Near dead and never more alive
“Strapped in a basket, dangling 100 feet in the air, being airlifted from the middle of the ocean and struggling for every breath, there was a moment in which I said, ‘F–k it, I am done with it all.’” The moment Greg Long is referring to came on December 21, 2012, at Cortes Bank. It was a mission that Greg had orchestrated. He lined up boats, Jet Skis, water safety, filmers, photogs, forecasters, etc. And in the water, after days of planning and two waves already ridden, he smiled. It had all come together. But then he caught another wave (that Garrett Mac and his fully charged WaveJet decided to join him on), fell, and suffered a terrible wipeout. A wipeout that left him underwater for multiple waves and eventually unconscious. When he surfaced, face down, it was the same water safety team he’d organized that pulled him from the water and saved his life. A life that today, having already returned to Jaws, Nelscott and Maverick’s, he sees with a renewed sense of zest and gratitude. —Taylor Paul
SURFING: Has your life improved since Cortes?
Greg Long: The incident at Cortes was the most incredible thing that has happened to me. Had it not been for D.K. Walsh, Jon Walla and Frank Quirarte, I would have in fact died that day. But rather than call it a “near-death experience,” I choose to refer to it as my “new-life experience.” Before that trip, I was never one to take my life for granted. But it wasn’t until walking that line — the line of either moving on or continuing to enjoy this lifetime — that my eyes fully opened to the true miracle of life. Every day is the greatest gift, and since that day at Cortes not a single one goes by that I don’t wholeheartedly acknowledge this fact. If life is seemingly off track or I have run into an unfortunate set of circumstances, it doesn’t take more than a second to slow down, have a laugh, and acknowledge the beauty and fortune that surrounds me, and how great it is to simply be alive.
How did the accident physically affect you?
There was a lot of physical discomfort in the weeks following Cortes. My entire body had obviously been through a very traumatic experience. The worst of it was the sensitivity of my lungs, which was obviously to be expected, but I have since fully recovered. The body knows how to heal itself, and it does if you allow it.
In order to ride big waves successfully, you need to be living entirely in the present moment with your attention directed fully on the task at hand. Moments of contemplation about life and death, physical capability and self-doubt have no place in the lineup. Every moment and physical sensation of that wipeout and the aftermath has been seared into my memory with the most acute detail, and every time I have entered the ocean since, those memories have come rushing back, clouding my intuitive judgment and confidence. Fortunately, I absolutely thrive off of challenges in this world, and to me, this has become an incredible opportunity to further explore my own mental capacity and capability to overcome fear.
What made you want to get back in the saddle?
The moments immediately following my wipeout were some of the saddest of my life. The guilt I felt for putting my friends and family, who were there that day, through such a potentially traumatic experience was indescribable. I felt selfishness like never before, thinking about all those who care about me in this life, and that I would knowingly put myself in harm’s way with the chance of losing my life, all for my own satisfaction of riding waves. But after taking time to slow down and process all of these initial reactions and emotions, I came to one simple conclusion that ultimately led me back into the water to continue my pursuit of riding big waves. That is the idea that the only thing more dangerous for me than living a life riding big waves, would be to live one without. We are here on this earth to seek and find happiness and to pursue and live our dreams. Neglecting onesself the opportunity to try and do so would be living a diminished existence. We are all meant to live our greatest truth, and I believe I am meant to be in the ocean riding big waves.