In Harm’s Way

With new technology and safety advances, big-wave surfing should be safer than ever, so why isn't it?

Mavericks. Photo: Craig

Greg Long’s hope is that he can use his experience to evangelize for surfers to be not only physically and mentally, but logistically prepared to ride giant waves, but whether or not this dedication to preparation and safety extends beyond Long, Dorian, and their tight-knit crew remains to be seen.

For those of us in our armchairs, it’s hard not to look at the photos of Greg Long’s wipeout and think that they carry some inherent meaning.

Because what if Greg Long had died? When Mark Foo drowned, nobody saw him for at least an hour. Greg Long was out of sight for only 60 seconds. So what if Greg Long, the most accomplished, most fit, most mentally prepared big-wave surfer on the planet died, despite being under careful surveillance from six trained rescuers on jet skis? What if, in this new era when paddling into monster waves is accepted practice, and flotation devices make people feel as though they’re safer, things actually get uglier? What if the recent effort to “push the limits” is reaching an inevitable, mortal conclusion?

Greg Long believes that what-ifs are a waste of time, and he’s straightforward in his response: If Greg Long had died, he’d be dead. That’s it.

“If I had died, I would like to think that everybody would have learned the lesson in a more dramatic fashion. We’ve all lost good friends riding big waves. If you don’t accept that fact, and you think that you’re living in a world of immortality, you’re kidding yourself. But I don’t see it as being this death-defying thing where every single time I’m out there, I’m walking the line of maybe coming back, maybe not. I don’t paddle out there with the idea of, ‘Gosh, I might die today.’ You can’t live your life in fear of dying. You have to do what is going to fulfill you. Big wave surfing’s it for me.”

He’s right, of course. If he had died, there would be no inherent meaning beyond the tragedy. Garrett McNamara would not have blood on his hands. Greg Long and the other surfers who paddled Cortes Bank on the 22nd would not have been naïve, nor would they have been grave warriors who were “willing to pay the ultimate price.”

They’d just be who they are: A group of people doing what they love, aware of the consequences, always knowing that one day the water might not let them go.