Aquatic Ecstasy, Safely

Greg Long at the the 2004-2005 Mavericks Big Wave Surf Contest; Half Moon Bay, March 2, 2005. CREDIT PHOTOGRAPH BY BY ROBERT B. STANTON/WIREIMAGE VIA GETTY

Greg Long at the the 2004-2005 Mavericks Big Wave Surf Contest; Half Moon Bay, March 2, 2005.
CREDIT PHOTOGRAPH BY BY ROBERT B. STANTON/WIREIMAGE VIA GETTY

We are looking forward to the arrival in a few weeks of our colleague Derek, coming to us from Costa Rica, where he grew up at Bosque del Cabo. Which means that, among other things, he is a surfer dude like his dad. Which means, while he knows the thrill of a wave he also knows that safety is essential.

Derek will be leading the Aquatic Ecstasy initiatives at our newly opened Marari Pearl and this blog post below reminds us of one of his key imperatives if there is to be any lasting effect of aquatic ecstasy. Safety. We excerpt the blog post below beginning the quotation after some gruesome description of what waves can do, and some language (the type of salty language that surfer dudes use in the most harrowing situations) that our younger readers do not need to see, but you can read the whole post here):

…With more influential surfers wearing the vests, inflatable technology caught on quickly. Dorian’s Billabong wetsuit, too, found a market among professionals. (Neither the V1 suit nor Patagonia’s vest are available commercially yet.)

“No one’s doing anything in giant surf without flotation devices unless they’re trying to act macho or something,” Hamilton said.

This mind-set has surfers looking to the military, as well as to fishing and other industries, for survival equipment to adapt to their sport. Some surfers are also busy cooking up products on their own. Advancements in wearable technology may also bring inventions such as G.P.S. devices to track a surfer’s location, and monitors that measure a surfer’s vital signs when he or she is trapped underwater.

Just as important is the pro-surfing community’s new emphasis on rescue training and emergency preparedness. In 2011, after a friend drowned while surfing Mavericks, Christensen partnered with another pro, Danilo Couto, to host a C.P.R. course for big-wave surfers on his farm, in Hawaii.

Christensen was fresh off of taking a snowboarding-safety course in Wyoming. “I just saw so many parallels between those two sports, and the dangers,” Christensen said. “You don’t go into the backcountry without a buddy who knows how to use a beacon and a probe and is able to get you out of an avalanche or a dangerous situation. I realized that a lot of the time we go surfing with guys who may not know what to do if you get hurt.”

The C.P.R. course on Christensen’s farm has grown into the Big Wave Safety Summit, a multiday event that takes place twice a year; the most recent was two weeks ago, in Hawaii, with two hundred people attending. In addition to C.P.R., instructors now teach worst-case-scenario workshops, first-aid lessons, ocean survival, and rescue techniques on surfboards and Jet Skis. These are the skills that can come in handy when the safety equipment fails. Last year, Maya Gabeira, of Brazil, was towing into an estimated eighty-foot wave in Nazaré, Portugal, when she wiped out. Her life jacket was ripped off in the maelstrom of the impact zone, and she eventually lost consciousness. Her longtime tow partner, who had attended the safety summit, pulled off a daring Jet Ski rescue that saved her life.

“We realized that we can’t continue to push the sport further until we catch up in safety precautions,” Long said. “As foolish as it may seem, we had never given much thought to it. In the past, if we had one ski out there to look after us, doing water safety, that was a good day.”

Rescue staffs, though, come with their own challenges. Not all surfers have the means to hire their own team, and, because of the ephemeral nature of big waves and how difficult they are to accurately forecast, even those who do have the resources can still have trouble arranging a support crew.

“In the real world, it’s a very hard sport to schedule, because we never have the actual date,” Gabeira said. It can be difficult “to have all of those resources stand by and be able to activate them on a last-minute basis and have it all come together.”

Wave-tracking software has allowed for some advance planning, giving surfers more lead time to implement a plan and gather supplies and manpower—assuming that the waves show up on the right day.

If there’s a downside to this movement, it’s the fear that a piece of safety equipment can give people a dose of false courage. Combine today’s GoPro ethos with the egalitarian spirit of paddle-in surfing, and those waves that a few years ago were ridden only by tow-in surfers are now crowded with ambitious surfers chasing Internet fame and sponsorships, or just a huge rush.

“It definitely makes it a lot less enticing to go surfing when there are sixty to seventy more guys out there,” Dorian, the V1-suit developer, said. “I’m definitely to blame for that. 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.”

Then, of course, there’s the big question: Do lifelines take the thrill out of so-called extreme sports? Nowadays, in big-wave surfing, it’s the opposite—they allow surfers to keep chasing that rush.

“I pushed it as hard as I could for fifteen years,” Long said. “But, eventually, there was that one wave that led to me nearly drowning, and had it not been for all the safety measures that were taken, I wouldn’t be here today.”

One thought on “Aquatic Ecstasy, Safely

  1. Pingback: What A Certain Change Of Scenery Can Do | Raxa Collective

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