How Do They Survive?

I remember a surfer once telling me, "to ride big waves you must first, accept death" Big wave extremeist are breed to accept the absolute worst, but do everything in their power to be prepared for it. Equipment, training, and experience allow them to approach such dangerous situations with total confidence, but ultimately they know that their fate is left to the mercy of a higher power which has taken some of the best surfers who sat right next to them in the same line ups.

From an outsiders perspective they might be seen as balsy hellmen throwing themselves into hopeless oblivion, but big wave surfers consider this dangerous lifestyle a blessing which fulfils their purpose.

Contrary to people who might call them crazy or even vain; Piperider Tamayo Perry describes his endeavours as more of a "calculated risk". He declares his calculations to be based on 80% ocean knowledge and only 20% crazy bug. Tamayo proves this philosophy by the way he surfs pipe; making almost every big barrell he devours.Though you have to factor in his innate ability to ride big barrells, you can see his percision with every decision .Even still, he recognizes that "any time you paddle out to pipeline or somewhere of that caliber you have to the factor death into the equation. I know the consequences" says Tamayo and attributes "the sweet mercy of the good Lord Jesus almighty." as the #1 factor for his survival.

Most kids grow up with a playset in their backyard, Jamie O brien got Pipeline, so you can see why he says the friends and water patrol are what make him feel comfortable in big waves. He won the Hansens Pro going backside in 12-15 ft barrells at Pipe and is on the invitee list to the Eddie Aikau, but at 20 years old, Jamie O Brien says "i play a safe roll" clarifying that "Im not just like a maddog chassing after the biggest waves, I go on the nice clean waves, if its late, i can handle it." He also likes to just do his own deal out there and doesnt paddle for certain waves. Even if they look like perfect 10 footers and everyone is calling him into it, he at times might still just paddle over it and catch the next one. Jamie has to balance his passion for riding big waves with his competitive surfing on tour, knowing that a bad injury could cost him his future. Still he considers riding big waves to be "more of like a mind thing" and says "dont be scared, the more you hesitate the more your gonna get hurt, just be commited for what the wave has to take. Pretty soon youll be laughing when 10 ftrs break on your head, youll be like laughin, next thing you know its like 12 footers and your like screaming, like messin around, you try and make it so your really relaxed out there"."The scariest part is when your on the beach and once you get out there its all fun" and fun is truely what drives him in all aspects of surfing.
Most parents eventually find out what their kids are experimenting with in elementary school, for Marc Healy's parents , the secret was sneaking out to huge Pipe. No one in this era will ever forget watching such a small boy paddle out into such huge waves. On the same token Marc learned about big waves right alongside reading, writing and arithmetic so it is very appropriate when he says "it takes knowledge and its definitely a learning curve", but decifers that if your not the type of person who can "just go against what your brain is telling you to do" you will at some point "hit a wall" which prevents you from going to the next level. His pier group is one of the things that helped him to get from one level to the next. One of those piers is Jamie Stearling who he says "will never pull back" and they push each other in a way that is the root of what makes surfing big waves so much fun.
Now at only 22, Marc has used this learning curve to experiment with every avenue of big wave riding. He assesses that the variety of extreme surf on the northshore "takes like a different set of skills and different approaches" . From getting enough guts to whip around for a wave, to making the drop, to the really hard bottom, Marc describes Pipeline as "a chain of events that you have to do in a split second, that you have to get used to doing without any hesitation or thought" At Waimea, "everyone usually gets to syked out and paddles themselves out of position you kinda just gotta just hold your ground and just go when it happens." "Towing in is pretty different it elimates a lot of that stuff" ,says Marc "its actually really easy",until you get to places like Jaws where "after you let go of that rope it goes from real easy to real hard, you cant have a defeatist attitude you have to try to make it no matter what." While he considers "confidence as the most important tool keeping him from death and injury he knows that "the ocean is alot stronger than anyone no matter how confident you are" He then reflects to a very serious situation he had a Jaws this winter where a 25 ft lip hit him on his head and blew out his ear drum leaving him totally disoriented and unable to see swim or even crawl in a straight line. "Complications" like this are what Marc considers to be the scariest or most dangerous things in big waves. He discusses how if your own board knocks you out, or you just blow your head up on the bottom at Pipeline it doesnt matter how long you can hold your breath or anything" He then makes the pont that "it aint all me, Gods keeping me safe" In these situations Marc says "I just dont worry about it, I let God do whatever he wants to do with me." He is comfortable with the idea that death means "hangin out with God in paradise" and is comfortable with the philosophy that "I'm not going to die until its my time anyways"

36 year old Garrett Macnamara once had this youthful philosophy that it was okay to dye doing what you love, but having a wife and two kids has given him a whole different perpective,"I couldnt stand them growing up without a father, so I do everything in my power to make sure that doesnt happen" When asked how he survives he answers by telling you "not to drive a car" because nobody has died towing into giant waves yet and people die in cars everyday. He contributes some of this irie irony to fact that until now the guys doing it have been at the top of their game. His advice to newcomers is that they shouldnt tow until they have gone out to a place like Waimea, on a 20 ft day, let go of there board in the impact zone and swam in."If you make it to the beach, and thats if, because you might not survive that, then think about it again because your going to face a much worse situation that that sooner or later" Such situations are common at places like jaws where "instead of disapating, the power, it just chases the wave and trys to eat you the whole time and then the power roles all the way to the rocks so your under water forever. To overcome these types of situations you must have a certain :state of mind" says Garrett. "You have to be able to relax in a life threatening situation, if you panic your dead." The way he achieves this type of confidence is through rigourous training such as running with 100 pound rocks 40 ft under the surface and surfing big waves without a leash, both which give him strength needed and ability to hold his breath for 3 minutes 20 sec. Most importantly, he stresses that "youve got to want to ride these big waves and if you dont want it, your not going to survive". No one seems to want these big waves more than Garrett who brings money to the table challenging "any man, any time anywhere" but on the same token renounces the challenge to ever compete against any wave. "I will complement a wave to the best of my ability" says Garrett. Finally he rebukes those who consider his faith in God as a false sense of security, after hes done his responsibility as a surfer and a person he lets God step in and take control of the rest.

Surfers of such caliber can take a glimpse at the ocean on any given day and tell you more than a professor of oceanography, here are some great tips to begin developing them on their own.
1. understanding a buoy reports, maps, wham charts and surf forecasts can help extremeist to get to the biggest wave at the best time however it can also help you know when to get away from the biggest wave. The best way to learn these skills are by checking the reports every day along with the oceans conditions
2. tides can cause serges in the swell. a rising tides often brings the incoming swell
3. know the wind and whether conditions for the day. strange whether patterns can cause unusal currents or poor surfing conditions
4. strong currents can be identified by surfers who are constantly paddling in the line up.
5, make sure to determine your entrance and exit before you paddle out
6. find line ups and pay attention
7. watch other surfers who are locals to that particular break
8. when trying to progress to a new level or different surf spot give yourself all the time you need in case a bad situation takes place. dont surf too close to dark or near conditions which might become beyond your limitations
9.. if there is noone out at a place thats usually crowded their is usually a reason for that
10.surfing a rising swell can be really tricky with waves coming over the top of each other or rouge sets which can leave you caught in the worst spot. it is better to wait until the swell is on the decline. again we know this through buoy reports
11. If you are still totally in the dark, make sure to ask lifeguards about the conditions for the day
12. dont get pressured into it or do it for the wrong reasons

by Lane Davey