...about big wave surfing. And then some!
The Player’s Tribune, Derek Jeter’s website/portal into the mind’s of athletes, is an amazing place. He started it because he felt the press would often twist his words. And so he created a place free of twist. A “unique insight into the daily sports conversation that publishes first-person stories directly from athletes.” Athletes write about their experiences at length without nasty journalists getting in their way.
Today, you can find Mark Healey writing about big wave surfing at length. He tells us everything we ever wanted to know plus much more. Without further twist from a nasty journalist, here he is.
MY JOB: BIG-WAVE SURFER
“So, what do you do?”
You know that thing when you’re at a party and it’s kind of tedious having to explain your job to people? Well, I’m no different. My answer can be summed up in four words: professional big-wave surfer. But as the follow-up questions come, it gets a bit more complicated. To put it simply, I chase ocean-born storms — the largest I can possibly find— all around the planet with the goal of riding the waves they create. Like a doctor, I feel like I’m always on call. As the saying goes, “Time and tide wait for no man.”
Surfing, that’s the fun part.
But there’s another part of my job that’s just as important: getting there. Seems obvious, right? You have to get to the wave to catch the wave. The big-wave surfer’s mantra might be the famous line, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Big, beautiful, pristine waves come and go all the time, and no human is there to ride them. That’s the big difference between surfing and big-wave surfing. If you’re not there at the right time, you’re suddenly no longer a big-wave surfer — you’re just a weary traveler standing on a beach, staring out at a flat ocean. Like a lot of sports, luck and timing both play huge roles.
Looking at big-wave surfing as a job, this is how I’d break it down.
First, you have to be a meteorologist. Or at least, you have to be an amateur meteorologist who thinks he’s a real one. Basically, you have to obsess over weather patterns, day and night. Some people call me a “storm chaser,” but most of my storm chasing starts in front of a computer, scouring the Internet. I refresh swell reports like it’s Fantasy Football.
Next, you have to be a good travel agent. You can start to see a storm brewing about five days out. That’s when you first “see” a wave. Surfing is a laid-back lifestyle, but you have to be anything but laid back about logistics. Everything is last minute and you’re always rushing. Then you have a choice: Do you go? If the answer is yes, you usually have one-to-two days to get halfway around the world. If you don’t drop everything right away, no matter what engagements or responsibilities you have, you’ll get to a beach 13,000 miles away and miss the whole thing. It’s happened to every big-wave surfer.