Surfing is always changing. In smaller waves, progressive surfing has pushed the boundaries of aerial wizardry and creative riding. And in big surf, technology has nullified much of the danger inherent in traditional big wave approaches. Everything from floatation devices to Powered Water Craft have the potential to place surfers in danger well beyond their ability level.


Surfing big waves is the ultimate level of performance our sport has to offer. It requires a combination of mental clarity, emotional regulation, and physical endurance. So the bottom line is that even with all the technological advances helping hands, surfers still need to be ready for those moments in big surf when things don’t go as planned. In reality, plan on things not going as planned. And here is how you do it.

Be Physically Prepared

Nothing builds confidence like beingphysically prepared for a heavy hold down or an extended swim to shore. And confidence is the ultimate goal when riding big surf. You never want
to paddle out into big waves if you are not physically fit.


There are situations that you can’t even imagine in which help isn’t an option. Getting sucked under a pier, pinned against some rocks, caught in a rip current, or cast adrift without a board or leash are all real possibilities. Therefore, being physically ready for any situation will put your mind at ease and better enable you to tread and stroke for as long as need be.

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Some key exercises include jumping rope, doing push-ups, long-distance bicycling, swimming, and lots of surfing are all great ways to stay strong, fast, and limber for those sketchy situations.

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Understand the Conditions

Knowing what you are about to paddle into is every bit as important as your physical state. Sit and watch! Watch the other surfers. Where are they sitting? Where are they taking off? Where are they successfully paddling out?

Watch the waves! How much time goes by in between sets? Where are the waves closing out the most? Is it a rising swell or a dropping swell? How about the reef and bottom? You should paddle out to the spot on a small day and get a feel for the wave and the get a look at the bottom.

Choose your Waves Wisely

Unless you are Mark Healy, you probably don’t want to drop in on a 30 foot closeout and get stuck in the impact zone. So it is important that you choose your waves wisely. This means avoiding the first couple waves in the set, or you will find yourself getting pummeled by the biggest waves in the series.


Also, don’t take chances if you are new to big waves. Go for waves that look to have a tapering shoulder that you can safely reach safety.


If you do get a big closeout, straighten out and try to ride the white water as far as you can, so you can reach the safety of the inside section or get closer to the channel.

Stay Calm

This is huge. Remember this: very few waves will ever hold you under water longer than you can hold your breath. That’s the reality of it. Knowing this will help keep you calm. If you stay calm, you can stay relaxed and use less energy (and oxygen)
and more easily escape a difficult situation. Instead of flailing and hyperventilating, sometimes it’s best to stay calm and let the waves knock you further in away from the impact zone.


So there’s the deal. Big wave surfing is great way to push your surfing to the next level and more importantly push your body and spirit to the new extremes. So be prepared and go rip!

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Taj Burrow
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The Super Bowl of Surfing

Surfers had their Super Bowl Saturday. The playing field was majestic and rife with history. The conditions favored the brave and talented. The conditions were pristine. The broadcast was professional. And the drama was cranked up to 11. Boom! The Pipe Masters in memory of Andy Irons had it all. Never have I conversed with so many surfers from so many corners of the world
at one time who were so enthralled about a surf contest. I have written about the dangers of the commercialization and homogenization of surfing as has everyone else and the Pipe Masters was all that of the highest order. But allow me to say…it was sublime!


For one, the waves were smoking for the final day with a major west swell with a hint of north to throw in the occasional right. Conditions favored local knowledge but only a couple locals made it to the end. Sebastian Zietz was unstoppable until Slater shut him down and John Florence literally breezed his way into the final. He will be the World Champion. I have never seen anyone so naturally talented and creative but also so composed and relaxed. His surfing is a joy to watch.


But the real drama was built on the race for the World Title. Fanning had to make it through the quarters to win it all and in two different heats, it came down to one wave in the dying moments. I will say, however, that wave against Yadin Nicol was questionable though. If you compare that wave to Zietz’s manhandling of a hideous lefthand  frother in Round 5 which garnered only an 8 something, that last wave of Fanning’s looks less impressive. But that’s competitive sports and the excitement was palpable as Fanning was carried up the beach and the beach could hear Nicol’s heart drop as he was pushed off tour for next year.

Then there was Slater and his absolute clinical approach all day. He wasn’t  just surfing well for a 40-something…he was surfing better than almost anyone and he pretty easily won the whole event even against Florence who had the potential to clean up. Sadly, the final was lack luster, but that the vent as a whole did not disappoint. From a guy who would always rather be in the water, I will say that yesterday was fun to be a spectator. Sure, the rest of us now go about our daily lives of sniffing around for some mediocre waves when we’re not working while those guys head off to vacation in Fiji and count their cash, but it’s always good to be a surfer.

