The Big Wave Working Class

brent bielmann aaron gold024Aaron Gold. Photo: Brent Bielmann

The beauty of big-wave surfing is that you can do it. Not “you” in the general sense, but literally you, friendly reader, assuming you can stand up on a surfboard. You can paddle out and take off on a big wave at Jaws or Maverick’s, have your picture taken and be showcased in a photo gallery, virtually indistinguishable from professionals like Ian Walsh and Nic Lamb. On the other hand, you cannot keep up with Kolohe Andino at Trestles.

This is to say that big-wave surfing is easier than small wave surfing. Natural-born talent is not a prereq because you’re mostly going straight. This is why you see so many no-name guys getting bombs and why “retired” small wave pros tackle the sequoias of the sea as their second act. In big surf, photos are pulled back. Squatty stances are encouraged. Closeouts are even considered successful rides. Your flaws can hide so easily in the shadow of a massive wave.

But then the massive wave breaks on you, the risk of death or dismemberment becomes startlingly real and you must ask yourself, do I really want this? Most of the time you don’t, and you start scheduling doctor’s appointments to coincide with the winter’s biggest swells. Because yes, it’s easy to briefly blend in with the big-wave elite, for the public to accept one heroic ride for legitimacy, but eventually, the ocean reveals all frauds.

brent bielmann aaron gold033Aaron Gold. Photo: Brent Bielmann

I mention this because in the wake of Aaron Gold’s 72-footer (I made that up) at Jaws, and with the collective buzz of Aaron who? echoing through the surf world, it’s important to note that Aaron is not one of those frauds. He is legit, and just because you haven’t heard of him does not mean he is a one-hit wonder. He is a surfboard-shaping, big-wave surfing, family-raising, bootstrap-pulling, Eddie Aikau-invitee who approaches massive waves with a sort of hutzpah that’s Sion Milosky-esque. And, well, hate to be the read the book before the movie guy, but we’ve been claiming him since 2011.

Aaron Gold is in the same league as guys like Danilo Couto, Marcio Freire, Ben Wilkinson, Ryan Seelbach, Shawn Dollar and countless others that exist on the fringes of big-wave professional surfing. Lesser known but certainly world-class, they have families and day jobs and carefully pick and choose their swells. Then they buy their own ticket and make it count. Just like Aaron did. The fact that he will likely steal the world record for biggest wave ever paddled from a fellow working class big-wave surfer (Shawn Dollar) might be telling.

Maybe the blue collar guys are more likely to send it than the pros because they know they might not get another swell, what with real life and all? Maybe they use the lack of recognition to fuel their seemingly foolish risks (like the Brazilians have used the underdog card to power their CT takeover)? Or maybe there are just so few people that make a living off of big-wave surfing that the sheer number of underground guys makes them more likely to push the boundaries? Or maybe it’s just coincidence?

I don’t know. But if the guy that one-ups Aaron Gold isn’t named Dorian, Long or Healey, don’t say I didn’t warn you. —Taylor Paul