story by Jeff Mull
photos by Dana Edmunds
Seated in the bed of his pickup truck, Mike Coots trains his eyes on the horizon, his right hand firmly pressed up against his brow. The smoke-infused smell of red meat cooking over an open flame cuts through the warm summer air. The parking lot at Kauai’s Hanalei Bay is abuzz with local surfers anticipating the arrival of an unusually early August north swell.
It seems that everyone on Kauai knows who Mike is. Tall, forever smiling, humble and with a camera seemingly welded to his hand, he’s hard to miss. I’d heard Mike’s name, too, but we didn’t meet until a few years ago, when we both started working in the surf media, he as a promising photographer and me as a writer, I hope also promising. We’ve covered a few stories for Surfer Magazine together over the years and in the process have become friends. But it isn’t because Mike’s a great surfer or an accomplished photographer—or that he used to date a Victoria’s Secret model—that his is a household name on the Garden Isle.
For most of the day the swell that has been the talk of the town has been just that—talk. But 500 yards out to sea, the 30-year-old sees something he likes: A head-high wave swells on the horizon, feathers as it approaches shallow water and breaks across the razor-sharp reef. It’s the first sizable wave to hit here in months. Behind it, half a dozen perfect lines of Pacific energy follow; a smile breaks across Mike’s face. He leaps out of the truck, grabs his shortboard, secures a $12,000 metal prosthetic to the place where his right foot used to be and begins the long paddle out to the peak. “Let’s get on it,” he says through his grin. And we do.