Surfing and Music: a love story

Why is it called surf music? Music and surfing are inseparable. Their kinship goes back to the ukulele no doubt as Hawaiians recomposed amidst post-olo board sessions (picture Eddie and Clyde Aikau chillin’ around a fire after a Waimea session, ukulele and some cold ones in hand)  , but the term « surf music » waxed electric a generation later as Californian beach culture exploded. 1960’s acts like Duane Eddy and The Ventures developed the instrumental rhythms that would stoke legions of surfers. The sound was honed to perfection by Dick Dale and exploded in beautiful absurdity via The Surfaris’ « Wipeout. » While the genre faded as the 70’s approached, surfers still turned to music as fuel and therapy. But as the years went on, the sounds of such giants as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Lynard Skynard, and the Stones showed how difficult surf music was becoming to categorize, but the power to amp was always the secret ingredient.

Reportedly, Rabbit looked to David Bowie for tunes to get tubed by while Tom Curren looked back to the Who to inspire his swooping cutbacks.


The 80’s saw the rise of the modern surf flick and bands featured in movies like « Son of the Last Surf Movie, » « The Performers, » and « Mad Wax » became synonymous with pre-surf stoke sessions. The Hoodoo Gurus, Gangajang, the Talking Heads, the Untouchables can conjure vivid images of entire movie segments with a single chord or verse.  At the same time, traveling surfers had gravitated to Bob Marley who defined the parameters of reggae and consequently created a genre that could probably be most closely associated with the term « surf music. »

Surfers in the nineties were pushing surfing to radical heights and thus needed more musical energy. Surf movies exploded with frenetic soul from Jane’s Addiction, Nirvana, and Sublime (and if memory serves even Limp Bizkit and the Offspring). Tom Curren provided his own soundtrack to « The Search » and single-handedly put a guitar in the hand of every pro surfer for the next decade, inspiring the likes of today’s surf music purveyors like Jack Johnson, Donavon Frankenreiter, and Timmy Curran. While the Beach Boys weren’t known for their full on surf skills, today’s biggest surf rock artists are also top-notch wave riders themselves.


What does that mean? Did surfing influence them to create something great or are surfers just so narrow minded we only support our own kind? But like paddle turned to tow, the big question is what’s next?

Undoubtedly, I missed about a million great bands that have stoked you out. So share your favorites with the world and include them in the « comments » below. If you’re looking for fun, trashy modern surf music that will get you amped for sure, try Wavves.

Kirk Passmore, who has been described as a business owner and restaurant manager, was last seen getting caught inside during last Wednesday’s raw north swell in the late morning surfing Alligator Rock on the North Shore. Although his damaged board was found, searchers have scoured the ocean for days with no good news. Born in Utah and growing up in Carlsbad, California, the 32-year-old lived to surf and made it his life chasing waves in Hawaii and around the world. Local surfers have been expounding to the press that had he been wearing a flotation life vest, the outcome would have been much different. This is probably true, but big wave surfing is a complex obsession that is entangled with not so subtle ironies. Technology makes it safer but safety isn’t really the point when you are choosing to paddle out in 20 foot surf. Ironic? Maybe.


As technology further pervades our existence and the dirge of crowds permeates every previously isolated corner of the surfing world, so too does the need for freedom and simplicity. A couple weeks back, I was as amazed as the rest of you as Carlos Burle and Maya Gabeira made news in Portugal riding giant waves, but something has been bugging me about today’s big wave culture. There is something a little annoying about the amount of extra stuff that big wave surfing has grown to rely on to make it « safe. » An army of trucks, trailers, jet skis, and boats descend on beach parks at dawn. Surfers grab their tow ropes and don their life vests and helmet cameras, looking more like astronauts than free spirits.
What happened to the loving yet always unpredictable relationship between the surfer and nature?  It’s been replaced by gasoline and plastic Passmore paddled out under his own juice last Wednesday. He navigated the shore break at Waimea and paddled past the throngs of surfers, cameramen, and floating spectators waiting for a moment of fame, stoke, and circumstance at the famous bay. He paddled around the rocks and down the beach about a mile to Alligator Rock (sometimes called Baby Sunset for its open ocean quality and big shifty walls). It’s a quiet but tense paddle over the rise and fall of giant waves. It’s surfer meets nature at its most simple and the way surfing was meant to be. He knew exactly what could happen out there a half mile off the beach among sprawling ocean currents and the unpredictable march of giant swells. That’s what makes it so awesome. That’s what makes it worth doing. That’s what makes it something to remember that enriches the life experience rather than draws from it. Sure, a jet ski, life vest, helmet, and GPS would have made it safer, but sometimes the simplicity of the surf experience trumps all.

Maybe the simple act of riding a wave counts for something even if no one sees it or (God forbid) films it. Now, that doesn’t mean that Burle and McNamara and those guys who are searching for XXL fame aren’t brave souls who are capable of riding waves the rest of us avoid; however, the reliance on stuff is making surfing something it was never meant to be. For once, I read an interesting conversation going on in the comments section under a report of Passamore’s death. Readers were debating whether there is something valuable or noble in dying doing what you love. No doubt, humans have a gift of finding meaning in things that just happen, but the fact that he died in pursuit of making his own life experience better in the most simple and true way has to count for something. If not to us, then maybe to him

To further the tragic irony, Passmore’s final wave was caught on film, and it was a beauty.


Next time’ I do my show in da  waves!!!



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