Mark Mathews portrait by Richard Freeman
Mark Mathews is the contest director of the Cape Fear Challenge, an invite-only tube riding event that's going to be held tomorrow morning (Australian Eastern Standard Time) at Cape Solander near the southern headland of Botany Bay in Sydney. Mark is also the favourite to win. Want one very good piece of advice for surfing big waves? "When you’re stroking to the surface, use your arms but don’t kick your legs," says Mark. "The big muscles in your legs eat up a ton of oxygen." | Photo: Richard Freeman

Mark Mathews: 10 things you should know about big waves

Cape Fear Challenge contest director Mark Mathews (and event favourite) ain't short of good advice…

Tomorrow morning at seven-thirts (that’s Australian Eastern Standard Time), the Red Bull Cape Fear Challenge is going to run at Cape Solander. You know all about the wave, yeah? That dirty ledge that deposits its payload in front of a limestone cliff right there at the southern headland of Botany Bay, a click or so from Sydney’s international airport.

The contest director and event favourite is Mark Mathews, a big-wave surfer and corporate speaker (Overcome your fear! Let me show you how!) who’s thrown his life at the game of chasing ridiculous waves. Two weeks ago he way he took French photographer Laurent Pujol’s behind-the-surfer technique to another dimension at the Right in WA (see it at or

Who else you going to listen to about how you should behave, react and approach big waves?

1. Big waves equal a lot of moving water

What does that mean to you? Paddle hard and paddle early. Watch guys surf Ours or Shipsterns and you’ll see how early they start to paddle. You might think that they’re going to paddle ‘emselves too far inside. What they’re doing is staying in position as the water rushes out.

2. Beat your wings not your hams

When you’re stroking to the surface, use your arms but don’t kick your legs. The big muscles in your legs eat up a ton of oxygen. You need me to tell you that oxygen is your sweetest friend. Keep a fresh supply.

3. Make a decision and stick to it even if it’s wrong

Second guess and you’ll start punching the panic button way too early. I was at Pipe last year, saw a 10-foot double-up, paddled out, then turned around and got myself into the worst position.

4. Pick your waves

The easiest big waves to surf are ones breaking into channel. As your confidence grows you will move closer to the peak. The only problem ‘bout this is that most people are doing the same thing.

5. If you’re gonna go, go

In a crowded lineup don’t paddle hard and pull back. If the lineup is aggressive and the conditions are good you’ll only have one bite at the cherry. It’s way better to jump off and go over the falls than pull back. Of course, tyre kicking has its advantages (see the next point).

6. Kick tyres

If you’re surfing a reef, crazy-lookin’ things sometimes let you in. Paddle with ‘em slowly and take a look over the ledge. If it gives you an entry point, and sometimes they do, keep paddling. If it doesn’t let it go.

7. Get sandy

Want big, uncrowded waves? Surf a beachbreak. A lot of people are scared of copping waves on the head. Build your confidence by paddling and not going. When was the last time a decent surfer drowned surfing a big beachie?

8. Protect your leash

When you dump your board don’t jerk your leg against your leash as the wave hits. Go with it. Dampen the shock. Ain’t a damn thing worse than being way out the back at Waimea or Sunset without a sled.

9. Paddle as if your life depended on it 

It lets other surfers know that you’re going no matter what.

10. The end section ain’t so bad

You’ve ridden a wave at Chopes or Cloudbreak or wherevs to the end. You flick off, filled with self-congratulations, just in time to see a set approaching. Getting caught inside is our biggest fear and I’m no exception. I was at Teahupoo and this happened and I was… so… scared. But, the thing you have to remember, and that I had to remind myself, is that waves quickly lose their power in shallow water. Dive just under the whitewater and let yourself get washed in.


Shane Dorian turn
Consensus is that Shane Dorian is the best big-wave surfer in the world. His smallish game? Still so riven with style! | Photo: Morgan Maassen


Esquire-style advice list! From best big-wave jockey in world!

