Here is how it went – the steps I took – Beth sometimes writes posts about her meaderings through the Internet, how one thing leads to another, how she discovers some blog through a random blog-roll, how a comment in a blog-post leads her to another blog – etc. It’s hard to trace back how certain things happen, but anyway, here goes:
— In the comments to this post, I reference one quote from a soldier (a surfer) who said that the firefight made him feel like he was in the “Green Hole” of a big wave.
— I know nothing about surfing. I have never surfed. But … I am strangely fascinated by them, dating (randomly) from Roger Ebert’s review of Riding Giants. I still haven’t seen that movie – but now I HAVE to. I have no desire to be jet-skied to the top of a towering 60 foot mountain of water, and then ski down the front of it – however, I have a huge fascination towards those who find this FUN.
— Somehow (I’m missing a step) – I found myself here – the wikiepedia entry for Laird Hamilton. I’ve heard of him – but didn’t really know much about him. Reading thru the entry, I came across this paragraph (again – now that I have surfed around the web – ahem – I realize what a huge deal this is and
serious surfers will roll their eyes at how little I know about what is probably common knowledge to them!! but it’s news to me:)
However, it was Hamilton’s death-defying drop into Tahiti’s Teahupoo break on the morning of August 17, 2000 which undoubtedly became the benchmark in his career and his life, and cemented his status as a legendary big wave surfer, one of the greatest surfers that has ever lived. A wipeout in Teahupoo, a particularly hazardous shallow-water reefbreak southeast of Tahiti, means almost certain death yet on that August morning Laird defied all expectations and conquered what is widely considered to be the most dangerous wave ever ridden given the enormous height and volume of water which Laird succeeded in defeating. His ride there of is known by surfers worldwide simply as ‘The Wave’ with the shot of him riding The Wave making the cover of Surfer magazine, accompanied by the caption: “Oh My God…”. Afterwards even Laird admitted that even he was pushing himself to the “max, max, max” as he was quoted on saying, knowing that his life had been on fine knife edge in undertaking such a truly magnificent endeavour.
— To quote my father: “Nevah heard of it.”
— But it sparked my interest. I immediately needed to hear what EVERYONE had to say about what Laird Hamilton did that day. Why was the wave such a big deal? Why do people still talk about what he did that day? Click below the fold to see a picture of Laird doing his thing on that day, Aug. 17, 2000 – riding “the most dangerous wave ever”. My curious brain splutters … but … but … what made it so dangerous? What put it beyond the waves other guys’ have surfed? I don’t know!!
— I went to Laird Hamilton’s website, which sucks. Like: dude. Get a better web designer. But I did watch a couple of trailers of his surfing movies. Phenomenal footage. Truly terrifying. Good lord. Just monstrous waves. Walls of water with a teeny human screaming down the face of it. Beautiful. Insane. Good for you, Laird. Get a new website. Nothing really about “The Wave” (as I have learned it is called by surfers) – at least not as in-depth as I wanted. So I moved on.
— So of course I Googled “Laird Hamilton Tahiti” and started getting somewhere. First link on the page: is this – a post showing famous photograph of Laird that was on the cover of Surfer magazine.
— From that post, I found the photography of Tim McKenna – who captured the whole thing.
— Back to Google. Found this article. Quote from Laird:
That wave in Tahiti was one of those moments that I questioned the success of that ride during it. Right in the apex of it I was seriously questioning whether I’d make it, and I had this voice telling me to jump off. I was having this internal battle as to what to do.
— Why is this so INTERESTING to me? Again: probably because I do not understand his overwhelming passion (I don’t mean that in a judgmental way – I just mean that I do not share his passion) – and I am always interested in hearing passionate people describe their interior thought processes. That’s why Into Thin Air is such a good book. I have no desire to climb to Mount Everest – but I LOVE to listen to people who have THAT as their guiding passion. What can I say. I love freaks. I love people who are nutty, who are not like the majority of other people, who take risks – even if it means losing thier lives. I love people who, for whatever reason, NEED to … oh … surf down a wall of water. If they didn’t surf down that wall of water?? They’d be sociopathic messes. And maybe they are anyway, but still: it doesn’t matter. They MUST surf down that wall of water. Love it.
