Ten Questions With Ghost Tree Charger Don Curry

SURFERMAG.COM: Don, over the years you have been featured many times in SURFER Magazine surfing Maverick's. How does Ghost Tree compare to Maverick's in size and power?
DON CURRY: Both waves are unique in their own ways. I think Maverick's has more volume per wave, where Ghost Tree is more dangerous due to the rocks. Bigger than 12-feet Hawaiian, Ghost Tree becomes a tow-surf-only wave due to those rocks. Maverick's is a surf spot. Ghost Tree is a tow-spot.

SURFERMAG.COM: The Monterey Peninsula is far from a surf mecca. The rugged coastline does not offer good surf very often, compared to an area like Santa Cruz. Did you always know Ghost Tree was right there in your back yard, waiting to be ridden? How long have you had an eye on the place?
DON CURRY: I first saw it surfed in 1974. Since then I have seen a few people surf it, but it was not my first pick for good spots to tow. The first guys to tow it were Replogle, Peter Mel, and Shane Desmond, who was also the first person to get injured (tow-surfing) there. I actually tow-surfed the place before I ever paddled out there.

SURFERMAG.COM: What was your first impression the first time you towed there? Did you immediately know that Ghost Tree would become well known?
DON CURRY: I knew it was a dangerous wave, but I never thought it would create this much attention. Did I know it would become famous? It's pretty hard to hide a 60-foot-faced wave.

SURFERMAG.COM: Was March 9th the biggest you ever tow-surfed Ghost Tree? Can it handle a bigger size swell?
DON CURRY: Yes and no. I had seen it bigger when we towed there in Feb. 2004, the day before the Maverick's contest. We didn’t ride the biggest waves that day, because it was too stormy. The biggest waves ridden there were on March 9th. For sure. I think it could hold an unlimited amount of swell, but like all big waves, it would depend on how clean the waves are.

SURFERMAG.COM: Injuries: I know that the previous session before March 9th, your tow-partner Ed Guzman got speared in the leg all the way to the bone with his board while you were towing. Next session Justen Allport and Tyler Smith were both injured. Is the wave that dangerous or was it pilot error? Was it an experience issue?
DON CURRY: Wipeouts happen. Injuries happen. Sometimes things are out of our control. What happened to Justen Allport was a fluke. The heel-straps didn’t release for him — otherwise he might not have been hurt. Same with Ed and Tyler. They had bad wipeouts. As far as experience … Tyler and Russell got some experience that day. [Referring to the incident when Russell got slammed while on the ski to save his brother.] That could have been a disaster.

SURFERMAG.COM: I have talked to other surfers who have had bad wipeouts at Ghost Tree; in fact your old tow-partner Armin Yeager claims that he almost passed out there underwater. Do you think it's more dangerous than Maverick's? Is there any advice that you could give others who might be thinking about tow-surfing there?
DON CURRY: Ghost Tree is definitely more dangerous than Maverick's. Our goal there now is to avoid injuries. My advice? Learn to drive well. Tow-surfing is 90% boating and only 10% surfing. The driver is the most important aspect … the surfing part is easy. I suggest all teams that tow become PWC- and Water Safety-Certified.

SURFERMAG.COM: On that one wave, where it looks like you get barreled on like a 50-foot-plus wave, were you getting the full “barrel vision?" What is it like to pull into a barrel that big, compared to, say, the inside bowl at Sunset?
DON CURRY: I didn’t see “barrel vision.” I was just surrounded by something huge. I felt enclosed, almost cocooned. It was the only line I could draw to make it. It was risky … under every one of those boils there is a rock.

SURFERMAG.COM: On tow-surfing: There's a few people around here that would like to see it banned. Do you feel that you affect the environment negatively using a PWC? Have you run over any animals or anything?
DON CURRY: No, they have a minimal impact on the environment. Compared to all the boats that seep oil, fuel, and other toxins in the water in Santa Cruz, Monterey and Moss Landing Harbors? How much pollution do you think is released into the Sanctuary from those harbors just in one tide change? PWCs must be well-maintained … and advancements in PWCs the last five years are incredible. The new PWCs are designed to be eco-friendly. I have never run over any animals out there. You would have to intentionally try to run them down in order to hit them. It would be like trying to catch a pig, or a chicken. It would be near impossible.

SURFERMAG.COM: From what I have seen, it seems like there's only a few people that are making the big fuss over tow-surfing. Do you feel like tow-surfers are wrongly discriminated against?
DON CURRY: I think it is a discrimination of a segment of boats, which is the PWC. The big fuss is over a boating issue. The opposition figures that if you get rid of the craft, you will get rid of tow-surfing. That is not the case. You will never get rid of tow-surfing. In order to tow, you will need to use a boat. The PWC is more responsive, and banning them will raise a safety issue. If PWCs are banned, it will be more dangerous for everyone, because you will need a larger, less responsive vessel.

SURFERMAG.COM: If tow-surfing is banned everywhere, and you're standing there looking at perfect 30-foot Ghost Tree, will you tow anyway?
DON CURRY: Yes. I will use a boat to tow in. Whatever it takes. I'll get towed in with a dinghy and a 75HP outboard if I have to.

SURFERMAG.COM: Do you think Ghost Tree will be on the menu for big-wave hunters in the future?
DON CURRY: Only time will tell. It is hard to find from a boat … and it has really limited access — there is a lot of work involved with tow-surfing there. It's not easy to get there: it is a long ride to the break from the harbor, and a lot longer ride back, due to the seas and wind. That's the other aspect that makes it dangerous. It's a nasty place.

SURFERMAG.COM: Do you think the media attention Ghost Tree is getting will expose other spots in the Monterey area?
DON CURRY: What other spots? Is there any?