To regurgitate what many others have already said
Watch the surf for a while before even thinking about going out. Try and 'time' the sets, see how many waves in a set, how long between two sets.
Watch the ocean surface, look for obvious currents/rips and the predominant direction of any sweep/current/rip.
Check what the tide is doing
Watch where other people in the line up are positioned in relation to where the set waves break. Use a landmark or 2 to triangulate/ work out where you would position yourself once in the line up.
If you think it is big/heavy/strong current ask yourself this question.
When my fins get ripped off and my board is ripped off due to my leash snapping, would I be capable of swimming to safety unaided, without my fins and without my board?
If the answer is "not sure", check a smaller break.
If the answer is "yes, I can swim for 45 minutes against a serious rip to safety" then have a very good stretch and concentrate on your breathing whilst you stretch.
Watch the surf whilst you a getting ready as if a rouge set comes through, you want to know where it is going to wash through.
Watch if any other surfers/bodyboarders are entering/exiting the break and imagine that area with less water or pounding surf. The last thing you want is for the already large swell to be getting bigger and you have no plan of how the f@k to get in because the shorebreak is now either a death slap or the inside reef is a seriously dangerous cheesegrater with power.
Paddle out, watch a few sets from a bit further out and soak up what is happening in the line up.
Say hi to some other crew.
Look for the landmarks you identified onshore to spot yourself/maintain your position in relation to the best take off point you have previously identified.
Catch one of the last waves in the set and get used to going a lot faster and having to paddle a lot more.
I think this next point is critical. If you are feeling really tired after catching a few waves, go in. You don't want to be really fatigued and cop a set on the head and have to swim to the beach minus fins and board if you are cramping and cold/knackered.
After more time in bigger waves your style will change to harness the higher speeds and power of the wave. Don't be afraid to re-evaluate how you ride bigger waves.
Repeat above steps next time there is a bigger swell.
Above all, learn from each surf on those increasingly rare ? larger days and enjoy.
Hope this somewhat answered your question 2.3 years too late.
Biggest waves I've ridden by far was around Guillotines / Gallows in SW WA. Margarets Mainbreak was 20+ foot on the sets , WA surfer Peter Hayes rode a wave from Surfers Point to the rivermouth shorebreak. Yallingup was linking up with between the Point and Rabbit Hill .Three of us, 1 boardrider and 2 bodyboarders had this bombie to ourselves breaking left about 1 km off the beach. Caught 10-12 waves, just big phat monsters. Surf was cut short when my mate snapped his leash and it took us 1.5 hours to swim in using my bodyboard sideways. You may as well not bother with a leash in waves like that. We never recovered his board. Pretty freaky day that one.
Last edited by beaverloop
on Tue Mar 01, 2011 5:29 pm, edited 3 times in total.