Giant, Angry, Moving Mountains
December 11, 2007 8:58 AM   Subscribe

Maverick's, (previously: 1, 2, 3) the legendary birthplace of big-wave surfing, saw one of its biggest, scariest days ever one week ago today. While I sat at a desk, the pros and the stone crazy were cheating death, not once, but twice on fog-shrouded, moving mountains. All in a day's work.
posted by whahappen?! (29 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
"Gnarly, dude. Bummer."

Did you say "one week" or "two decades"?
posted by DU at 9:06 AM on December 11, 2007

I wish someone would say I cheated death during my commute to work this morning. For all I know, I did.
posted by agregoli at 9:13 AM on December 11, 2007

Oh, the irony that the season didn't officially start until the 7th!

When I was little, my mom used to take me to see the competitions on the North Shore (Oahu) - Sunset, Pipeline, like that. Us kids would bodysurf close in, while the board surfers were farther out getting their clocks cleaned. I can hardly imagine what it's like in these NorCal waters - it's so cold! And now I look at 70s footage of the surfers at Sunset beach, and at the size of the waves breaking right there on the beach, and I think, I was a crazy little kid. We all were, I guess, and our parents didn't think it was weird to let us go into such insane surf. It wasn't a good day until you'd been washing machined by a couple of waves and ended up with sand in places where sand shouldn't be, and your mom gave you money to go get shave ice from the shave ice truck.
posted by rtha at 9:14 AM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Surfers have always talked that way. It was the rest of the world that co-opted the speech.
posted by tkchrist at 9:16 AM on December 11, 2007 [2 favorites]


As someone who really hates it when my fight-or-flight reaction kicks in, because it's generally a signal of danger, I cannot fathom the sheer level of adrenaline these guys must live on.

That is just flat out amazing. What amazes me is that one could stay balanced on a teeny splinter of wood with cojones that big...
posted by dejah420 at 9:21 AM on December 11, 2007

That is Awesome. The two times I have tried to learn to surf have been humbling in the extreme. (third time is the charm for sure) This stuff just blows my mind.
posted by MNDZ at 9:27 AM on December 11, 2007

Coming from Northeast Florida, where we're stoked to get (and can barely handle) 10-15 foot hurricane swell twice a year, I can safely say that I will never have the stones to attempt anything even approaching the insanity of Maverick's. But God how I love to watch others do it.

Great post.
posted by saladin at 9:28 AM on December 11, 2007

I hate my fat-assed life.
posted by brautigan at 9:29 AM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've surfed plenty of really big days, but this stuff where the goal is simply to survive the wave is beyond me - I can't imagine it being any fun. Great video though.
posted by blaneyphoto at 9:30 AM on December 11, 2007

Do you have to know how to swim?
posted by notreally at 9:36 AM on December 11, 2007

The Harvey Wallbanger is supposedly named after a surfer named Harvey. The drink was invented bu Donato “Duke” Antone, a Hollywood legend, and Harvey was drowning his sorrows after wiping out in a match at Duke's Hollywood bar, The Blackwatch. After a few of them, Harvey got up to leave, and staggered into a few walls on his way out.

I like this story because it combines some of my favorite things into one tale: surfers, Hollywood, and cocktails. It's like there's a story about ninjas, porn, and soul music, and that's how the lawn mower was invented.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:47 AM on December 11, 2007 [5 favorites]

My surf mantra, "Fear is fun ... terror is just stupid."

LOL ... Do you have to know how to swim? ... Well, you can always walk back to shore if you can hold your breath that long.

Hawai'i surfers look at Mavericks and say, Mark Foo
posted by Surfurrus at 9:49 AM on December 11, 2007

Nobody even hanged ten. What a bunch of pussies.
posted by wsg at 10:17 AM on December 11, 2007

I think I cheated death answering email this morning, but I'm not sure. In Utah, Maverick is the name of a gas station chain, making this post a little surreal.

In sadder news, famous surfer Peter Davi died at Maverick recently.
posted by mecran01 at 10:35 AM on December 11, 2007

Apparently Flea was one of the surfers - is that the RHCP Flea? I know he surfs.

Apologies if there's some uber-famous OTHER surfer Flea, it's not really my scene (dude).
posted by NeonSurge at 10:37 AM on December 11, 2007

DU - amusing. You seem unaware, however, that the surfers out there that day were probably more 'stoked' than 'bummed' about the conditions. They live to ride the scariest shit there is. No one surfed it like that two decades ago.

mecran01 - actually, davi died at a spot called "ghost trees" which is south of maverick's, but just as dangerous when the swell gets as big as its been recently, especially when paddling out without a jetski or tow partner, which is apparently what he was doing.
posted by whahappen?! at 10:57 AM on December 11, 2007

When I lived in Hawaii I thought I would learn how to surf by going to Pipeline and paddling out.

Fourteen years later, I'm still picking sand out of my ears.
posted by mullingitover at 11:03 AM on December 11, 2007

I love watching the surfers around here. I missed last week, but we did get a piece of that big swell and had some 15' peaks. That SF Gate article was great, and scary too.

