On the morning Feb. 13, 1997, during a rapidly rising 18- to 20-foot swell, Todd Chesser paddled out to an oversize North Shore Outer Reef known as Outside Alligators. It was typical Chesser: Waimea had too many kooks and he bailed on an invitation to stunt-double at Jaws for the filming of In God’s Hands.
Instead, he grabbed a couple of willing guinea pigs – Cody Graham and Aaron Lambert – and convinced them that they’d have the session of their lives. But sometime during that session, things went wrong. Fast. A huge cleanup set pushing 25 feet mowed over the guys, and Chesser failed to surface. Graham and Lambert finally got to him, but it was too late. Another big-wave hero – who had appeared invincible to all of us – had left us way too soon, only four days from his 29th birthday.
It’s been exactly 10 years since that dark day in surf history, but Chesser’s sarcastic cackle is as alive as ever. Alive in the dozens of big-wave surfers he influenced in the short time he was here. Alive every time you see a waterman break from the pack and do his own thing. As this next big storm churns toward Hawaii this week, make sure you catch one for Cheese.