During the last days and weeks Nazaré blew our minds once again. Nazaré this tiny little village in Portugal where records are broken constantly when it comes to waves…huge waves up to 100 ft. It almost seems little big wave surfing has become something ordinary. Even 6-year old groms surf triple overhead waves and the line up from waves as massive as Jaws or Mavericks are over-crowded every time a swell enters.
Results that some of the most respected big wave surfer won’t come close to life jackets and jet ski rescue teams because it doesn´t sound “hardcore” enough to them.
Greg Long, one of the best big wave surfers worldwide suffered a massive wipe out 2 years ago when he paddled a 50ft wave in southern California. He was wearing a life west that unfortunately failed. When he tried to get to the surface two more waves came down on him. When he finally reached the surface he was more dead than alive. Drifting face downwards a 3 men rescue team rescued him from the have surf.
Despite this shocking news it seems surprising that in the last 20 years less than 10 big wave surfers drowned. Horrifying near-death experiences suffered indeed quite a few.
Big wave surfing exists since the 1950ies when pioneers had no protection at all. During the 90ies Liard Hamilton made big wave surfing popular using the tow-in technique. But since tow-in surfers are strapped on to their boards and standing it is not the same wearing a life vest than paddling with a life vest. During the last years surfers refused more and more tow-in and returned to a more unspoiled surfing.
Surfers themselves worked with their sponsors to invent new technologies. To find the surfers in the masses of water they are thinking about GPS solutions.
When in 2011 a friend of Christensen nearly drowned in Mavericks he started giving first aid and rescue classes on his farm in Hawaii. Last time about 200 surfers took part. The course includes worst-case scenarios, survival strategies and rescue techniques with jet ski and surfboards.
Last year Maya Gabeira from Brazil suffered a horrible wipe in Nazaré surfing a 80 ft wave. Due to the impact her life vest tore off. She lost consciousness. Her longtime tow-in partner, who took exactly this safety course, could manage to rescue her with his jet ski.
But the real danger of this seems to be that this piece of safety-equipment in combination with the nowadays GoPro ethos (the idea that everybody can to everything and by doing so becomes famous on youTube) leads ambitious hobby-surfers to surf waves they never would have surfed and would have feared before.
Dorian says: “It definitely makes it a lot less enticing to go surfing when there are sixty to seventy more guys out there,” and furthers “There’s no doubt that the suit has enabled people who would’ve never been out there in the first place to feel comfortable paddling out at places like Jaws”—in Maui—“or Mavericks.”