And DU, probably every last surfer in this coverage has been surfing from 20 years or more. They really do talk in wall-to-wall lingo. Half the men in my office surf, and every day they're talking about "Chunky glassy burger fat hook rumblers bomb the lane bake goofy hodad."
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:04 AM on December 11, 2007

Davi drowned down in Pebble Beach.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:05 AM on December 11, 2007

Okay, so the local chatter is Flea's a big old cokehead. Which explains a lot.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:16 AM on December 11, 2007

Crazy cool.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:49 AM on December 11, 2007

It's funny how all of the photos in the last-linked SFGate article are devoted to Flea's wipeouts. It's almost like covering NASCAR and only writing about the crashes. That seems to be the morbid fascination with big waves: facing death and leaving with either an unscathed body or a dead one on the shore.

Every surfer needs to get held under water for a few seconds by a wave occasionally, if just to remember who's boss. IMHO, the whole point of the endeavor is to leave the modern cocoons of comfort in order to "cooperate" with an uncontrollable force. Carefully observe, trust your instincts and lower brain in conjunction with higher level planning, and you might be able to catch just the right edge of this uncaring phenomenon for a 2-60 second ride. Get in the way, and it will fuck you. Without that element of powerlessness and risk in the face of a dynamic and complex force, the experience would merely be a shorter version of skiing.

Some people get upset when surfers require tow-ins by jet-skis, probably because it changes this experience from one for the entire mind-body into one that seems to be more mental. It's no longer you and the ocean it's you, your machines, and the ocean, and that's not as full of an experience. But when I look at Flea staring up at imminent doom, meaning that he's going to spend the next 30 seconds of his life doing everything he can just to figure out which direction is up with 30-60 feet of water between him and his next breath, I have to realize that this is a spiritually pure experience. The first time I heard somebody talk about Flea the rumor was that he intentionally flubbed his first 20 foot wave at a competition in Hawaii. He is a beast that will intentionally wipe out, just to get back the perspective that surfing gives to a soul, and when the perspective is as big as these waves, a mere jet ski is a trifle. That gained perspective lets him take the necessary risks with the appropriate amount of fear and respect. The big waves are about the wipe outs, and here is a man that has figured that out, and learned to conquer not the waves, but the powerlessness.

Note: I don't think everybody thinks of surfing this way, but this constructed narrative is the only thing that could possibly get me out of my warm bed and into near freezing water at 6:00 AM. Dolphins, sea otters, and heart-break-beautiful sunrises help, but it's not enough.
posted by Llama-Lime at 12:27 PM on December 11, 2007 [6 favorites]

Hella gnar, brah. Way overhead and outside. Peaky.

Back when I used to surf regularly and before I started smoking I knew I could hold my breath for a long, long time, but I never was sure how long.

So, one warm day in a warm, heated pool I decided to find out. Deadman's float, mild hyperventalition for pre-breathing, no bottled oxygen in prebreathing - 5 minutes and 50 seconds.

Now, there's no way I could do that in the ocean. The pool was about half a degree off of body temp. I'd been body-surfing places like the Wedge at the time, which is a killer, killer break known for snapping necks and drowning people. I was doing a deadman's float in the pool for the purposes of conserving oxygen, and I was laser-focused on conserving every erg of movement and energy to help conserve that oxygen.

So, it can be done. Underwater times of 2-3 minutes for an accomplished surfer is pretty standard, even while exerting a lot of energy. And really, it's an essential skill considering how often surfers get held under by churning water.
posted by loquacious at 1:04 PM on December 11, 2007

FYI, Flea is this guy, NOT RHCPs "Flea"
posted by iamkimiam at 3:53 PM on December 11, 2007

I was able to make it down to the cliff up on Pillar Point to watch this, but unfortunately, it was way foggy, and the view was nonexistent from the shore.

A few times the fog lifted a little, and things cleared out, we could see that it was massive, even by Maverick's standards. One wave was 50 feet if it was a foot high, but came to find out, from looking at the shots taken from the boats & skis out in the channel that the big ones were approaching 70.

To put things even more into perspective, I was reading a report of a fishing boat that had the Coast Guard choppers out at the same time. Seems the thing sunk somewhere between Pillar Point and the south end of Half Moon Bay.

The same seas that these guys were surfing for fun sunk a fishing boat.
posted by Relay at 4:03 PM on December 11, 2007

Heard that too AV.

It's neither here nor there, but Flea's dad was my high school ceramics teacher. He was a sweet old surf dude and very proud of his son. As I recall, he was also very liberal in answering that age old question: is it art or is it a bong?

The waves were crazy last week and the surfers even crazier. I heard reports of guys coming up from the cliffs with broken bones jutting through their wetsuits. I opted to stay warm and dry watching Endless Summer II.
posted by annaramma at 4:12 PM on December 11, 2007

Any reason why they don't strap on a teeny-tiny airtank for when they get stuck under? They're already getting towed around on jetskis so I wouldn't buy the 'purist' argument. Just curious is all...
posted by imaswinger at 4:20 PM on December 11, 2007

Any reason why they don't strap on a teeny-tiny airtank for when they get stuck under? They're already getting towed around on jetskis so I wouldn't buy the 'purist' argument. Just curious is all...
posted by imaswinger at 4:20 PM

Surfing doesn't work like that. Especially at Mavericks, which has bathometry like Hell's gate, rocks and hooks for leashes and limbs to wrap around. Not to mention that each cubic meter of water weighs roughly 1 ton.

I personally feel that it doesn't really matter how you get into it, once you're holding onto the belly of a monster like that, all purity arguments go out the window.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:19 PM on December 11, 2007

Especially at Mavericks, which has bathometry like Hell's gate, rocks and hooks for leashes and limbs to wrap around.
Don't forget about the occasional Great White shark attack too. Fun place, huh?
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:17 AM on December 12, 2007

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