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“For me, there is no more exhilarating feeling than being in the ocean when it’s in its wildest state,” says big-wave surfer Greg Long, seen here on a 40-foot wave in the final heat of the Billabong Big Wave World Tour in Pico Alto, Peru, in August 2012. Located near the town of Punta Hermosa, about an hour south of Lima, the right-hand, point-break waves form about a half mile off shore but are visible from a cliff above. Surfers don’t tow in but rather use their own strength and mental stamina to paddle in and ride these giant waves.
“I spend countless hours methodically training and preparing to ride big waves,” says Long, who readies himself by focusing on personal fitness and by having both the right equipment for the conditions and knowledge of how the swell conditions affect the way the waves break, making him one of the best in his sport. “Fear is ever present. Harnessing and containing it is a huge driving force behind why I ride big waves.”
Adventure: What were you thinking at this moment?
Greg Long: For me, the act of committing, paddling, and dropping down the face of a big wave is done without much thought but rather intuition and feel. At that moment of descent, I am living entirely in the present moment paying attention only to the smallest of details in the wave face and slight physical adjustments needed to compliment and surf through them, while staying intuitively aware of what the wave may do in the moments ahead.
A: Are you scared when you approach a big wave like this? How do you deal with that fear?
G.L.: Whenever I surf big waves there is an element of fear that is always present. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the ocean, the power it possesses, and am fully aware of the potential consequences of my actions in the pursuit to ride the biggest waves in the world. For me, a significant part of riding big waves is managing the risks that I take.
The ocean presents so many variables that are out of a surfer’s control and work against you, but there are also many that you can control and use to your advantage. For me, the most important are personal fitness, the right equipment for the conditions, knowledge of the line up and swell conditions, and how they affect the way the waves break.
I spend countless hours methodically training and preparing to ride big waves. Doing so gives me the mental confidence to overcome the fears that I have, and the feat of overcoming those fears and riding giant waves of consequence is one of the greatest feelings in the world by my estimation. Fear is ever-present, and harnessing and containing it is a huge driving force as to why I ride big waves.
A: How tall was this wave? Did you paddle or tow in? Tell us about riding it.
G.L.: This particular wave was probably about 40 feet on the face. It happened during the final heat of a Big Wave World Tour [BWWT] competition held last week at a wave called Pico Alto in Peru. All of the BWWT events are paddle-in only.
A: What is the Pico Alto wave like? Why is it a good surf spot?
G.L.: The wave Pico Alto is located in the town of Punta Hermosa about an hour south of Lima, Peru. The wave itself breaks about a mile from the shore and can be easily viewed from the cliff above.
What makes Pico Alto a quality surf break, along with other famous big-wave breaks around the world, is the bathymetry of the reef over which it breaks, and its relatively close proximity to the massive storms in the lower latitudes of South Pacific that create big swells. One thing that all big waves have in common is extremely deep water that surrounds the reef. This allows for maximum swell energy to be focused into one place, sometimes forcing the open ocean swells upwards of four times their original height when they break.
A: What attracts you to big-wave surfing?
G.L.: For me, there is no greater or more exhilarating feeling than being in the ocean when it’s in its wildest state. Being around that amount of energy and the fear it can provoke is indescribable. But with the proper physical and mental preparation you can learn to harness and ride that energy. When you overcome the fear and all the elements that are working against you and ride one of those waves, there is a feeling of gratification and accomplishment that is beyond words.
A: What’s the big thing in big-wave surfing right now?
G.L.: Right now, the best big-wave riders in the world are focusing their attention toward paddling into the biggest waves in the world. A few years ago, people starting using a Jet Ski to assist them by means of a “tow-in” to catch the largest waves. As we continue to further develop our equipment, understanding of the line-ups at each of the big breaks, our own physical capabilities when it comes to dealing with wipeouts, and precautionary safety measures, we have realized that we are capable of paddling into waves much larger than we ever believed. Right now, the best in the world are dedicated to pushing the limits of paddle-in surfing and finding out just how big of waves we can actually ride.
A: Is there anywhere left in the world you haven’t surfed but would like to?
G.L: Traveling, seeing, and learning about new places and different cultures is one of my passions, and there aren’t many places in the world that I wouldn’t want to visit. A few of my favorites which I constantly find myself returning to are Mexico, Peru, Chile, South Africa, and Australia. Ironically enough they all have incredible big waves.