When I go drinking I need to have a max drink number in mind. Usually if I go over that number I regret it. This is especially useful when you are single.

Hawaii is where I want my kids to grow up. In Hawaii if you show respect you tend to get it back.

Marriage is THE most important decision you will ever make in your life. Don’t take it lightly. Ninety per cent of your future happiness will depend on who you choose, and 99% of your future misery, so choose wisely. Figure out if she is an evil bitch BEFORE you take the plunge! Hint: you don’t know anyone until you’ve lived with them for three-to-five years and you share expenses.

As far as ageing goes, my outside ain’t that pretty these days so I am working on the inside.

I am glad I am a man, as we are totally exempt from pressure to get plastic surgery “done”.

Hollywood is not for me.

Women? About or from? Oh gosh. I have learned to hold my tongue.

Fear can equal fun if you allow it to.

Eyebrows. I have not learned much about eyebrows, fortunately.

Hair is fleeting. And my wife likes my shaves head, lucky for me.

Friendship is just as important as family to me.

Money is useful but can cause more problems than it solves if you are not careful.

I love fashion on women. Lucky for me, Billabong makes something for all occasions.

I have learned about boats, rent don’t own, no matter how much dough you got.

Fish are tasty. Not as healthy as I thought.

I surf more when I have a great surfboard.


Empty Mexican beachbreak
"I was something, I mattered. Summers all mine, tan and toned, a young immortal. I had my crew, we had our spot. Ten bucks in your pocket, a whole day to burn. Surf all morning, lounge and flex for pubescent trim, interlopers beware. Warn 'em away, teach consequences. Slash some tires, smash a window, deliver a beating when numbers were in our favour." | Photo: Morgan Maassen

SURF FICTION (PART THREE): I was something, I mattered

The world belongs to the hard men, not their spoiled children…

The little fucker is fast. Barely around the van, hardly in sight, and I’m blasted off my feet. Face in the dirt, empty lungs, I’m in trouble.

I dated a girl when I was twenty. Sixteen years old, sweetest little cock-tease piece of ass you’ve ever seen. Strutting, perky little tits, ripe young ass a-shimmy. I’d buy her beer and and let her drive me crazy. Prick throbbing, heart racing, the little slut knew what she was doing. Loved every second of it.

Always looking, always talking, always forgetting she was mine. Caught some faggot staring. Waited for him in a parking lot, caught him out alone. Crept up quiet, put a bottle to the back of his skull. Laid him out and beat his teeth in.  Sobbing, begging, shattered mouth on warm asphalt.  Sat astride his chest, swung away until my fists were numb.

Bundled her into the backseat, found an alley. Hemming and hawing, pulse racing.


I gave her what she wanted. What they all do. Tears mean nothing, I know what’s mine.

Who’s screaming? Belly on the ground, mouth full of blood. Hand on a rock, try to roll and swing. One foot kicks me limp. Another follows. I’m surrounded and they’re shouting.

“Gun… fucker… kill him.”

Do it.

Set a car on fire once. Pack of niggers’d shown up, beach chairs and towels and smiles all around. Didn’t know what was good for them. Let ’em set up, get nice and comfy. Eating from a cooler, sandwiches and sodas. Ripped a phone book from a nearby booth. Smashed a window, set it alight, flames flickering and catching on sun scorched vinyl. Caustic fumes burning my lungs. Gone before I was noticed.

I was something, I mattered. Summers all mine, tan and toned, a young immortal. I had my crew, we had our spot. Ten bucks in your pocket, a whole day to burn. Surf all morning, lounge and flex for pubescent trim, interlopers beware. Warn ’em away, teach consequences. Slash some tires, smash a window, deliver a beating when numbers were in our favour.

That little blonde cunt spits in my face. Lash out with a foot and buckle her knee.  Send one towards her tits, but it gets caught.

Always knew I was better. World full of weak, tired, scared; nothing to me. Old men with shoulders slumped, marching away to misery. How am I here?

