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Adventure : Surfing

Surfers Greg Long and Garrett McNamara Offer More Details on Cortes Bank Wipeout

On Friday, December 21, big-wave surfer Greg Long suffered a wipeout on a giant wave at Cortes Bank. In the aftermath, he fought through a three-wave hold down before losing consciousness in the water. A detailed report from ESPN described the full incident on December 24. Here is part of their account:

Long—a repeat Billabong XXL winner who's also taken the Maverick's contest—was forced off his board when fellow surfer Garrett McNamara unknowingly dropped in on him, blocking Long's line and causing both men to tumble into the deep. The massive wave the pair paddled into (about 25 feet, according to on-location photographer Frank Quirarte) pinned Long down through a rapid series of bombs and knocked the wind out of him, preventing him from catching his breath whenever he managed to break through the wash.

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Adventure Video of the Week: The Old, The Young, and The Sea

Here's a short video that might influence how you spend some of your time: 70-year-old Spaniard Juan Giriber recounting his first drop into a tube. The clip is a teaser for The Old, The Young, and The Sea, a documentary about a filmmaking team's 16-week journey along the European coast in two VW buses looking for characters who ride waves and protect the ocean.

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Breaking Down Pipe Masters

UPDATE: Joel Parkinson won Pipe Masters and his first ASP World Title on Friday, December 14.

THE PEDIGREE: Professional surfing came of age in the 1970s, and no other event measured up to the Pipe Masters. “The other pro tour events all seemed optional by comparison,” says surf historian Matt Warshaw. “Dudes got hurt. You couldn’t look away. It was, and still is, the surf contest all other surf contests want to be.”

THE SWELL: Pipeline breaks best on a west swell, which is most prominent October to March. Local knowledge is key: while some Pipeline waves hit the reef at just the right angle, creating flawless semi-truck-size barrels, others slam headlong into the shallow, razor-sharp reef.

THE TOLL: Pipeline is widely considered the deadliest wave in the world, having killed at least five surfers in the past decade, including Tahitian big-wave pro Malik Joyeux in 2005.

THE BEACH: During the Masters, some 5,000 people roam the short stretch of sand fronting Pipeline, only 50 yards offshore.

THE MEDIA: It’s not uncommon to see two or three dozen photographers bobbing in the channel and dozens more onshore, with jet skis swirling in the water. This year the event will be broadcast live at

LOCALISM: At the Pipe Masters, 10 wild-card entries are reserved for Hawaiians—a rule enacted in 2004 after locals complained about the event taking over their wave. At other times of the year, a hard-partying crew of surfers known as Da Hui “protect” the lineup. (Plug “Da Hui surf fights” into YouTube for examples.)

THE PARTIES: Pros typically stay in one of a dozen beach houses owned or rented by surf companies, and the festivities can get out of hand. Last year, tension from the lineup carried over into the Billabong house, where company executives reportedly became involved in a conflict with Eddie Rothman, leader of Da Hui, and his son Makua.

THE SHOWDOWN: Pipeline is Pipeline because of the epic rivalries. It’s the final event of the year for the ASP world title and the Vans Triple Crown, which means both titles can come down to a single ride. And nothing stokes the huge crowd like a showdown between a local favorite and an outsider. The greatest rivalry was the one between Kelly Slater and the late Hawaiian icon Andy Irons from 2003 to 2006. Slater has won the event six times, but during those years Irons won three Pipe Masters. Slater is once again a favorite, and if he and 20-year-old Hawaiian John John Florence, who started surfing Pipeline at age eight and won last year’s Vans Triple Crown, make it to the final, it’s a fair bet the locals will be having flashbacks from the Irons-Slater heyday.

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The Most Inspiring Use of a Wavejet Surfboard Yet

Wavejets are surfboards with an electronic propulsion system. Users wear a wrist controller with a button that turns the board on and off. The company markets the high-tech planks to individuals who want to spend more time surfing and less time paddling, catch mushy waves, or drop into giants without a tow-in. Those uses are all interesting, but the most inspiring testament to the power of the invention was released yesterday.

