Surfing big waves is not for everyone. For those who do choose to tread this path the learning curve is steep, with knowledge passed down only to those proven worthy.
Offering a glimpse into the world of the big wave rider, longtime contributor Dougal Paterson reflects on these blue bloods and what it takes to hone your blade, ready for the dragon's lair.
Supertubes was 10-12ft.
The waves were perfect and through a minor act of God, I had made it to the backline.
Hawaiian hellmen, Brock Little and soon to be Eddie Aikau winner Noah Johnson, were out there too.
It was my first time watching blue blooded big wave riders in real life.
I was utterly astounded at their mastery in that salt water realm.
It’s been nearly 25 years and I can still feel the sensation of those waves beneath my feet, like a behemoth serpent uncoiling itself as I balanced on it’s back.
First and foremost, riding waves upwards of 15 feet is about learning how to fall… well.
I learned early on that if I fell well, then I wouldn’t get hurt. Falling well saves energy which allows you to hold your breathe for longer. The difference between cartwheeling down the face and pulling all your limbs into a cannonball position…has to be experienced to be appreciated.
Secondly. Riding big waves is about learning from those who have already achieved mastery. Big wave surfing channels the age old tradition where the wisdom of the elders is passed on to the most worthy. This is why it can be hard to get around the blue bloods in the formative stages of your development. You have to earn the right to be mentored.
Thirdly. Big wave riding is an individual sport. However staying alive in big waves, is a team sport. Learn CPR before you tackle big waves. Never, ever surf big waves alone. Surf alone, die alone.
Fourth, practice in small waves. Ride a long board in small waves and paddle your gun on flat days. You need to be extremely comfortable on your blade by the time you enter the dragons lair. That said, I’ve seen countless good surfers killing it in bigger waves until they take a heavy beating and never go back again.
Fitness is only 5th on my list because people use it as an excuse NOT to ride big waves. They are always waiting for that day when they are “fit enough.” That day never comes. Fitness is vital, but it’s not what makes a blue blood.
I have mentored a handful of guys over the years. Fabian Campagnolo is one of them.
He was only 17 when he took his first 20 foot wave on the head.
I knew that if he was able to paddle back out again, then his blood would soon start to run blue.
He paddled back out laughing.
Words by Dougal Paterson
Images in order of appearance:
Kim Bouchier, Caleb Bjergfelt & Nick Bothma