Surf or Die

Chewed up and spat out by the world's most ferocious wave

Oct 1, 2005
Outside Magazine

JAWS WAS A CIRCUS, spewing 60-foot waves like Neptune was on a rampage. This was last December 15, and a dozen tow-in teams were battling for position at the famous monster break, off Maui's north shore; 50 more jet skis and a half-dozen boats sat in the channel watching; and five helicopters were flying overhead. No one was following any rules, but despite the crowd my partner Ryan Rawson finally whipped me into a six-story bomb.

The 14-pound board I'd been testing in 30-foot California surf was way, way too light, and I couldn't hold the line. I fell, and I knew I was in for the beating of my life. I closed my eyes, went Zen, and... baboom!—the wave exploded on top of me.

When I surfaced 20 seconds later I saw a dude on another 60-footer breaking right in front of me. I took a deep breath and dove, but I had two problems: the pair of life jackets I was wearing. I couldn't get under. My legs were sticking out, so I got "scorpioned"—folded in half backwards, my left heel ramming into the back of my head—while being dragged underwater for about 150 yards. For 30 seconds, it felt like King Kong had me by the feet and was just going apeshit rag-dolling me. I relaxed and took a dozen breaststrokes, but I was still down deep. Stars flashed in the corners of my eyes. I finally broke the surface, gasping for air. A film-crew chopper buzzed overhead, and I thought, I'm saved! But they just sat there filming me die. I prayed for them to harpoon me in the leg and fly me away.

Then the third wave hit. I figured since I was so far in, it would be weaker. Wrong. I surfaced, my left eye temporarily blind from the impact. When Ryan finally came around to pick me up, I thought it was over, but that warm and fuzzy feeling soon vanished. The fourth wave avalanched us both off the jet ski. I came up and saw Ryan swimming, about 30 yards away, with yet another big wall of whitewash pounding down. The rocks were straight ahead. That's it, I thought, but someone—I still don't know who—rescued me.

Back on the boat, I hurt everywhere. Squirming with pain, my knee wrapped in ice, I popped a heavy painkiller and chugged a couple of beers. Then I sat back and watched, dazed and confused but wishing I could shake it off and get back in the game.

I'd sustained a concussion, hyperextended my back and hip, yanked a ligament in my knee, and had my ego shattered. I surfed Jaws again last March—and used a heavier board.

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