to come out of. It is also pretty crowded on the inside bowl, and on top of this, the big sets wash right through the zone, taking everyone with them.
Another challenge to overcome when surfing Sunset is the fact that you might lose your board – either by a broken leash or the actual board breaking – and subsequently find yourself swimming in one of the fiercest currents known to man. The sweep in the channel on a decent-sized day is unbelievable, and the only way in is to swim into the impact zone and survive getting rag-dolled all the way through to the inside. As unpleasant as it sounds, it is a way more attractive option than to swim the channel.
Across from the channel there is the left that grinds into the deep water, but it is on the receiving end of the rip as well, and is even more difficult to surf than Sunset Beach. You do not want to get sucked over to the left.
While Sunset seems to offer nothing but fear and loathing, there is also the possibility that you could pick up the big wave screamer of your life. A real 10-foot wave ridden properly from the outside to the inside at Sunset Beach has the ability to put a smile on your face for days and days, making all the challenges seem paltry.