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The Dangers of Surf Tech

On January 5, big-wave surfer Danilo Couto arrived at Mavericks, the legendary California surf spot near Half Moon Bay, to find a hectic scene. A 15-knot wind was chopping up the surface of 30-foot waves, and a helicopter circled above the water, filming scenes for Chasing Mavericks, Hollywood’s latest take on surfing. Camera boats and jet skis swarmed just out of reach of the waves, while a stunt coordinator tried to manage a crowded lineup filled with elite pros like Greg Long, Peter Mel, and Shawn Dollar.

It was the first time Couto, 37, had surfed Mavericks in nearly a year. His previous visit, in March 2011, had not gone well. Sion Milosky, 35, a friend of Couto’s, had been buried by a huge wave and held under. When Milosky finally surfaced, a jet ski raced him to shore, where attempts at CPR failed to revive him as Couto looked on.

Still, in January, Couto felt confident, because this time he carried a secret weapon—an inflatable wetsuit invented by surfer Shane Dorian. The Billabong V1, or Vertical Ascent 1, allows a rider driven deep underwater to pull a shoulder-mounted rip cord, causing a CO2 cartridge to inflate an air bladder capable of rocketing the wearer back to the surface.

When a huge wave formed on Mavericks’ west bowl, Couto paddled like hell, but after he stood up his board hit some chop. The wave blasted him 30 feet under and drove the air from his lungs. He reached for his rip cord but couldn’t find it. A second wave sent him deeper. Finally, Couto grasped the cord, pulling so hard that it broke off in his hand. “But the thing worked,” he says. “It’s hard to say what would have happened if it hadn’t.”

As Hollywood does its best to sell big-wave riding to the masses, new technology is enabling surfers to tackle ever more massive waves. In addition to the V1, at least two other inflatable vests should hit the market soon, and surfers have begun carrying canisters of emergency air. On one hand, this is a good thing: surfers are getting their answer to the ABS air bag and the AvaLung, life- saving tools that have revolutionized backcountry skiing. But some worry that these devices will impart a false sense of security, especially to aspiring big-wave heroes pumped up by Chasing Mavericks, which is very loosely based on the short life of the late Santa Cruz phenom Jay Moriarity, who died in a 2001 freediving accident.

“When we surfed the outer reefs in Hawaii, you parked at the beach and paddled alone for half an hour. There was no safety backup,” Couto says. “We can’t have the new generation of guys come in and just say, ‘Well, I don’t have to be so ready, because all I have to do now is pull a cord.’”

“Mediocre preparation for 40-foot waves is not going to be bolstered by spare air or an inflatable wetsuit,” adds Jeff Clark, who pioneered surfing at Mavericks in the '70s and '80s and is designing his own CO2-equipped vest.

Early big-wave surfers like Greg Noll relied on nothing more than strong limbs. It wasn’t until around 1970 that wetsuit inventor Jack O’Neill’s son, Pat, marketed the first surfboard leash—a length of surgical tubing attached to a wrist or ankle. In the '90s, surfers like Laird Hamilton started equipping jet skis with rescue sleds, which could be used to pull injured surfers out of turbulent water. Sturdy, passive flotation vests soon followed, but they offered no guarantee: Milosky was wearing one the day he drowned.

Despite concerns about a proliferation of unqualified surfers, the new safety technology is especially needed at Mavericks, where, since 2008, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has allowed rescue jet skis only on the biggest days. (One was used to retrieve Chasing Mavericks star Gerard Butler last December when he wiped out during shooting.) Dorian designed the V1 for his own use, following a near fatal wipeout in 2010, but since it went on sale to a select group of pros in late 2011, the wetsuit has generated remarkable interest. On a big day at Maui’s Jaws last year, more than half of the 40 surfers wore the $800 suit.

But while the V1 has received the most attention, a competing device may be the real game changer. For the past decade, Terry Maas, a retired California oral surgeon and prominent freediver, has been working on a computer-activated inflatable vest called the SRV, which functions as an unconscious rescue system, as Maas puts it. Whereas the V1 requires an able-bodied surfer to pull a rip cord, Maas’ vest will bring even an unconscious rider to the surface. The user programs the computer to trigger inflation at a certain depth or time spent underwater—say, 30 feet or 60 seconds.

Before long, the Mavericks lineup could be made up of surfers in inflatable vests and suits with oxygen canisters strapped to their chests.

“I feel like a bit of a cheeseball out there with all that shit on,” says Dollar. “But what’s going to happen when Mavericks goes 70 feet and people try to paddle it? Because we will. Human beings cannot fall on a wave that big and live.”            

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