— Next I clicked on this link. Quote from Laird:
I was in Hawaii in 1969 when Greg Noll caught the giant wave. I had heard about Jeff Clark surfing Maverick for years. But it’s great to have this film capture the spirit of surfing, because that’s so difficult to do. It’s like trying to explain how to surf a 60-foot wave. It’s hard to make people understand it. I’ve been trying to get this film made for six years. I knew a film existed, but I didn’t know it was this film. We wanted to put a stop to this stereotypical view of surfers, like, “Hey, dude!” all that stuff.
Again: worlds of information in there that … is news to me. Who is Greg Noll? What was the big deal about HIS wave? Fascinating!!! Also – all the controversies in the surfing world. Laird Hamilton’s role in all of that. Yadda yadda. Veddy interesting. I love learning new stuff.
— Finally, I clicked on this link from Men’s Journal – which is very well-written and pretty much set me straight on the path to enlightenment. All questions answered. Check it out.
Relevant quotes, for me anyway:
Here is the explanation to my Greg Noll WTF?? question:
As a five-year-old beach rat, Laird also lived through big-wave surfing’s foundational legend: the huge Swell of ’69, when the legendary Greg Noll defined the upper limit of human possibility — the beginning of the unridden realm. By paddling into, and barely surviving, a 35-foot wave, Noll threw down surfing’s ultimate gauntlet.
And here’s some background information for all of us surfing retards out there:
Catching any wave requires getting your board to move faster than the wave itself, so you can overcome surface friction and shoot down the front. The bigger the waves get, the faster they move, but there’s a limit to how fast humans can paddle. Waves over 35 feet were the “unridden realm” until the early 1990s, when Laird, Doerner, and their friend Buzzy Kerbox began using powerboats, and then jet skis, to tow one another into 50-footers at a Maui break called Jaws. At first, traditionalists called the motor assist cheating, but soon they were buying their own jet skis and copying Laird’s marquee act.
Okay. Got it. We’re going into an “unbidden realm”. A high-water mark had been set for 30 years …
Now here is where I kinda flipped out – just because, for a split second – I really GOT it. In terms of what makes the waves at this spot in Tahiti different and more lethal from other waves (and please: surfers, or ocean experts – PLEASE weigh in … this is all news to me) But anyway, here is a great paragraph – I can see exactly what the writer is talking about:
Sheer wave height counts for a lot, but surfing also has an alternate path to glory, based on a wave’s power — or “thickness.” Nobody wants to fall on a very tall wave, but a very thick one is far more lethal.
Think of it this way: big surf is generated in the chaos of a distant storm, and while rolling across the open ocean it consolidates into a stretched-out sine curve. Approaching California, the ever shallower continental shelf drags on those curves, slowing them down and pushing them into a peaklike shape until a thin lip spills over. And even on a towering wave, the face can still be a relatively gentle ramp.
But off the southern coast of Tahiti, near the village of Teahupoo (pronounced CHO-poo), the ocean depth goes from 2,000 feet to six feet in the space of a few hundred yards. Antarctic swell hits the sharp coral reef so hard and fast it has no time to push into a peak. Viewing an incoming Teahupoo wave from the side, you see just the flat ocean surface behind and a vertical wall of water in front. At the last moment, the whole top half of that cliff soars forward in a massively thick lip. The world’s finest surfers have to struggle for balance here, screaming through a giant tube over sharp coral with no way out. If the pursuit of sheer wave height is a mountain-man game, easily appreciated, the pursuit of thickness is the connoisseur’s dance with death.
Teahupoo is considered the world’s thickest wave.
Never really considered this before. It’s not just about towering height. Thickness can be far more dangerous.
And this sentence: see just the flat ocean surface behind and a vertical wall of water in front. … And I can understand why this is the case, if the water gets so shallow so quickly. I can picture it in my mind, although I don’t think I’ve ever seen waves that big in my life. I get it.
At the last moment, the whole top half of that cliff soars forward in a massively thick lip.
Okay. Okay. I got it. You’ve scared the crap out of me. I got it.
Then, in the article, we get to know Laird. And he kinda sounds like a dick. heh heh Kinda?? Ah well. I’m not interested in Laird Hamilton because he’s “nice”. Most daredevils have to have a bit of the dick about their personality – not just a cocky sense of their own immortality, but also a competitive spirit that will keep others from catching up to them. You must want to be the greatest to be in Laird’s position. So … he sounds like a nightmare. Whatever. I don’t need my surfing geniuses to be polite and domesticated. I prefer the wildness. Like I said: give me fringe-dwellers, give me people too nuts for polite society, give me the kooks, the weirdos, those who follow their passions to a logical conclusion. Hang the consequences!
