Brock Little, Ken Bradshaw and the 25-footer that shaped both their destinies. And it still kills Kenny!
“Aaron Napoleon was just screaming at me, calling me every goddam name under the sun and just screaming ‘You go you fucking pussy, you go, go, go.’ There was no doubt in my mind I was going to make that wave.”
Reckon Brock Little ever gets sick of telling that story?
It’s the Hawaiian winter of 1990, Waimea Bay, the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau.
Look at the image and ask yourself once again. Reckon Brock Little ever gets sick of telling that story?
Well, would you?
“The thing is at big Waimea, when those big ones come through, not many people want anything to do with ‘em,” recalls Brock, now 47. “That wave came through and everyone just bolted for the horizon, everyone except (Ken) Bradshaw and me. We were side by side and both paddling for it. I took off, he took off and…”
Stop the tape… right… there.
Two careers are seconds away from taking two very different turns. One will be righteously bathed in glory for eternity; the other left to ponder what if and temporarily wander the desert like Moses, searching for internal redemption.
“The… biggest… mistake… of my competitive career was not catching that wave,” says Ken Bradshaw, now 62, and nearly a quarter of a century after the event. “He took off and fell and got all the glory, I kicked out ’cause I knew there was a much bigger one behind it. But…it just didn’t turn out. Biggest… mistake of my career.”
But back to Little.
“I knew I was in a good spot to catch that wave, just turns out I wasn’t in a good spot to ride it,” he says. “Either way, I paddled my ass off, I clearly remember just wanting it so bad and it was letting me in.”
Little manages to get to his feet and assumes the same position he’d done countless times before. “And then I hit a bump, and all of a sudden I was just skimming down the face like a rock over shallow water. And the whole time I was just looking up, thinking to myself, ‘If that lip lands on me I’m dead’. But luckily it didn’t”
Little then has a few seconds to contemplate what’s in store as he watches the lip thrown over him. “I remember thinking I was either get my ass kicked real good or I was going to die. Either way I was at peace. I put myself in that position and I was happy with that. But, and I don’t know if I was hallucinating or what at this point, I then remember being sucked up and over and for a split-second I could see the whole of Waimea Bay and I just caught a breath and I think from that point, I knew I was going to be ok.”
Thousands lining the shore of Waimea Bay see the wipe-out, but it’s the resulting image of Little, teetering on the brink of disaster that will end up on walls worldwide for years to come. “I remember walking up the beach after it, and everyone was looking at me like they’d seen a ghost,” he says. “But you know, I’m so proud of that moment. I don’t look back at it and think, ‘What the fuck was I thinking?’ I’m proud of wanting that wave and I wanted it real bad.”
Not that his reputation ever needed it, but the moment and a glorious attempt at a tube ride moments later elevates Little to the top tier of manliness among the most manliness of line-ups the world has ever known.
“It’s the same with Healey, Dorian, Jamie, Twiggy and all those guys,” says Brock. “You either have it or you don’t. You either want it or you don’t. I mean, I was in pretty good shape at the time but I knew some of my peers were training harder or what not but you’d see them out on the big days and you could see that fear in their eyes.”
As for Bradshaw…
“I don’t think I ever have gotten over that moment. And I’ve never really spoken to Brock about it either.”