Scary wipeouts, never-ending wave hold-downs, steep drops and inevitable bail-outs. Big wave surfing can be painful and, sometimes, your life is in serious danger.
Big wave surfers have learned to prepare for the big occasions. Their daily job requires a perfect balance between physical health and mental preparation.
You are not born a big wave rider. You may become a big wave rider. There's too much at stake when you're traveling down the wave face at 50 mph (80 km/h) and, in your back, a massive wall of water chases you at full throttle.
Brock Little, Laird Hamilton, Shane Dorian, Garrett McNamara, Grant Twiggy Baker, Grant Washburn, Greg Long, Ian Walsh, Jay Moriarty, Jeff Clark, Mike Parsons, Peter Mel, Ross Clarke-Jones are some of the best big wave surfers of all time.
They share the commandments of the big wave surfer. So, what have they got in mind, when it's time to paddle for the biggest ride of their lives?
1. Never take off on the first wave of a big set. It's hard to resist a good-looking wave when you're waiting for 10 minutes and adrenaline wants to pump your whole body. The problem is that, if you wipeout, you will take the entire set on the head;
2. Let the whitewater control the movement of your body. If you get caught by the wave or if you wipeout, don't resist the power of the whitewash. You'll lose energy and oxygen. Let yourself go in fetal position;
3. Always wear a buoyancy vest. A floatation vest can save your life and get you to the surface during life-threatening hold-downs;
4. Control panic, let fear do its job; Panic attacks are characterized by a fear of disaster or of losing control even when there is no real danger. You don't want that. On the other side, fear is a basic survival mechanism. Fear is good and should be driven to big wave management;
5. Bail out the smartest way possible. Know the ocean bottom and visualize the behavior of the wave behind you before bailing out;
6. Learn to wipeout. Always jump away from your board, avoid head dives, protect your brain, keep cool and open your eyes underwater;
7. Never go out all by yourself in a big wave surfing day. If things go wrong, you won't have a jet ski saving your life. Paddling out alone is probably the worst mistake a big wave surfer can make.
8. Study currents, ocean bottom and wave peaks before paddling out. Knowledge is power. Before paddling out, take your time and gather as much information as you can about the big wave spot, and you will reduce your anxiety levels.
9. Learn to track swells and how to read weather charts. Surf science will help you pick the spot, the day and the right time to battle the wave titans. There are great surf forecasting books in the market.
10. Practice Yoga and Pilates, improve your eating habits and increase your lung capacity. Stretching and increasing the amount of air your lungs can absorb is as critical as setting a relaxed mindset for riding giants.