The sun rose late in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on February 1, bathing this pre-redemption Narnia tableau in sparkling glory. C.S. Lewis’s classic starring four brothers and sisters, talking fawns and beavers, a lion, witch and wardrobe was one of my very favorite books growing up. That admixture of adventure, eternally high stakes, children with swords, bows and arrows set my young heart racing though I didn’t understand how a world perpetually snowy was a bad thing.
I lived on the Oregon coast where it rarely snowed but perpetually rained.
I dreamed of snow, of Turkish Delight produced by dropping magic driplets from a horse-drawn sleigh into it, cozy fur blankets and, twice a year, when my family drove inland for weekends at Hoodoo Ski Bowl were absolute highlights even though there was neither Turkish Delight nor cozy fur blankets for Hoodoo’s motto spoke to my family’s ethos.
Steep, deep and cheap.
When it was time to finally escape coastal Oregon’s gloom for good, I raced to southern California then Australia then back to southern California, becoming a famous surf journalist along the way, but the snow, the mountains, haunted my dreams.
Maybe it was genetic.
My uncle-cousin is a legend in mountaineering lore. Art Gilkey, who was raised in Iowa but moved to a farm outside of Portland, Oregon after graduating university, was an early Alaskan explorer and part of the third American expedition to K2 in 1953. Their exploits, captured vividly in The Savage Mountain, detail feats of bravery, comradery, skill that are rarer and rarer in our lily-livered modernity.
An elementary and graphic lesson in surf etiquette…
The German big-wave surfer Sebastian Steudtner has released a graphic clip of what can happen when, panic-stricken, you throw away your board to get under a wave.
Steudtner, who has been a regular at Nazaré since 2012, was whipped into a set and, “setting up my line, saw a friend of @maya paddling out and thought I’m gonna go around him and give him space. He jumped off his board to dive under the wave, shooting the board right in my direction as I passed him. My right arm prevented damage to my face but redirected all the force to my chest.”
The collision dislocated Steudtner’s clavicular, fractured his ribs and tore hell out of the muscles in his neck and chest.
Two months later, Steudtner is only just back in the water.
The handsome German, who is thirty-five and from Nuremberg, famous in the thirties and forties for its lavish Hitler rallies and for the post-World War II trials that strung up as many of the bastards as the Allies could find, moved to Hawaii when he was thirteen to pursue his dream of becoming a big-wave surfer.
He is a two-time winner of the XXL Biggest Wave award, in 2010 and 2014.
It seems like many lifetimes ago, but it was really only a small part of one, when our surfing world was ruled by surfing magazines. In the United States, there was three: Surfing, Surfer and Transworld Surf. The latter, edited by Joel Patterson then Chris Cotê, served a steady diet of punky fun with various bro-isms, bright colors and tongue-in-cheek ripostes.
But, as you know, all good things come to an end and Transworld Surf came to an end with the most polarizing cover in surf magazine history.
It was one of my all-time favorites, capturing the joie de vivre of our surfing world but others despised, thinking it unchill. Whatever your opinion, it is an undeniably magnificent image, taken by Brad Masters who hails from Fremantle in Perth.
The 41-year-old photographer/fitness guru had been in Bali, this past December, when he began to experience pain in his lower jaw. By Christmas, his neck was bigger than his head and “scarlet,” according to his partner Trish Kincaid.
For one month, the doctors tried to remove the infection but then Masters contracted a superbug and was placed in an induced coma on life support. The infection then spread to his lungs and gave him pneumonia.
He spent many more weeks in and out of surgery, before the doctors were able to clear the infection and close the wound and must spend many more weeks in the hospital while he heals but his insurance company is refusing to pay for the cost, citing the fact that neck infections are not covered by the policy, according to Kincaid.
The family has set up a GoFundMe campaign to cover the cost as well as repatriate Masters back to his native Australia.
Damned insurance companies.
Worse than all but internet providers.
Russ Bierke, face down, elbows out. @andrewkaineder/@oneilloz
Graphic footage: See Australian big-wave surfer Russ Bierke’s horror wipeout and yawning wound on East Coast’s Big Thursday!
On Thursday, Jan 21, much of Australia’s east coast was raked by a powerful south swell, igniting a bonfire in the loins of Russ who planned on cavorting at a reef nearish to home.
