Riding The Big Ones

Gary Kewley
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Friday - January 06, 2006
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Andy Irons, here at Sunset, knows all about riding the big ones
Andy Irons, here at Sunset, knows all about riding the
big ones

Happy New Year, surfers! Here we go - ready or not! The Big Surf continues unabated with back to back 10-15-plus foot swells, and it isn’t near over. In fact, we are smack dab in the middle of the three biggest months for waves. We still await several big wave-riding events ...The Quiksilver/Eddie Aikau Big Wave invite, the Phelony North Shore Tow-In Championships, the Mavericks Surf Contest in Northern California and the Billabong XXL. I’ll headline each of the above on SURFNEWSNETWORK.COM so you can learn more about each event at one site. These events have deadlines ... “The Eddie” must go by end of February and the others by end of March. By the looks of what we’ve seen so far our big-wave maestros will find what they’re looking for: GIANT SURF!

By the time you read this we will have already had 15 footers pounding the outer reefs late Tuesday through Wednesday ... then we get another swell on the outer reefs this weekend! It’s a little too far to forecast the same for the middle of January, but I’ll place my bet that we get another couple days of 20-foot swells before the month’s over.


It’s kinda funny how surfers all get so excited about big waves, but very, very few actually want to ride them. Even those who want to won’t. That’s the fantasy part of surfing that’s so intriguing. We can get wrapped up in the idea of dropping into and surviving a 20- or 30-footer. But when it really gets down to it, most surfers don’t want anything to do with them. Any surfer who’s looked from shore and then paddled out knows too well the difference. Being faced by a wave four stories high one quickly realizes the speed and weight of big mountains of water. The sheer volume is intimidating. When the surf is relatively small a couple strokes can get you safely over the wave. But when the wave is big it can take several dozen desperate strokes. If your timing and position are good you’re safe, if not ... well ... you’re not safe. And, you’d better be in shape. You’d better be able to hold your breath a long, long time.

How long should a big-wave rider be able to live without breathing? Well, first off, let me comfort you - it is a scientific fact that one can breath under water ... but only once. So, if you want to save that one breath here’s a good standard. Big-wave riding legend Ken Bradshaw can swim underwater for 90 seconds. Ken trains for this feat. He told me that on the giant outer tow-in reefs you can get held down for a rare 60 seconds. So, just to be extra safe, he trains for that extra 30 seconds. Now, don’t think that just because you can hold your breath for a minute or two on dry land in a lotus position that you can do that under tons of violent water. Most bad wipe-outs only hold you under for about 20 seconds ... and that can feel like 20 minutes! Also remember, before a wipeout, a surfer is surfing or at least paddling - he’s pumped and used up oxygen. Plus, one often does-n’t get a full breath of air before going under. It’s nuts!


So, how can you estimate your current ability to survive should you truly want to become a big-wave rider? The best training is being out there and growing into it, but one simple non-surfing method is pool training. The gauge is one second per yard or meter. This means you’d better be able to swim under water for 50 yards minimum, preferably 75 yards, which is about three lengths of a 50 meter pool. Now don’t forget that after your wipe-out you’ll likely face a few more waves on the head. So try to build up to three or four underwater 50-meter swims one right after another; only one or two breaths allowed. There may come a day when you don’t even get that extra breath. Doesn’t this sound fun? No pressure, heh?

I’ll see you in the surf or in the pool or back here next weekend! I’m GQ, dropping in 4 U!

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