Anthony Walsh; Teahupo’o, Tahiti
This month, photography publisher Insight Editions released "The Finest Line,” by big-wave surfer Rusty Long. The coffee table book chronicles all the best big-wave spots and surfers in the world with large, brilliant pictures by some of the top surf photographers. We caught up with Long to get a bit of backstory on a few of our favorite shots.
Photo: “This is during the Code Red swell, which was a historic swell that coincided with the a World Championship Tour contest,” says Long. “That was one of the biggest, rawest, most ferocious days ever towed into out at Teahupo’o. People put themselves in positions that were really dangerous and as extreme as it gets. It was a tow-in only day. All the guys that really live for Teahupo’o flew in for that day. It upped the ante in the sport.”
Tyler Hollmer-Cross; Shipsterns Bluff, Tasmania“Tyler and his brother James are two of the Tasmania locals who have surfed the wave the hardest over the past decade. Once again, this is a really radical deformed Shipsterns wave. And you can really see how shallow it is. You can see those boils and that shelf nearly out of the water there and how much water is coming down onto that shallow reef. It really is a sketchy place to surf. Those guys down there are a rare breed of surfer.”
Mikey Brennan; Shipsterns Bluff, Tasmania“Mikey is one of the most talented surfers out there. The guy’s got cat-like reflexes and he’s so comfortable out on that wave, it’s just remarkable. And that shows the perfection of Shipsterns Bluff, once you get past those deformities and once the wave hits that next section of the reef. It turns into a flawless giant barrel.”
Ryan Hipwood; Shipsterns Bluff, Tasmania“Ryan is one of the Aussie madmen who chases the big slabs around at Shipsterns Bluff. That is the epitome of a deformed Shipsterns wave and has the full effect of those steps that the wave is notorious for. It’s such a roll of the dice, surfing that wave. Especially when it’s big and you’re getting towed in. You don’t know what you’re gonna get. It starts as a big lump. Some waves hit the reef and are rideable, some just turn into total mutants. He didn’t stick this one. He made it over that section there, but you can see that next piece of water he’s going into and that part demolished him.”
Unidentified; Jaws, Hawaii“I don’t know who that is up there in the lip, but that’s a big wave to be caught inside at Jaws. There are so many guys surfing out there on big days now, it’s really pretty remarkable. It started with just a small handful of guys, but now there are often 50 guys out in the water.”
Koa Rothman; Teahupo’o, Tahiti“That’s one of the biggest, thickest barrels that anybody has ever gotten onto out there. Laird Hamilton towed Koa into that wave. That’s such commitment and such a radical thing to be on the back of the rope when the biggest lump of the day is coming in. That’s Koa when he was still 17. He ended up going down on this one. It’s remarkable that there haven’t been more serious injuries, given the number of guys who have taken wipeouts on big waves at Teahupo’o over the years.”
Ireland“That’s a photo I took in Ireland during a massive swell back in 2011. The near shore buoys were 38 feet at 18 seconds, which is far and away the biggest buoy reading I’ve ever seen. There were waves breaking all over the coast that day that were in the 70-to-100-foot range. That wave right there is probably 50 feet. This is a reef that just goes unridden. There are a lot of waves over there that go unridden, a lot of giant waves. It’s where the biggest waves in the world are, in my opinion."
Brad Gerlach; Todos Santos, Mexico“This was right at the end of the day of a really big day. We were all packing up ready to leave and Brad and Mike Parsons were starting to put their tow rope back into the ski when that big lump came in out the back. They buzzed out real quick and next thing you know Gerlach was on this 68-foot wave that ended up winning the 2005 XXL for biggest wave.”
Kelly Slater and Peter Mel; Cortes Bank“Cortes Bank is an underwater seamount 100 miles off the coast of Southern California. It’s where a lot of the biggest waves in the world have been ridden. It’s as risky and as high-adventure of a mission as we have in the surfing world. This is during the first paddle mission at Cortes in 2009. We went out there on a 100-foot super yacht and had a giant crew of all the best surfers in the world. The waves were only 20-30 feet on the face, but it was a perfect day to test the waters paddling out there. Conditions were flawless, it was the catalyst to go out there and paddle it bigger.”
Greg Long; San Clemente, California“That’s my brother, Greg, at home in San Clemente prepping to go out for a Cortes mission. You can see all the gear. You really have to be accountable for everything out there. Greg was obsessed with Cortes from the get-go and was really meticulous in his preparation. Between him and Mike Parsons, they were the driving force for all those missions out to Cortes.”
Mark Healey; Jaws, Hawaii“This is the first paddle session at Jaws during the October swell of 2012. The swell was getting bigger and bigger. Healey decided to fully commit on this wave and he ended up getting completely annihilated. He realized it when he was making his bottom turn that he wasn’t going to get underneath the lip. It landed about a foot behind his back leg, he said. It gave him one of the worst beatings of his life. Had that lip landed on him though, all bets are off, it would have been so much worse. That’s one of the bigger, thicker waves anyone has ever paddled into.”
Shawn Dollar; Maverick’s, California“This was between the semifinals and the finals of the historic Mavericks event of 2010. Shawn was not in the contest that year. He had been getting known for riding a lot of the biggest waves in the years prior out there, but he still didn’t have an invite. During that break he was just hungry, he was looking for a giant wave. He went out there and he got it. He won an XXL award for that wave and, at 55 feet, it held the world record for a year for the biggest wave paddled into. He was invited to the contest the next year.”
Garrett McNamara; Nazaré, Portugal“This is the wave that went around the world. Every media outlet in the world had that image. Garrett went there and pioneered that wave. It’s a real testament to his dedication and passion. He uncovered this phenomenal surf spot over there in Portugal that people weren’t riding before, and has ridden some absolutely enormous waves there.”
Rusty Long, Jamie Mitchell, and Mark Healey; Cortes Bank“This is coming back in from the Cortes Bank. It is such a relief when you’re coming in from that place. It’s always nerve-wracking being out there. Once a mission is successful and everyone is safe, that ride home on the boat is a moment of joy and relaxation. And we always have a case of beer for the ride home.”