A Big-Wave Safety Solution

posted by / Blogs, Editorial / March 24, 2011

Out of Office Reply is Associate Editor Taylor Paul’s column on surf travel, big waves, and other manly bits

A wave this villainous needs some superheroes on retainer. Photo: Nate Lawrence


Out of Office Reply

We’ve seen one and a half deaths at Maverick’s this year. In January, Jacob Trette died and was resuscitated by fast-acting photographer Russel Ord. And last week Sion Milosky drowned, slipping below the radar of the few photographers and videographers who were in the water on Personal Water Crafts (PWCs).

Jacob’s accident and Russel’s subsequent Ski-assisted rescue reignited the fight to legalize PWCs at Maverick’s. This is a positive step, because PWCs are the single greatest safety net available to big-wave surfers. Actually, that’s a lie. QUALIFIED and TRAINED rescuers on PWCs are the greatest safety net. “Qualified and trained” is an important distinction because a photog or spectator on a Ski in the channel shouldn’t be expected to enter the pit at Maverick’s to rescue somebody. And they shouldn’t go in there, at risk of adding another victim and a 600-pound craft to an already volatile equation. But a competent crew on Skis watching the lineup, as they would at a big-wave contest, might be just what we need.

After Sion’s death, I talked with an emotional Maya Gabeira. She told me, through red eyes and a cracking voice, that “If the sport is going to grow and keep getting pushed as hard as it’s being pushed, then the sponsors need to be right there growing with it. They need to have guys out there watching their guys’ backs. You look at other sports that are this dangerous, like NASCAR or something, and they have so many people there to help if something goes wrong.”

Frank Quirarte, veteran Maverick’s photographer and water rescuer, elaborated on Maya’s idea. In a response to an email I wrote him asking what, if any, changes were being made to the PWC ban at Maverick’s, Frank said this:


“There’s been no progress made yet. It took eight years to change that law. It’s going to be a long time to even start considering overturning it. My thoughts, instead of trying to change the law, is to find a way we could work under it. This is no time to stand on top of a soapbox and start pointing fingers. The fact is, I was out there all day and I made two rescues. That’s it. Nathan [Fletcher], Curt [Myers] and I went in around six-ish. Twenty minutes later he was gone…we could have made that rescue blindfolded and started resuscitation efforts instantly, and with my radio I could have had rescue on the beach waiting for us. It was just simply bad luck.

My idea is to approach the industry since the state [of California] is broke. We have two Skis and all the gear sitting on the ready. We have a pool of qualified, seasoned operators — Tim West, [Vince] Broglio, [Adam] Replogle, Jeff Kafka, [Jeff] Clark and myself — on standby to cover every swell. We manage it just as we manage the contest team. There’s a small day rate paid to the guys to offset a day taken off work, etc. You get the idea. Wouldn’t be that much money and would be a great investment for the industry.”


Wow. How easy would that be? Big swell coming. Mark Healey and Rusty Long are going surf Maverick’s on Thursday. They contact Frank Quirarte and ask for a couple of support Skis. Healey and Rusty pay the rescuers $175 each and then submit their receipts to Quiksilver for reimbursement. Quiksilver is happy to pay, as any sponsor would be, because these guys are keeping its riders safe.

There would be issues, naturally. Do the rescuers just watch the riders who paid them, or the whole lineup? Healey wouldn’t want to go through the rinse because his rescuer is helping some random who fell on the wave before. And too many people paying for too many Skis would clog the lineups with PWCs all looking out for “their guy,” making things even more dangerous.

Maybe companies could trade off seasons. “The 2011/2012 Big-Wave Season, brought to you by Volcom.” And Volcom would dedicate $10,000 that year to safety during the biggest swells. Have it all worked out with Quirarte and his boys at Maverick’s (and rescue crews at other breaks that would inevitably emerge), agreeing that when the buoys got X feet at Y seconds, they were to be out there helping whoever was in trouble. The sponsoring company would sticker-up the PWCs, save some lives, and even get some goodwill out of the deal. The next year Quiksilver foots the bill. The next Billabong. The next… —Taylor Paul


Taylor Paul is SURFING’s Associate Editor and, since he and his friends are the guys who might need rescuing out at Mav’s someday, he really hopes the right person reads this post.



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  • Greg

    great solution, great article…

  • chuck

    logic raises it’s ugly head! this makes so much sense that most of those who are in a position to make it happen will just say NO way…..

  • Ed

    Thanks for the excellent column, you might also want to take a look at an interview with Matt Krizan that I put on YouTube. It describes Jacob’s rescue at the most crucial moments. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ubAi6rCZwgw

  • munga barry

    how about – if you think you’ll be at risk don’t paddle out

  • Jeremy Hall

    When money and laws become issues to save someones life, then there
    is something wrong. Im sure these last couple of incidents will not be the last.
    With the growing numbers coming into big wave surfing, it only makes since to have some kind of rescue in place at any and all events !!!
    Theres big money in these events , its a shame that a surfer will try and win 50,000 dollars to ride a giant wave and not have the proper support team to hold the event.

  • Chongo

    Munga, your words are foolish. Think about those who have passed away surfing Mavs. They were some of the surfing’s best big wave riders.

  • AEgir

    At night when I close my eyes I see Sion laying on the sand. NOAA does nothing as millions of gallons of sewage are dumped into the bay a year. T-shirt and energy drink companies do nothing to protect their athletes at Mavs. I say f&@k NOAA violate the ban.

    Big Daddy spotting from the cliff. Frankie or Jeff on a ski in the bowl. The t-shirt companies fund the fines and the wages. 20 days a year at $1000 a day is only $20K.

    If the companies don’t wanna pay. Let’s go “middle east” on’em, on their boyz, on their clothes, with their drinks, on their storez.