I matter, I’ll finish this. Shotgun’s within reach, I stretch and grasp. Dreadlocks beats me to it. Rich boy fuck all thinks he’s in charge.

Set a car on fire once. Pack of niggers’d shown up, beach chairs and towels and smiles all around. Didn’t know what was good for them. Let ’em set up, get nice and comfy. Eating from a cooler, sandwiches and sodas. Seagulls flocking near, hoping for scraps, prepared to pilfer. Ripped a phone book from a nearby booth, yellow pages full of worthless strangers. Smashed a window, set it alight, flames flickering and catching on sun scorched vinyl. Caustic fumes burning my lungs. Gone before I was noticed.

Scramble to my knees, lunge for the barrel. Little bitch is shocked, squawks, recoils. Gun hits the dirt and it’s anyone’s game. I’m not beaten yet. I’m no broken man. Years are strength, decades pent up, choked with a rage that won’t boil over.  A world that’s filled me with poison, I want to open wide and retch it in their faces.  Show them this is mine. Everything I have, I fucking earned it. The world belongs to the hard men, not their spoiled children.

I lost my way.  Tried to buy in, fit in, make do. Had a little wife, built a little life. Spent my years screaming through the bars, caged by a system built to coddle.  Squandered every lesson I’d learned, bent over smiling for sissies in suits, chasing a dangled dream that never existed. No more, not now.

Fingers brush the barrel and I’m blindsided. A heel stomps my hand, something’s broken. Another kick to the ribs and my breath’s coming in barbs. A hand tangles in my hair and wrenches my head back, my twisted claw scrabbling useless at their wrist.

Blondie’s got my gun now, stock cocked over her shoulder, swinging for the fences. Just do it.  End it. What’s the point? Everything I had, was, would be, is gone. Finish the fucking job.

Dreadlocks plucks it from her hands mid swing, turns and flings it into the night.

“C’mon, he’s done, let’s go.”


I’ll kill them. I’ll smash their faces in, gouge their fucking eyes out. Cut and cut and cut until screams shatter their throats. I try to stand, my feet push dirt.

They leave their campsite behind, fire burning to embers as their wheels kick up dust that coats my swollen tongue and busted lips. I spit it out red and struggle onto my back. Their taillights disappear over a rise. Finally alone.

What have I done to deserve this?


The Tahiti contest? Yeah, rad! But, listen, three things ain't quite right…

Teahupo’o gave me an attack of dizziness. Heading into the final days of the waiting period I thought Kieren Perrow was boned. He’d passed off too many good days early on, only to have conditions shut him down time and again. Bad move, leaving it until the last two days, hoping for an epic swell. Except not.

Unfortunately, not all the decisions were good ones. Since I enjoy second guessing ZoSea/ASP policy as much as the next man, here’s a list of stuff I still want to bitch about.

The commercials: It’s time for ZoSea to hire some new ad sales dorks. Watching the same few commercials play on repeat over the course of an entire contest is obnoxious as hell. It also does a good job demonstrating how little commercial interest there is in the sport.

On the bright side, whichever company was advertising their girls line did a good job of moving a half step away from the sexism rampant in the industry.  There were four waves ridden, compared to only two ass shots over the course of the ad. I’ll chalk that up as a step towards egalitarianism.

The commentators: I don’t know what’s going on here. Strider, Pottz, Williams and Occy do a pretty good job with the color, but Blakey, Turpel and the other guy seem like they’ve never taken a public speaking course in their lives. Real sports announcers draw from a wealth of knowledge to generate conversations during slow moments. Using inane banter to fill dead air is agonising. Spend your ample time between events filling manila folders with salient facts, pull them out during lulls.  Talk about local culture, sponsor changes, equipment choices, the evolution of progression at the relevant spot, anything. Just don’t spend hours repeating that JJ surfs barrels good because he grew up at Pipe. We know that.

