5 Things Pro Surfers Taught Me

In the water, and in life

There’s the little stuff. Dillon Perillo taught me about Carl Sagan and the likelihood of life on other planets, for example. (Really, really likely btw.) And one time, in Mexico, Craig Anderson taught me that I put way too much peanut butter on my bread*. To this day I can’t apply the crunchy without Craig’s voice in my head shaming me toward moderation. But there are other things pro surfers have taught me — or at least shown me — in the past decade that I’ve tried to apply to life in and out of the water. Here are five of those things.

_N4G8594_1Photo: Domenic Mosqueira

Nathan Fletcher taught me to trust my gut.
Or at least, trust his gut. It was Valentines Day 2010, the day after the historic Maverick’s contest. I’d tripped and fell onto Rob Brown’s boat with heavy hitters like Healey, the Longs, Dorian, Nathan Fletcher, Kohl Christensen, etc. I was anxious to get out before them because they’re the best and would take the lion’s share of the waves. So before we’d even stopped in the channel I was off the boat and stroking toward the peak, and my arrival in the lineup coincided with a set. I spun on the first wave — a big no-no — and went. I hit a chop. Went flying. Dislocated my shoulder on impact and took the rest of the set on the head. Frank Quirarte picked me up on the other side of the rocks and took me back out to the boat with my tail between my legs. Most of the crew was already in the water by the time the harbor patrol boat came and fetched my girlfriend and me, but Nathan Fletcher was still on board, suit halfway on. He sidled up to me and asked through clinched teeth, “You guys mind if I get a ride in with you?” I was baffled. Baffled because Nathan Fletcher was talking to me, and baffled because Maverick’s was 20 to 25 feet, and he was already out there, and wouldn’t he have FOMO? But on the ride in he said he just wasn’t feeling it. That it looked ugly out there. Basically, he trusted his gut and ignored his ego. To this day, Nathan’s audible is the most impressive thing I’ve seen in big-wave surfing. (Note: That afternoon, Shane Dorian almost drowned. It was a wipeout that led to the inflatable vests nearly everyone wears today.)

Waves for Water relief effort in Philippines for Super Typhoon HaiyanPhoto: DJ Struntz

Jon Rose taught me about balance.
It was 2011 and we were in Liberia on a trip for SURFING/Waves For Water. The goal was to distribute 50 water filters to the town of Robertsport, and because the humanitarianism is so often associated with feelings of guilt and suffering, I went into the trip with a heaviness reserved for funerals. And while we certainly handled some sobering business over there, Jon made sure we also had a good time. We surfed our brains out, drank whiskey, played cards till 3 a.m. It was an important lesson that doing good and having fun aren’t (and shouldn’t be) mutually exclusive.

CW_MOR14_03929Photo: Corey Wilson

Dane Reynolds taught me to paddle hard.
In September 2007 I was in Tahiti, a month into a ‘round-the-world trip aimed at finding some direction in my life…but mostly surfing. It was late afternoon in the lineup at Teahupo’o, the waves only overhead but building. Soon, Dane Reynolds paddled out. He was there with snowboarder Travis Rice filming for That’s It, That’s All. Anyway, the size increased with each set and just before dark, a proper six-footer came in and none of us really looked at it, but Dane turned and put his head down and stroked and kicked like he was being chased a shark. He got under the ledge, beat the lip to the bottom and got the first proper barrel of the swell. I’ve since applied this method in waves of consequence and besides the obvious momentum you get into the wave, it has the psychological benefit of convincing yourself (and those around you) that you’re going no matter what.

_MG_6756Photo: Peter Taras

The Gudauskas’ taught me about the power of positivity.
Last year I was in Central California with the Gudangs during a fortuitous run of swell. The energy and enthusiasm these guys exude is incredible. Wherever they go, the waves and the world embrace them like old friends. For example, not five minutes after realizing they locked their keys in their car, a fire truck pulled over and one of the guys said, “You’re the Gudauskas brothers!” And one of the firemen jimmied their car unlocked and they were on their way. The next day at big Ocean Beach I was in the “penalty box,” battling 10-foot whitewater for almost a half hour. I was one more duckdive from giving up when I hear a big “yeeeeeew” from 20 yards away and I look over to see Dane’s beaming face. His positivity reenergized me and I kept going, wave after wave after wave, before eventually breaking through. A few minutes later, a big wall swung my way and I took a few exploratory paddles, but it looked like a closeout so I decided against it. Until I heard Tanner on the shoulder hooting for me to go. I went, pulled in and got my best barrel of the swell. Back in the penalty box, I couldn’t help but smile and keep pushing through.

_Q3Z0003Photo: Peter Taras

Maya Gabeira taught me about resilience.
Before she almost drowned as Nazare, Maya almost drowned at Teahupo’o. Remember? It was the Code Red swell of 2011 and she fell on a “warm up wave” and got pounded by five subsequent set waves before she was eventually rescued, nearly unconscious. I was renting a room in Maya’s Cardiff By The Sea home at the time, and when she returned from that trip we sat at kitchen table and she relived the experience with understandable emotion. As much as the wipeout itself rattled her, she was also dealing with the online onslaught that she “shouldn’t be out there.” Talk about insult to injury. But as soon as she healed she was back to surfing. Back to training. Back to big waves. After all she’d been through, I couldn’t fathom her dedication, thick skin and singular focus. And then in 2013 there was the accident at Nazare, and more people (even Laird) stood atop their soapboxes and yelled that she has no business in big waves. But as I write this, Maya is back at Nazare, back on the horse. Can’t stop, won’t stop. And with that spirit, I don’t know if anyone belongs out there more than Maya.

—Self-Help Correspondent Taylor Paul

*Editor’s Note: Steve Sherman strongly disagrees.