The article ends with a description of Laird riding that wave in Tahiti.
I need to see Riding Giants to see this footage. But for now, here’s the passage:
Dropping into a Teahupoo wave is less like roaring down a mountain than slipping over the edge of a cliff into a fast-forming canyon. As Laird releases the tow rope that morning in Tahiti, the wave just falls away below him, until hundreds of horizontal feet of water have dropped into a 20-foot precipice. He sails down and left, escape already impossible, and then the hoots fade as the wave morphs into an outsize behemoth — the movie star unaware that Godzilla looms behind him.
Near the bottom, as he compresses into a tight crouch — and this is where surfers watching the video shot that day freak out — the whole top half of the wave launches into a single, solid lip, encasing him in a mineshaft with a 10-foot-thick wall in front and the ocean itself behind, all of it spinning. In waves of monstrous height Laird had survived horrendous wipeouts without a scratch; to fall on that Teahupoo wave would have been, as he put it, “like getting driven through a cheese grater by a steamroller.”
Just staying on his feet required absolute technical mastery. Water was rushing up the face so fast that he had to surf almost straight down to avoid getting sucked up and over; he had to carve left to avoid running into a lethal waterfall. And Teahupoo’s bizarre hydraulics meant that Laird was soaring through a curved wormhole, with no end in sight, his mind screaming at him, “Jump off! Jump off!” For a man who had never been able to find his own limits, he suddenly felt, as he put it, “max-max-max-max.” Scarier still, a gigantic bolus of whitewater was filling the tube from behind, running him down like floodwater through the Holland Tunnel.
Laird is a powerful man, but every surfer who sees that footage has the same reaction: You start out thrilled, then your jaw drops, then you get worried, and then you get a guilty kind of nausea, watching a man flirt with on-camera suicide. Locked inside that blue hole Laird looks tiny and just barely in control, as if the slightest surface chop could topple him. You know that he’s touching the edge of his abilities, and it makes you feel weak inside. You want to turn away and tell yourself your own inadequacy is okay. Then the whitewater explodes from the barrel’s mouth like spray from a 30-foot-wide firehose, and Laird vanishes. The onlookers who could see what was happening were terrified.
Then he emerges, still standing.
And that’s when the interesting part begins. As Laird climbs back into the boat he looks directly into the video camera and says, “Hi, Dad.” He’s talking to Billy, of course — carrying on the dialogue they’ve been having since he was three years old. Seeming more stunned than triumphant, his next words are something Billy always told him: “Come home with your shield or on it, right?”
Trying to start a conversation in the boat, Laird finds the others too astonished to speak. They’ve just witnessed a defining moment in the sport’s history, and they seem uncomfortably aware that Laird is not so much like them after all. He notices this and looks disturbed. His life’s work has just come together; he’s done something so extreme that all doubts are put to rest. Bradshaw, Doerner, Billy — none of them could have ridden that wave, and, more importantly, none of them would have ridden that wave.
But what’s it like to reach the end of your journey? To see at last your own glorious power, even as you face the truly suicidal nature of your hungers? Once you’ve brushed this close to death, are you really going to wake up tomorrow and try to get even closer?
Confusion sweeps his handsome features, and he searches the other faces. Perhaps to relieve tension, he loudly declares to a wiry blond man, “Hey, that was for you!”
The guy laughs. “For me?”
“Because you were towing before, you didn’t get to see the first big one.”
The blond man musters a hoot, honoring the gesture, but he has no illusion that Laird rode that wave for him. “Heaviest thing ever,” he says, shaking his head. Everybody’s trying to say what they think Laird wants to hear, but none of it comes out right. “You’re a freak,” one guy says. “I’m going to have nightmares tonight.”
“You better check out a psychologist,” says another.
Laird ‘s eyes soften to weep, his nose swells and his mouth loosens into a gentle smile, but then he shakes it off and waves to the second boat, where a half-dozen more surfers watch silently. He yells, “For you guys, man! For you!”
“Oh yeah?” comes a reply.
After a lifetime of setting himself apart from others, Laird suddenly aches to feel less alone. Speaking to the Tahitians in the crowd, he says, “Thank you for your love, your ohana.” He gestures with a fist to his heart, but the others are simply too awed to respond. He looks one last time for what he wants but will never get from these companions, and then he puts his head between his knees and cries.
There’s not a sentence in that entire article that I do not find interesting.
August 17, 2000, Laird Hamilton
Tahiti’s Teahupoo break