And, for Christ’s sake, please discuss scores. It’s hard to make an argument that results are legitimate when they’re handed down by anonymous dudes based on secret reasoning and never questioned by the guys in the booth. Can you imagine a football game where the refs are all watching from off stage and the commentators aren’t allowed to talk about bad calls? Of course not, that’d be retarded.

The scoring: Starting a heat between the two best barrel riders on Earth by giving one of them a 10? Who’s dumb-ass idea was that? Rather than seeing them trade off and battle for the win we instead got to witness JJ struggle to dig himself out of a hole. Giving a 10 means that it’s impossible for someone to get a better wave in the heat, how the fuck can that be an option ten seconds in? Moves like this, combined with the head judge nonsense, reek of collusion. However, I will admit that I enjoy screaming obscenities at a computer screen, so if that’s what you were going for, well, bravo!


Gabriel wins Teahupoo
When Kolohe paddled Gabriel up the point and out of the lineup in their quarter-final (that Gabriel won) who thought it was the work of Gabs? Yeah, all of us. And when he beat Slater? Who called it a triumph of tactic over skill? | Photo: ASP

Gabriel Medina: I can’t get no respect!

The Brazilian world champ-elect (maybe)'s PR problem…

What can I say? I drank every litre of the Billabong Pro Tahiti and I ain’t got complaints. I  adored Joey’s sing-song voice, the handsome anchoring of Ron (and Joey and Ron’s matching cuts), Occ’s kooky shout-outs, Striker’s expert earnestness, Mel in the channel, Rosie’s mainstream cute, KP’s brilliant on-off calls, the greatest heat since the last greatest heat (Slater v JJ, in Tahiti, compare it to Slater v JJ at Pipe last year. Same-ish result) and the ability of the judges to split hairs. (Hello Rich Porta!)

But how do we solve a problem like Medina?

Twenty years old. Three wins this year this year and we haven’t even hit his favs Trestles, France and Portugal. And don’t tell me he can’t slug it out at Pipe. When Kolohe paddled Gabriel up the point and out of the lineup in their quarter-final (that Gabriel won) who thought it was the work of Gabs? Yeah, all of us.

But read what the commentariat says about Gabriel (from

Fred: Medina is a pussy who didnt go on any of the big sets the entire event. Hemay have won, but everyone knows it was only becasue of his gayboy tactics going on the medium sized waves. His highlight reel is gonna be so lame and full of more gayboy claims. suck it faggot.

nicholas1992: The christ the redeemer claim in the semi on a 6ft one was the most cringe worthy thing i’ve ever seen

zbah: Congrats to medina for surfing well and surfing smart but it was a tactical victory. He did the minimum, caught smaller waves, played it safe and smart and won but he did not out surf kelly or Jjf nor did anyone get the impression that he likes charging heavy pits. One might wonder if his wipeout had something to do with letting slater catch that last wave. The judges should have given kelly the score just for that question mark alone. Medina still has an asterisk next to his name and will not be a popular champion and it isn’t because he’s brazilian.

Charlie Conway: I actually had the same thought, I bet since he finally tried to get deep on a big one and got smoked he was scared shitless.

Green Light Go: Really poor judging on Slater’s last ride. He turned on a wave ever bit as big as Gabriel’s 9.63, and Gabriel had priority and was deeper. Judges need to take into account if a surfer decides to not go on a wave (whether he pussed out or just miscalculated) and that should be an extra tenth of a point in your favor. Getting an excellent ride under priority should be rewarded.

Fadethetrade1: I can’t stand his asshole step-dad Charlie. Charlie knows Gabs is his retirement check. Its pathetic. Back the fuck off Charlie and let Gabriel do it on his own.

outer banker: Medina is the Miley Cyrus of professional surfing.

JM101: Median “played” the best game, riding non-set low risk waves, compared to almost everyone else. So good for him. Who knew watching Mick Fanning’s “How To Win The World Tour” DVD would resonate so deeply with Gabs. I apologize for the hate (not really) but the most mind-fuck barrel riding ever seen did not get the win, and those fucking claims… I can’t wait til Kolohe snaps and punches that asshole in the face.

