Robbie Maddison surfs wave on dirt bike
Robbie Maddison and the water bike
Years in the making, famed motocross pro Robbie Maddison is set to release video surrounding his latest project: the water bike. "I've always been fascinated by the way water moves around boats and the way wake boarding happens. I'd seen quad bikes move over water, and I knew with the right speed and the right skis on the bike, water has enough surface tension that I should be able to ride on water. And if I could ride, then I should be able to catch a wave." Welcome to the mind of Robbie Maddison.
The science behind the project
Once the project was a go, Maddison drew up sketches of skis and then called Bill King, a former rocket scientist, who had engineered the RadiX snow conversion kit for motorcycles. "He flew to my house, looked at my design and said, 'This will work,'" Maddison said. "Then he took the drawings home to Boise and I flew up to join him a few weeks later."
The saltwater conversion
After months of testing in California, Maddison and crew headed to Teahupo'o in Tahiti to test the bike in saltwater. At a nearby lagoon, he tested speeds and learned how the bike would perform in salt water. "Most people thought the bike would perform better in warm, salty water because it's buoyant," Maddison said. "But warm saltwater is less dense than cold freshwater and the density is what's important. The tires didn't have as much grip in salt water and instead of topping out at 58 mph, I could only go 35."
"We did all of our testing and filming right there, off a protected bay near Teahupo'o," Maddison said. "I was able to launch from where we were parked in the lagoon, cross the bay and come out on another person's property, who gave us permission. It was great to have somewhere to test how the bike performed in salt water. It was nothing like how we thought it would."
Maddo in the water
"Before Tahiti, I did breathing training and was up to holding my breath for two-and-a-half minutes," Maddison said. "Since I've been home, I'm up to three-and-a-half, but my goal is for over six. I want to go back."
"I surfed the first couple of days, just to feel out the break and decide which break to use, Teahupo'o or Papara. After I surfed 15-foot Papara, I thought it would be funny to get a wave with my whole kit on, helmet, too. We made adjustments to Raimana's tow board so my boots would fit in the foot straps. It was a good test to see how I would float in the water and what it would be like if I was hit by a wave. For the first few seconds,becauseof all the foam in the helmet, you float quite well. After that, not so much."
The DC team in tow
When professional skateboarder Mikey Taylor heard Maddo was going to ride a wave on a motorcycle, he said "I have to see this" and booked a ticket to Tahiti. "He loves surfing and we went surfing quite a bit together while we were down there," Maddison said. "He's such a positive guy and he became an integral part of the team. He gave me the support to keep on when morale was low and people were being negative, saying there is no way this is going to work and Robbie has lost his mind." He was in the boat when Maddison successfully rode his first wave. "You need that moral support and pat on the back when you are trying to do something no one has done before."
The right wave
After reviewing footage of his approach, Maddison had a revelation. "I realized the water was taking a different line than I thought," he said. "If I rode the face of the wave, it would work. I went out the next day with fresh energy."
Still reeling from his successful first ride, Maddison re-grouped and rode a few more waves that day. "This experience solidifies to me to believe in myself and have confidence that if an idea makes sense for me and my passion, then I should follow it," Maddison said. "Some people have that built into them from birth, but I learned it over the past two years."
On that last day (Sunday), so many surfers flew into town that Teahupo'o was packed and they would never have been able to keep what they were doing a secret. So they went to Papara, where Maddo had little knowledge of the break and no one on the boat with him did either.
The west bomb
Maddison had selected a wave locals call a west bomb, a hooking bomb that closes out the entire bay. By the time he realized what he'd done, it was too late to turn back. So he held on to the bike and waited for the wave to swallow him.
A violent ride
"It was the most violent ride of my life," Maddison said. "My goggles were ripped from their strap and the fenders and levers tore off my motorcycle as it was dragged across the reef. When the first wave picked me up, it hit me in the back and knocked the wind out of me. Right then, I gave up. Everything went white and peaceful -- and then I popped up. I had a split second to take a deep breath and then I took another wave straight in the face and tumbled across the reef. I took four of those before, somehow, I popped up and the jet ski found me."