Brendan’s Blog – Go Go Go!

Every surfer who has fallen in love with the sport and done it regularly for a few years learns the feeling. Having to really dig hard for a wave, with one hundred percent commitment, confident that you can catch this relative monster with their modified plank. Engage, match, then supercede the speed of the aquademon. And then proceed to make lovely slices upon it’s now-beautiful face.

Relative to the different sport of big-wave surfing, where the consequences are much larger than I have, or will ever, experience, I am being extremely hyperbolic. My comfort zone flirts with double-overhead. On a clean day, once you make one drop and turn, the subsequent rides seem much easier, and you then have the confidence to perform manouvers conservatively on the face, But it takes a strong drive to make you take the plunge. Not literally though. A straight drop into the water, resulting from a failed take-off, turns in to a long hold down. For the uninitiated, panic sets in pretty quickly, and the twelve seconds you spend getting thrashed underwater feels like a small eternity. Just when you think you are free and take a few strokes upwards, the beast sucks you in for one more cycle around.

Three years ago my Aussie friend Tim and I were out at Riyuewan. On one of those rare occasions where the rock bottom formation between Ladies and Ghosties throws hard and fast. It was clean, peeling perfectly with 8-10 foot faces. Tim was all over it, grabbing three good ones before I had even paddled for one. It was obvious I was apprehensive. So Tim said the next one was mine, and that he would talk me on to it. I sat nervously for a minute  until there was a clear bump – actually two or three clear bumps – a good one hundred meters away on the horizon. I sat even more nervously for the next ten seconds, before it was time to get in position. Tim told me to let the first one go. The second one came through, and Tim talked me on to it. His instructions were useful, but the reason it worked is because there was no way I could pull back on a wave that was being singled out for me.  I took the few extra strokes I truly needed, locked in, stood up, and dropped in.

Looking at this photo now, I am happy knowing that a few years later I have become comfortable surfing waves a bit larger than this. Purely from experience. From continuing to push on to larger waves.

We took a crew up to Riyuewan on Saturday. A journalist, his wife, a local resort GM, his son, Darci, and me. I gave Paul a lesson at Ladies, swimming out alongside with him and pushing him on to set waves. Darci came out while Nick shot her from the beach. A Wen was out for a bit, sitting on the boil and getting a ton of waves. Justin came out on one of our 9’10s. He was paddling hard for set waves, but repeatedly stood up to early, lost speed and came to a stop while the wave sped on underneath him. He was physically ready to catch a set wave, but mentally he couldn’t pull the trigger. After Paul had caught his last one in before lunch, I started to swim in. I was about to try and sprint past the impact zone during a lull, but decided instead to turn around and swim back out. I swam over to Justin and said “I’m going to help you on to one.”

It’s tough to see much of the horizon from the degree of a bobbing swimmers head, plus I had lost a contact a half hour earlier from offshore spray splashing it out. But I could still see undeniably a set on the horizon. “Something is coming. I’m going to push you on to the right one.” We let the first two go, then I told Justin to start paddling.

What Justin had been missing before on his previous attempts was that final push. When you paddle on to a wave of size and it starts to take shape, the only thing you can see is the steep drop you are careening towards. The overwhelming instinct is to stand up; to assume a safer position. But it isn’t time yet. There are still four to eight more strokes you must make. Only then will you have caught the wave, and can stand up to make the drop. Empathetically, I knew what Justin needed.

Justin took deep strokes, and I placed my right hand on the back of his board and started kicking along as the wave reached us. I pushed with all my might as Justin continued paddling. The synchronized surge in speed from my push and the wave sent Justin down the face. I watched from behind the wave. A few seconds went by, and saw no surfboard surface (the first sign of a failed take-off, as the board will bounce to the surface before the wipeout victim). I still saw nothing as I dove under the next set wave. I came up, and saw Justin’s head, well down the line from where he took off. He pulled off the wave, turned around, and gave me a huge grin before he fell in to the water.