A Big-Wave Safety Solution

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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.