Why don’t we just round up to 100 feet? Garrett McNamara streaking into the mainstream.
If Greg Long or Mark Healey or Twiggy had ridden the wave that Garrett McNamara rode in Portugal a couple of weeks ago, we’d all be dancing. Throwing buckets of icy Gatorade over his head. Congratulating him — no, thanking him — for “showing us once again that there are still waves to be discovered out there, and people with the balls to go find them.”
But instead we brushed him. Why? Because we, the surf world, were not involved. Because instead of seeing it on SURFING or Surfline we saw it on youtube (with over a million views) and on ESPN (“Down in Portugal Garrett was towed into a rogue wave…”) and in the Posts (Washington and Huffington). We saw it where we get our news news, not our surf news. So we wrote it off. And who measured it, anyway?
We dismissed it because it’s Garrett McNamara, as much a cowboy as a legitimate big-wave surfer. Shouldn’t he be surfing a glacier wave or paddling into Maverick’s on a GoPro-laden SUP?
And we ignored it because Garrett, or somebody in his camp, claimed it. Ninety feet. World record. And that doesn’t sit well with us because it breaks the surfer’s code, which clearly states that we must let our surfing do the talking and appreciate whatever recognition may come of it. Be quiet, be humble. Claim a wave to be half the size it actually was.
Garrett joins other code breakers with his Portuguese feat. Like Mark Visser, who surfs Jaws at night and jumps out of airplanes on Jet Skis. Never mind that he’s leaping into a flat ocean, his efforts earn him the cover of Spirit, Southwest’s in-flight magazine. And the original dissenter, Laird Hamilton, has successfully skirted the surf world and now Laird is American Express. Laird is The Wave. Laird is Vogue. Laird is Men’s Journal. Laird is kind of arrogant.
My first instinct is to hate. In fact, an earlier version of this post took the tone of most of this site’s commenters. I resented that the people who I consider to be the best in the sport — guys like Healey, Greg and Dorian, who paddle into big waves and are humble in their accomplishments — get overshadowed by people who are whipping into waves and puffing their chests. Because besides Kelly Slater, these guys are surfing’s ambassadors to the real world, and I don’t think they represent us accurately.
If you talk to most professional big-wave surfers, the ones working sponsorship deals with alcohol companies and pitching movies and TV shows to surf-hungry suits, the real world is where they want to be. It’s where the money is. The surf world is too preoccupied with contests and airs to put stickers on guns, so they seek a mainstream audience that understands the most basic allure of what they do: tall wave, small person. Which is where Garrett, Laird and Mark are winning. Sure, they’re doing it with Jet Skis, but Jane in Kansas isn’t going, “Pfff, pussies shoulda paddled it.” She doesn’t care. Hell, we didn’t care for a solid decade there. So maybe it takes some cowboys towing in and making claims to shock-and-awe Middle America and draw its attention (and precious dollars) into the sport. And then, when they become tired of the tow, those who are paddling in, our heroes, can enter the picture for fame, fortune and darlings. And isn’t that what surfing’s all about? So with that in mind I hate no more. I now say Yeehaw! Get ‘em boys! And Garrett — congrats on your 95-foot wave.