This is his second wave, paddled into on his seven-eight at seven-thirty am. Russ swung for a double-up, hit a little backwash from the previous wave and, as Russ explains, “bodysurfed straight onto the bottom on my elbows with arms out in front of me.”
Russ, wearing an impact suit, figured it wasn’t too bad. He’d been dragged along the bottom before, which is mostly barnacles and cungeboi, and figured he’d have a little reef rash.
Then he saw the blood pouring out of his wetsuit.
“I pulled it off and got a shock,” he says.
A gaping hole near the limb’s brachial artery, the arm’s flexor muscle exposed.
Russ is a practical sorta cat and had a stretch tourniquet handy.
Immediately, Russ was thinking about nerve damage or muscle that could keep him out of the big-wave game for months.
In the clip, here, we see the moment, upon his return to shore, where he examines the wound with his friend Sean Mawson and filmer Andrew Kaineder.
At a nearby hospital, Russ was relieved to learn he’d avoided nerve or muscle damage and, after eleven stitches and a couple of weeks kept dry, he’d be back in the ocean.
Still, ask him what he hit and he still doesn’t know, definitely wasn’t a fin, he says, and theorises that it might’ve been a pressure split, where the skin splits upon impact.
Russ is no stranger to injury, of course.
He is one surfer who is prepared to pay, what Hawaiians call, “the ultimate price.”
That’s it, that’s all. I’ve had it. Mad as hell and not going to take it anymore etc. The World Surf League has failed us, extraordinarily, in our moment of greatest need. They have withheld professional competitive surfing, through bungling, lack of imagination, arrogant stupidity when Plump Pip Toledo bouncing around equally oversized Sunset could have, nay would have, been the healing ointment for these uncertain times.
Pandemic, political tension, economic stressors, emotional collapse.
Professional competitive surfing as cure. Hours stretching into days pondering Kanoa Igarshi’s wave selection instead of whether granny will live to see another rotten day.
But no, nein, nyet (which is actually spelled “net” in our English script because the “e” is pronounced “ye”) nothing and I am finished looking to Santa Monica with dewy, hope-filled eyes. Done waiting on World Surf League CEO Erik Logan to un-mealy his mouth.
Instead I shall fly to Jackson, Wyoming where the world’s greatest snowboarder, Travis Rice, has willed a whole new professional competitive tour into existence, staring pandemic, political tension, economic stressors, emotional collapse in the eye and not blinking.
Natural Selection, with its first of three stops at the famed Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (Feb. 3 – 9), will wrench our attention from granny’s well-being and has a format so simple even the most salt-crusted can follow along.
Sixteen men and eight women, each one of finest snowboarders alive, hand-selected by competent snowboard journalists, podcasteers and legends (as opposed to slogging through some nitwit QS-esque nonsense) will bash off natural and lightly enhanced features for our entertainment.
Many big airs. Much rotations.
I just so happened to be with Travis over this past New Year holiday. One evening he came home tired and sweaty, having been shoveling snow on the course all day. I was drinking bourbon and working on a puzzle of planet earth in his kitchen. “I think I did the highest air of my life,” he said. “How high?” I asked. “100 feet,” he mumbled, not impressed with himself, though I was very impressed and you will certainly be too.
The riders will be judged on their amplitude but also their speed, their power, their flow.
We understand speed, power and flow.
It will take the best two days of a seven day waiting period to run the event.
We understand waiting periods.
The finest snowboarders alive will then go to Bald Face in British Columbia, a fantasy land owned and operated by one of the handsomest men on earth, Jeff Pensiero. The top four men, two women, after that will end in Alaska on the same spines featured in the world’s greatest extreme sport film ever (Tom Curren’s Free Scrubber exempted).
I shall be covering it all, each stop, starting tomorrow on LodgeGrit, which also happens to be anti-depressive, and encourage you, oh weary People™, to join me there daily with coverage, ill-posited opinion, live commenting.
Long live scores in the excellent range.
Long live elimination rounds.
Long live tenths of percents.
Long live hundreds of feet.
Long live competitive professional surfing.
I mean snowboarding.
Jon Pyzel and Matt Biolos by @theneedforshutterspeed/Step Bros