Scenes from Mick Fanning's near-death encounter at the J-Bay Open
"I just saw fins. I was waiting for the teeth." —Mick Fanning
The Southern California filmmaker is dead set on exploring frozen frontiers
It was a defining moment in modern surf exploration. Alex Gray stood on a rock shelf along the frozen coastline of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, hands raised in rapture as a double-overhead tube reeled down the reef 10 yards in front of him. Gray, along with Josh Mulcoy and Pete Devries, were the first to ever paddle out at the Arctic slab, and for the next four hours, it would be all theirs.
But while Gray and the rest of the crew were threading icy barrels, Ben Weiland was unceremoniously tucked into the cliffside 200 yards above, steadying his tripod against gusts of stinging wind while trying not to disturb the herd of elk grazing nearby. You didn’t see him in the magazine feature or subsequent film, The Cradle of Storms, because he was the one behind the lens. But the discovery of this perfect wave was all his.
“Ben was the backbone of that trip,” says Gray. “He’s obviously so passionate about what he does. As a surfer, I just bring boards and jump on a plane, but he must have put in years of research before we even left.”
Norway, Russia, New Zealand, The Faroe Islands…Weiland’s passport is chock full of stamps from distant shores. His passion for all this cold-water adventure began back in college, in his dorm room, located just a stone’s throw from the reefs of Sunset Cliffs in San Diego. He’d spend hours watching live camera feeds from Alaskan shipping ports while his roommates went surfing. Weiland would watch as northern tempests pulsed in from the Bering Sea, and he’d imagine how these storms might wrap into bays and onto reefs along unexplored coastlines. Weiland hypothesized that he’d find surf in the Aleutian Islands more than five years before he boarded a cargo plane to venture into that Arctic abyss.
Weiland is a rare bird, to say the least. He hardly has the patience to sit in a crowded lineup at his local break, but has no qualms about scouring Google Earth for hours in search of a tapering pointbreak setup in Iceland, Chile, or Antarctica. He’s an avid member of fishing, boating, and scientific forums online, studying photos of foreign harbors or penguin migrations in the off chance he might see waves breaking in the background. He’ll wake at odd hours of the night and traipse through the moonlit, weed-ridden backyard of his ranch-style house in North County, San Diego, to his work shed, just to Skype about long-range swell patterns with a marine biologist in Norway.
“There aren’t a lot of places anymore where you can come across a perfect wave and have it all to yourself,” says Weiland. “Well, maybe there are, but they’re definitely not easy to find. I think that’s a really important part of surfing; that mystery and exploration aspect. I get restless surfing the same breaks at home in California, so I’ll look on a map and find some exotic, far-off, setups and try to put the pieces in place to get there. The potential is addictive.”
Does Weiland have an obsession? Probably. And it’s fueled by a trait not many of us surfers can relate to: he’ll put in the work, the months of planning, the financial risk, and the burden of travel with cameras and palettes of gear to get to some of the most remote and untouched waves in the world…and he won’t surf them once. He doesn’t need to—the discovery is enough of a rush in itself.
That rush has taken Weiland on these journeys to every corner of the Earth, trips where he somehow convinced pro surfers to turn down their typical strike missions to dreamy, warm-water lineups in favor of thick wetsuits and bitter conditions. And every time, they found themselves standing in awe of some perfect, empty wave on an unforgiving coast, wondering to themselves, “How the hell did he find this?”
“To me, a great trip doesn’t hinge on finding good waves,” says Weiland. “Although that might not be the case for the surfers I convince to come along. I’m just excited to enter these extreme environments and experience them for myself. To be able to tell the story of what it took to get there, and what we found. That’s why I do all this."
Here's where to shred this Fourth of July, for America
Whether by bike, car, or plane, it's your patriotic duty to find the best surf you can, for the red, white, and blue. Here's a list of seven hot spots to head for the Fourth. We can't promise swell, nor a lineup to yourself, but we can promise your best bet is early on July 5th. America!
The 17-year World Tour veteran will hang up his singlet after the 2015 season
"I really want it to be my last year in a jersey. There's a lot of joy, and I'm stoked. I'll leave it at that." —C.J. Hobgood
A ruptured pipeline leaked 21,000 gallons of crude oil into the Pacific
As surfers, the last major oil spill to affect our beaches and breaks was 2010's Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which gushed oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days. For scale, the estimated amount of oil leaked in 2010 was 210 millions gallons, so around 10,000 times more than Tuesday's spill in Santa Barbara. Thankfully, this accident was nowhere near as disastrous. That said, any oil into our oceans is bad news.
Armed with a surfboard, a passport, and a camera, Acero shows it can pay off to fly solo
"Sometimes, when the waves are perfect, and there’s nothing and no one around, I do miss being around my brothers and friends in that moment. But I’m also very conscious that it’s a unique experience. It’s a privilege to live in that moment, getting barreled without end, solo and surrounded by nothing but nature. It’s a deep blessing." —Kepa Acero
The Internet opens the gates to surf films featuring John John, Dane, Jordy and more
Thank you, Hulu.
Advice on having an open door for traveling surfers, from the mayor of Teahupoo
Raimana will claim your ride loudest if you get spat out into the channel unscathed, and’ll be the first one there to rub fresh lime on your reef rash if otherwise. He knows better than any how essential traveling is within the world of surfing, and his wisdom inside will help make sure we all keep collecting stamps in our passports.
The rookie Tatiana Weston-Webb, and the returners Sage Erickson and Silvana Lima
The Top 17 has arguably never been in better shape, and these three ladies promise to be a big part of this continued progression of women in the water.
Says Ryan Harris, eco-glasser and shaper from Los Angeles
In an industry with a relentless loyalty to harmful technology, Ryan Harris and his E-Tech factory are a literal breath of fresh air.