Are big wave surfers big fat liars?

July 12, 2019 | Surfing
Jose Ramirez Rito: going left at the 2017 Puerto Escondido Cup | Photo: Morales/WSL

Big wave surfers will lie to your face, even if they love you - especially if they love you.

And artists, passionate about their work, and police officers and firefighters, they do the same thing too.

Anyone given over to their passion will look you in the eye, and with their whole soul exposed, tell you a truth which will later turn out to look - and feel - like a bald-faced lie.

But that's only because truth is of the moment.

It was a conversation with the wife of a big wave surfer.

I was referring to a different big wave surfer when I said, "I can't even look that guy in the eye. There's too much sadness. I cry when I talk to him."

"And I'll tell you why," I said, "it's because when there are big waves out there," and I pointed to Zicatela, "and there might be six heads bobbing in the water, there's a difference between the ones out there because they feel it and the ones out there punchin' a clock for money."

"And if you don't 'feel it,' how do you hug a three-year-old and say, 'OK honey, I'm going out there to see if I can make some money."

We didn't say anything for a while. And we let that image sink in.

She's nodding her head. She'd seen her husband, Jose Ramirez Rito, on big waves before. A bunch of times. She lived it, for years.

And she knows how deadly Playa Zicatela can be.

Roxel Perez bodyboards Zicatela and has been in big stuff herself, although she wouldn't ever tell anyone.

Jose Ramirez Rito: tension and focus before the big moment | Photo: Villela/WSL

Before The Big Moment

She breaks the silence.

"The day the WSL Big Wave Tour was here, that was different..." she said. "I couldn't sleep the night before."

She throws up her hands like she's surrendering again to the once lived emotion that will be lived once again.

Puerto Escondido Cup 2019 is set for Monday, July 15, and Jose Ramirez and 29 others will try their luck against nature at Playa Zicatela - "Mexpipe" - one of the ten heaviest waves in the world.

She might have said she was crying the night before the WSL, but I don't remember because I was already tearing-up. I know she wiped her eyes as she was speaking.

"And the next morning on the beach..."

She sits up in her chair and pretends she's standing on the beach and stretches out her arms as if she were putting them on her husband's shoulders.

She got really close to him that morning, like forehead to forehead, and she looked him in the eye. It was one of those serious conversations between people.

And she said to him, "You're not going to do anything stupid... Promise me."

And he said, "Mi amor, you know how careful I am picking my waves."

And he was. He's a super conservative guy when picking waves. That was true.

In fact, you have to be when they get deadly.

"And you know," he continued, "I don't go right. I'm not going right."

And he shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. Totally convincing. Even to himself.

Change of Plans

Eight-meter surf crashed behind them. Jose went to the water, and she went to the sand by herself. She was crying.

He was in the first heat.

And on the first wave of the competition - and unfortunately, the first wave of the set - a choppy right (one he'd never take any other day) started building on the horizon and kept growing and growing and growing.

Until she watched him take it.

"And it was an ugly wipeout," she said, totally spent from reliving the experience. Perez shakes her head, and she's smiling now.

"That's why I don't like big wave surf competitions," I say and stand up.

I feel like I'm still in the white water with her husband that day.

I pulled my arms to my chest, and my hands cover my mouth. I relive it like a 47-year-old baby. Puerto's PTSD runs through my neural cortex.

I say, "After a wipeout, everybody on the sand is laughing and punching each other in the arm, and I'm just looking for the head in the white water."

"My inner voice just keeps repeating: show me the head, just show me the head. And I can't breathe until I see one."

"And everyone is laughing on the beach, and someone is dying or might be dead... because nobody, nobody knows where that board is going in a wipeout. That's why I don't like big wave competitions."

I sit.

"When he came back in, I hugged him, and I didn't say anything. I just looked at him," recalls Roxel Perez.

And he said, "Mi amor, it was either me or the Hawaiian, and you know..."

We laughed and laughed and laughed about that. Now that it's funny.

Roxel Perez is the voice of Beach Break Podcast and rides for Kpaloa Fins.


Words by John P. Murphy

The Summer Surf Gear Guide 2019