Strider Wasilewski and the best surf profile of the year.
It is not often that great surf pieces appear in non-surf publications but the free LA Weekly just threw down a hammer on the great Strider Wasilewski. It is the best profile of the year, for certain, and I won’t spoil with my words. So enjoy.
If you think you can surf the world’s most powerful waves, you’re fooling yourself. It takes magical thinking to put your flesh and bones in the path of nature’s fury.
He maintained that lie until one day in 2003, when he faced Andy Irons and other pros in the early rounds of a world tour event at the Tahitian meat grinder known as Teahupo’o. One of the participants, a French local, scraped for an impossible wave — and his failure infected Wasilewski with a mortal truth.
“I could see the fear in his eyes,” Wasilewski says. “And he went and got sent over the falls. And he couldn’t see when he finally came up. He had been underwater for so long his oxygen was gone, and water was coming out of his nose. Nothing was working for him. He couldn’t paddle. He was flopping around, waving. I went to help him, and I was trippin’ on him: Fuck, that was so gnarly. And then I was sitting and a wave came right to me, and I started questioning myself at that moment.”
Until then, Wasilewski had never truly understood fear. But somehow, the French surfer’s fear became Wasilewski’s own.
“And I remember Andy seeing that questioning in my eye. And he took off on the wave, cut back and got the sickest pit. He won the heat. He had the edge from that moment on for the rest of our lives.”
That’s Wasilewski’s perception of it, anyway.
It turns out that, a year earlier, Irons had faced his own life-changing wave — at the same spot. In a video, Irons would describe dropping in on a “dredging” 15-footer that heaved over Teahupo’o’s notorious barbed-wire reef. Irons said that he’d been gripped by fear, unable to catch one wave during that session. He charged only to elbow out his competitive brother, Bruce, who was looking at the same monster. “I pulled back on five waves,” Irons said, “and my balls were just up in my stomach. … I’m scared. I can’t do it.”
He made the wave, though, and he made it look easy. Eight years after the experience, in 2010, Irons would die in a Texas hotel room of a heart attack, likely brought on by all the drugs in his system, including Alprazolam, Zolpidem, methadone, cocaine and methamphetamine.
That could have been Wasilewski’s path. Maybe it should have been.