Crushed in West Oz

Mark Mathews on the monster from our March issue

Mark Mathews, pulling into a monster in West Oz. Photo: Collins

Mark Mathews has to make some difficult decisions on occasion. When he took off on this West Australian monster, known simply as “The Right,” he had two options: straighten out and face the guillotine, or pull into the giant cement mixer. He went with the latter and took quite a beating, but because of that call we’re left with this amazing image, which graced the pages of our March issue. I rang Mark in Hawaii to find out why he would pull into such a beast.

Is this wave usually pretty makeable, or are there a lot of closeouts?

Oh man, I’ve surfed it where almost every wave is just completely perfect. It’s just that swell was sort of late in the season and the tides were a bit more drastic—they were way lower at that time of year and I think that was making it close out. It just wasn’t holding because of how big the swell was.

What was going through your head when you dropped into that one? Did you know from the get-go that you were screwed?

When I saw it out the back, I knew it was the biggest one of the day. And I’d seen a couple when I was watching in the channel that were makeable and nearly that big. When I was whipping into it, I was just hoping that it would hit the reef right and just be perfect. But I let go of the rope and just as I got to the bottom of it, it just went real weird on the reef. It sort of hugged the corner of the reef and that’s what makes it close out. I was just like, “Fuck!” You know, there was nothing I could do but try and pull in.

When you’re in that situation, do you think it’s better for your health to pull in or to try to straighten out?

I think on that wave it was definitely safer to pull in. If you can outrun the lip and get out in front of it, then it’s probably better to straighten out. But just the way the lip on that wave pitches, and where I was—kind of getting sucked up the face—there was no way I would’ve been able to outrun it. You’ve got no choice. You’re better off pulling into the barrel and just trying to get away from the force of that lip.

How rattled did you get from the power of that wave?

It was pretty violent. It wasn’t a long hold-down, but it was just super violent. It was just trying to tear my body apart. I was doing like a hundred cartwheels and somersaults under the water, but it wasn’t long. There were a couple that day, like Hippo [Ryan Hipwood] got one that day that was almost a three-wave hold-down. I was kind of lucky that I didn’t get held down for too long.

Was that your last wave of the session?

Nah, I stayed out for a bit after that—with a smile on my face [laughs].

Was it all worth it?

Yeah I got one pretty sick one after that. It wasn’t as big, but it was sick. It hit the reef perfect and was a big one, so it was worth risking it again.

Below is the entire sequence shot by Ray Collins: