It’s always tough to put big wave surfing into perspective when you’re not blessed with balls the size of cantaloupes. When your frame of reference only stretches to the ten-foot mark, at a push, it’s impossible for your mind to process the stimuli. Fifteen-foot, twenty-foot, thirty-foot… The numbers take on an abstruseness that exists in the periphery of the non-participant’s understanding.
That’s why watching an event like the Red Bull Big Wave Africa is like watching a crazy anime flick. One where all the heroes die in the end. When you see Mark Healey, the newcomer who’s been charging with reckless abandon, in suspended animation, board clear out of the water, floating on a pocket of air, framed by the slate gray arc of a pitching dragon, you want to believe it’s the whim of a twisted cartoonist. When you see him get utterly obliterated at the bottom and expect him to emerge as an amorphous puddle of human tissue, melting into the torn, glass remains of the gun he borrowed from Jamie Sterling, that’s when you start to wonder, is it like dropping an aquatic Acme anvil on his head?
And when your lower mandible starts tickling your ankles as you see Greg Long drawing a high line, quietly mapping his way through what he will later call the “the biggest barrel I’ve ever ridden in my life by far,” you start to understand how absurd it all is. How, like quantum physics, you’ll never fully appreciate the power and the beauty, unless you truly understand.
Speak to king Twiggy after he’s stepped off the podium, after seeing him dwarfed by those frightening faces, listen to the clamor of his voice as he says, “Getting mowed down by 25-foot waves is no fun for anyone.” You can practically hear his pulse forcing the words to reverberate. Ask local sasquatch-hunter, Mike Schlebach, about having his arm ripped out if its socket, or speak to Jason Ribbink about getting the daylights knocked out of him by a raging mass of water.
Listen to Greg Long recounting his trip through the Alpestrine depths of his hell barrel, hear him say, “That was probably the best wave of my life. I’ve ridden bigger waves and paddled into later, steeper drops, but it’s not everyday you find a barrel like that on however big a wave that was. It felt like it was probably close to 20-feet when I was dropping in.”
That’s when it clicks: these characters are blood and bone. Nothing fictitious about them; just a crew of surfers who allow themselves to access a realm few of us even want to acknowledge.
DRAGON BITS AND PIECES
Location: Dungeons Reef, Hout Bay, Cape Town, South Africa
Occupational Hazards: Sharks, shifting rogue sets.
Winner: Grant “Twiggy” Baker
Dragon Slayer Extraordinaire: Greg Long, the Pit Monster
Breakages: An estimated 30 boards were snapped like cheap plastic spoons during Friday’s practice session and Saturday’s main event
Emergency Ward Victims: Jason Ribbink (concussed), Mike Schlebach (dislocated shoulder), Mark Healey (perforated ear drum and possible rib injury)
“I have no hesitation is saying that these are probably the biggest waves we’ve paddled into in a big wave event that I’ve taken part in. Mavericks, the year Twiggy won, was probably comparable, but today there were waves that were pushing the realm of paddle surfing.” – Greg Long
“I didn’t fly three days to pull back.” – Mark Healey