JM101: In his one wipe-out of the whole contest, which was due to taking off on the only truly heavy AND deep wave he attempted the whole time, he came up looking for his Dad, with that pouty look he likes to throw around. The other guys claimed with some fist pumps and hand raises after finishing waves that could have KILLED them. Medina flying off the shoulder ten feet in the air after a bumpless 6 footer is lame and annoying. And that’s a microcosm for the whole contest: even at Chopes if you play your cards right you can win without the best waves or having the most surfing skill in those waves. Medina’s very clever and shreds, but its a joke that his waves were considered on the same level as JJF’s, because they weren’t. Disagree with that and you either a) don’t surf, b) are from Brazil, or c) didn’t actually watch the contest.

Comptony: Only a brazzo could do a poo stance while throwing both arms in the air

Gabriel’s crimes (in descending order) are: he’s Brazilian, his style can get a little off-axis (that bubble ass!), big waves ain’t his thing, he travels with his step-dad who ain’t the most charismatic soul on tour and he’s, like, a Brazilian.

Last month, I was swinging around the judging tower at the US Open (read Confession: I was a judge at the US Open here) and met Ricardo Francesconi, the Brazilian video operator for ASP events. Those replays that get cued up so fast? Yeah, it’s Ricardo. And he’s a sharp, cool cat. I like his opinion and so I asked him about the Gabriel PR problem. Here’s his reply (it came via Facebook).

“It’s a racist type of love and hate. We are on the beach at Snapper, the first event of the year. Taj is surfing against Gab at his home turf. Taj stands up and gets booed so loud that you can hear it on the webcast. Brazilian fans are feral and they will do what it take for a win. So I get it where it all comes from.

“Brazil is the country of football, the sport where home advantage is gigantic and the fans want to create that atmosphere. It’s not that I agree with the fans’ action but I was raised in Brazil and moved to California 10 years ago so I have the privilege of witnessing both sides and can tell you it’s so arduous being a surfer in a sport dominated by Australians and Americans. Brazil has been recognised for their soccer, by having beautiful women, on their free spirit, warm-hearted, happy and friendly attitude…

“But never for surfing.

“We are so criticised, it’s baffling. People have no mercy on a Brazilian surfer. If you pay attention to media comments, every time there is a new segment featuring a Brazilian, and doesn’t matter if he’s top-ranked, a charger or a simple freesurfer, the comments are excruciating. They are full of hate and racism. I ask why? Why does everyone talk shit if a Brazilian claims a wave?

“American sports have the biggest claims ever. How ridiculous is that every time a NBA player makes a free throw he high-fives the whole team. Football giants have the weirdest dances every time they pull someone’s shirt (which happens 100 times at a game). And baseball, the biggest claim in all sports.

“But a Brazilian claims and the surfing world hates it. But now every one is doing it so it’s kind of cool. Right?

“I get the Australians. They ruled this sport for a long time. They outnumber every country on tour by miles. They have the current world champ but for some reason Australians hate Brazilian surfers. They feel threatened? I get it. There are only four Aussies in the top 10 right now and that’s not normal.

“Gabe is leading the rating and yet there is still so many people that doubt his surfing. Will it be a good or bad thing if he wins the world title? I don’t know.”

Let me step in here. Two things will happen when Gabriel wins: Kelly will quit but make cameos at Fiji, Tahiti, maybe J-bay and Pipe (but never Snapper or Bells), Kolohe/Nat/John will step into Kelly’s void (yeah, it takes three) and… gradually…like Slater did, Gabriel will swipe away the criticisms one by one.

He’ll add bravado to his game (remember, Kelly was from Florida and big waves didn’t come easy), the style will loosen and we’ll start to get subtitles on our webcasts. Making a kid, who’s a jock, speak in a second language?

Tell me that ain’t cruel…