A bigger set broke on the outside and we dived under it, then paddled out to get beyond the break. Still another set broke on the outside so we kept on going out. Now we were almost a mile from shore. On the horizon, to the south, beyond Kaena Point, I could see what looked like a shadow or a cloud. We paddled out another hundred yards just as a precaution. Our strokes, at first casual, became faster, then frenzied. The horizon had jumped up to where the sky used to be. Coming straight at us was the biggest wave since Krakatoa. Callahan had turned the colour of flour with all the wheatgerm kicked out of it. Ted looked as if he was about to be personally bombarded by a squadron of Messerschmitts. We were too far out now to risk heading in: we were bound to be caught smack in the impact zone. We barely had time to exchange a glance – a glance which said despair, courage, delirium – before pointing our noses at infinity and pulling for dear life.

We were nearly a mile and a quarter out, the set was another quarter away from us, and already it was fleecy at the top, throwing up spray a hundred yards in the air. I put my head down and kept stroking. It seemed to take forever to get up that face, like climbing the rungs of Jacob’s ladder. When at last I broke through the lip and parachuted into the void beyond I turned my head and looked behind. The wave had had its ropes cut and was erupting in an avalanche of fury that would bury everything in its path. Of Ted and Callahan there was no sign. I wondered if I would ever see them again and silently said goodbye.

The second wave was fifty yards away and bigger than the first. But it was only when I punched through the thick, creamy crest and the rainbow mist cleared from my eyes that I finally gave up all hope. Right in front of me was the Absolute, the ens perfectissimum, a metaphysical colossus that had strayed into reality. It towered so far above me I couldn’t even see the top of it. There was nothing left in the world but this vertiginous wave. I had a chillingly clear picture of its abominable face: it had so many wrinkles and boils it looked as if it had lived for centuries. And now it was looking for a graveyard. As I came up out of the trough, the wave was pouting out a lip like the deck of an aircraft carrier.

It started to suck me up the face. As I looked down a tube as empty as Outer Space, I pushed away from my board and dove for the bottom. But there was no bottom: it was like going through the Star Gate, with whole galaxies reeling by me. The concussion of the exploding wave drove me down like a steam hammer. There was darkness below me; above me, yet more darkness. I could no longer tell which way was up and which was down. I was drowning and it didn’t hurt. I felt a momentary regret for all the waves I would never ride when I had only just learned how. Then I died