Glacier Tsunami Tow-Surfing Success

posted by / News / August 15, 2007


Hawaii tow-in surfing team Garrett McNamara and Kealii Mamala have just returned from Alaska where they became the first – and possibly last – surfers to successfully ride glacier-generated tsunami waves of up to 25 feet. Their tsunami surfing experience took place at Child’s Glacier on the Copper River, in South-Central Alaska, located near the town of Cordova, Alaska.



Sheer ice faces of over 400 feet calved away from Child’s Glacier, crashing into the waters below and setting off left- and right-breaking waves that peeled across a pebble-bottom river bank for more than {{{300}}} yards, offering rides of up to one minute long. In order to catch them, the surfers would wait up to several hours in the icy water for a glacier to fall, then chase down the ensuing wave on their jetski and attempt to ride with being injured or killed by ice and rock debris.

Video and still images from their adventure can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKRR9RMmcIQ (or search: glacier surfing alaska) http://www.deepwaterchannel.com http://www.bobridges.com

Despite years of towing into waves of up to 70 feet, and a prior scout of the glacier last month, the experience turned out to be an overwhelming one, almost sending the pair home after a series of highly dangerous, unsuccessful attempts on day one.

“It was way more than I expected,” said McNamara. “I was almost going home the first day.

“After the scout, I guaranteed that we would ride a wave – any wave. After the first day, I just wanted to make it home alive. Not knowing where the glacier was going to fall, where the wave would emerge, or how big it would be. It was so different to anything we’ve experienced in our big-wave tow-surfing history. I spent most the time thinking about my family and wondering if I would survive to see them again. It was in a realm all its own.”

The largest wave Garrett rode was a 15-foot face. Keali’i rode a 20- to 25-foot wave. The most memorable and unnerving moments came when the glacier calve “booked”, or fell like a book off a shelf, landing flat on the surface of water, causing a deafening eruption of water and ice to explode into the air, and forcing them to make a run for their lives with the assistance of their jetski.

“This has changed our outlook on big-wave surfing. In this case, we didn’t even need a huge wave to get a rush. It was the heaviest rush just sitting out there, dwarfed by this enormous glacier face, waiting for the whole thing to crash down in front of us and hoping we’d survive it when it did.”

As to the future of this new surfing spin-off? Perhaps take heed of what Garrett, one of the world’s most daring surfers has to say: “I wouldnt recommend it for any one. I won’t be going back. This is not a new sport.”

A feature film and one-hour television show is now in production, being created by Ryan Casey of Deepwater Films. Casey was responsible for the discovery of the wave at Child’s Glacier.

Stay tuned to a future issue of SURFING for the full story and photos.

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