Through the remarkable spirit of humility that characterized the Maverick’s surf contest, held Saturday in 15-18-foot surf and perfect weather, an undeniable fact came forth: Greg Long has joined the pantheon of big-wave surfers.
The kingdom starts with Laird Hamilton and filters down through Shane Dorian, Darrick Doerner, Mike Parsons, Peter Mel, Garrett McNamara, Dave Kalama, Brock Little, Ross Clarke-Jones and so many other standouts at Peahi, Teahupo’o, Waimea Bay and the outer reefs of Hawaii. The list seems to grow exponentially each year. Just don’t leave Long out of the argument, and place him very near the top. Just 24 years old, he already has a career’s worth of
In 2003, he won the Red Bull/South Africa contest at Dungeons, one of the most dangerous waves on the planet. In just his second Maverick’s contest, two years later, he finished second. Back at Dungeons in the summer of ’06, he caught a 30-foot bomb that earned him Biggest Wave honors in the Billabong XXL awards. Just last week, he joined Parsons, Brad Gerlach and Grant (Twiggy) Baker in perhaps the biggest challenge ever faced by the big-wave surfing fraternity: a day of 80-plus faces at Cortes Bank, that stark and remote setting where are no landmarks, just levels of fear. Those waves, by consensus, represented the largest yet ridden by man.
And now this: Long’s triumph on an unseasonably warm, sunny day at Maverick’s. It wasn’t a giant day by any means, but Mavs always has its moments, and for Long, it came during the six-man final around 1:45 in the afternoon.
Backtrack just a bit to the ultra-cool scene that unfolded a few moments earlier. Stuck in what appeared to be an endless lull, with the swell subsiding and a high tide peaking at 5-plus feet, Long and his fellow finalists gathered in a circle, joined hands and agreed to split the $57,000 total prize money coming their way. It was Long, Baker, Sterling, Grant Washburn, Evan Slater and Tyler Smith in a gesture that beautifully summarized the spirit of big-wave surfing.
“That kind of thing does an awful lot for our sport,” said longtime Maverick’s standout Zach Wormhoudt. “It shows how we all feel about each other inside. When the waves get big, we’re out their pulling for each other, risking our lives for each other (if jet-ski rescues are necessary). Greg Long really typifies that spirit. He’s got genuine humility.”
If the all-for-one gesture was an offering to the gods, it worked. Before long, the horizon turned black and a thunderous, three-wave set changed the entire complexion of the event. From a few choice waves in ideal conditions, it evolved into something special.
Long caught the first wave, a legitimate 20-footer by the Hawaiian scale, and topped it off by coming through a barrel inside – a 10-point ride. Slater was next, with one of his absurdly deep takeoffs, and he pulled it. Then came Baker, with his patented smooth takeoff, rushing down the face to glory. All of the judges, including veteran Gary Linden, said those three waves turned the heat into one of the most memorable they’d ever worked.
As he addressed the crowd in the post-event ceremony, the
youthful Long could have passed for a senior in high school. He doesn’t have that hard-core presence of a Hamilton, a McNamara or a Titus Kinimaka – until he pulls into the nastiest wave of the day. Long and his older brother, Rusty, natives of San Clemente, have been doing that for years. “I began dreaming of Maverick’s when I was about 14,” said Long, “and for the past few years, I’ve tried to be on it every swell. It’s incredible to win it, but for me, it’s really about being out there with all the guys who surf the place well.”
Some other winners on the day:
Grant Baker: It’s common knowledge that the Santa Cruz crew rules Maverick’s, and they weren’t too happy to see a South African win the Maverick’s contest two years ago. Nothing against Twiggy, a prince of a man, but it was an invasion of their territory. In his first heat, Baker found himself up against Anthony Tashnick, Flea Virostko, Tyler Smith, Mel and Wormhoudt – all from Santa Cruz. He not only won the heat, he did so after wiping out on his first two waves. Baker also won the Green Room award for Best Tube Ride.
Dave Wassell: Just two days before, Wassell was manning the lifeguard tower at Oahu’s Ehukai Beach Park, where he has been a dominant surfer at giant Pipeline and Backdoor for years. As the No. 1 alternate, Wassel knew he had a fair chance to get into the Mavs contest. Sure enough, South Africa’s John Whittle couldn’t make it. Wassell surfed with talent and conviction, finishing second in his first-round heat before narrowly missing an advancement into the final.
Ryan Seelbach: This is a 24-man event in which every competitor, literally, could win. The one outsider, in terms of reputation, might be the lanky Seelbach, a veteran of big days at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach. But now Seelbach has a rep of his own. He won the third heat, finishing ahead of Slater, McNamara and Clarke-Jones, and also surfed well in the semifinals. He caught some of the biggest waves and made nearly all of them.