    From this day forth, if you paddle out as a named guy or with a Volcom, Billabong, Quiksilver, Ripcurl, Monster Energy, Red Bull logo on your board and there is no paid water patrol I will send you in.

    Ye Be Warned


  • Alex

    Problem with this plan is that it comes from an egomaniacal photographer who thinks he’s one of the Maverick’s surfers. Quit going to that nutjob when it comes to Maverick’s and talk to the actual surfers.

  • says says says says says

    thumbs up for munga.

  • Dale

    Sounds more like Frank is trying to add some income to the minimum wage he makes by choice, and lack of intelligence. The surfers can pay for it themselves, not everything is the sponsors responsibility. NASCAR teams take care of themselves and NASCAR provides the rescuers, not their sponsors.

    Surfers need to figure out they are a business, their sponsors aren’t their nannies. They pay for logo placement, not a lifetime of welfare and ass wiping. Case in point: AI killed himself, not Billabong or anyone else as so many complained. He was an adult. Stop trying to lay the responsibility on everyone else, you surf Mavs and it’s on YOU.

    This scheme would also open the door to lawsuits against any company sponsoring the rescuers if they failed to act or acted ineptly.

  • Dustin

    Just rock that new airvest…..solved

  • Douglas Jason Photo

    Great Idea!

    Safety should have always been a dominant factor.

    Maybe name it after Sion.


  • sam

    yeah, I’m sure the companies will want to take on that liability. Big wave surfing’s dangerous. If you don’t want to die, don’t surf 30′ Mavs. Problem solved. Seriously, other than the guys making money off this, who cares if “the sport of big wave surfing” continues to grow?

  • John

    just overturn the law, it was passed with no proven research anyways just NOAA butting into lives of people having fun. Don’t just allow ski’s at Mavricks, allow them everywhere. Just cause guys have sponsors and everyone has their eyes on it, there are many places away from paddle surfers we should be able to use. I don’t see how NOAA claims the monterey bay as their area!! Make permits for everyone!!

  • Master P

    Some of you commenters are harsh. It’s easy to take the “if ya can’t take the heat get out the kitchen” approach to big wave surfing (especially whist jockeying your desk chair), but remember that someone just died while surfing. How about a little compassion, dude. It’s reasonable of this editor to help find a way to prevent that from happening. Lifeguards, whether on the beaches of Cocoa or the channels of Mavericks, are clearly a solution. And, there is no liability issue for suppliers of boardshorts or energy drinks. Surf companies have sponsored beach patrols and lifeguards for years… for example, Rusty Surf Shop sponsors Del Mar, Calif. Lifeguards. People have died and been injured on Del Mar Beaches. That innocent little Rusty Surf Shop has never once been sued. It’s called sponsorship–read a book. The idea for industry to support this dangerous surfing activity is good, and it is completely feasible for surf companies to do so, both fiscally and in terms of sheer doin-what-can-be-done to help surfers.

  • concerned surfer

    Makes me wonder where surfing is going? Its getting pretty weird.

  • Mike Jones

    This is what happens when regulations start imposing laws on our sport, many years went by since the Mark foo incident without a single death. There were enough ski’s in the water to make sure someone had everyone’s back. Now with the marine sanctuary law, ski’s are scarce and the safety net has been pulled. As an avid big wave photographer, I know that when someone takes a hard one on the head, everyone looks around to see who is available to make sure that guy is ok. The answer is not paying water patrol, the answer is putting that money into lifting the ban, so that we can get back to our sport in a functional and safe way sans the bureaucracy. *Billions of cars on earth, but a few jetski’s on the water a few times a year is a pollution problem?* Aloha Brother Sion, you are missed greatly.

  • scott got surf

    To John (#14 – March 25 ) and Mike Jones – I’m with you on lifting the ban and have a few things in the works already. If you feel you’d like to contribute, please email me: scottgotsurf@juno.com Let’s work together to repeal this law!

  • John

    scott got surf….lets do this

  • MattO

    A friend of mine suggested that there be spotters on the cliff with radio contact to skis in water. when s#!t hits fan (as it always does in such situations) the spotter and ski operator can coordinate a surfer’s rescue. Just a thought. I think Redbull does the same thing with their riders when they are charging Jaws – could be wrong but I think this could help a bunch.

  • scott got surf

    We need to organize! together we stand divided we drowned.
    If this law effects you dont stand on the sidelines any more.
    too many of us stand around and bitch about it with no action!
    (NOWS THE TIME)please email me to join the fight!scottgotsurf@juno.com

  • John


  • Jeremy Hall

    With the economy the way it is. I would paddle out just to win that wad of cash they give for the biggest wave paddle into . Dont care if i can handle it or not ,i need the money. So screw you mungo. No fear here when it comes to money !!!!

  • Jeremy Hall

    Start a petition or something, ill sign to change the laws. To many already anyways.

  • dgb

    Asking sponsors to pay for rescue is like asking the tobacco industry to pay for medical bills (once a valid proposition because of the lies but no longer) if you smoke, suck up the health consequences. Unless sponsors are lying to you that surfing big waves is easy and fun, suck up the responsibility and consequences that come with the risk. And remember, you’re only a hero in surfing if a organized marketing campaign is in place, otherwise you’re just someone forgettable who will eventually die at Mavs if you don’t walk away. I like to get drunk and do backflips of my roof into the neighbors pool, let’s get a petition going for some form of government provided rescue and I think Quikzara should throw in twenty grand each year to help out since their getting so much free youtube exposure – I never flip without my Quikzara jocks and socks on!

  • natalie

    If people take the risk to go surf Maverick’s, let them, but i do believe there should be some type of sponsor to help and have rescues. Safety always comes first!!