Greg Long is recognized as one of surf’s thoughtful ambassadors, penning expression to waves where words normally wouldn’t do. So when he nabbed what many are calling the big wave of the season at Puerto Escondido a few weeks ago, the response he wrote on his Instagram was unsurprisingly reflective, though for a specific reason: his ride marked one year, nearly to the day, after a mistimed drop blasted his knee at Puerto and kept him out of the water for almost half a year. Below is Long’s Instagram response in full:
Almost one year ago to the day as this wave, I had to drag myself up the sand at Zicatela after blowing out my knee, and nearly being knocked unconscious…The result of a mis-timed drop and poorly executed effort to sneak under the lip of a wave. There exists a twisted, yet beautiful irony in this world. A concept of duality, in which we couldn’t harbor the full capacity to appreciate something, having not experienced the opposite at some point in our lives. That the ability in which we feel love or joy would be limited having not experienced some form of struggle, sadness or suffering; or in this case, the amazing waves would not be ingrained in our memories with such detail or fondness had it not been for all the failed attempts, or sessions we didn’t catch a decent ride. Or in the case of Puerto, potentially not even standing up on a wave altogether. (There has been no shortage of those sessions throughout my time spent there). This wasn’t my biggest or best wave out there, but I will remember it forever as one of my all time favorites. A sentiment I can only attribute to the fact that last year’s experience was so rough, as were the arduous months thereafter on the road to recovery. With every deep feeling we have, somewhere on the other end within our consciousness expands the capacity for us to experience the opposite at some point. The seemingly negative there to enhance the positive later on, and vice versa. We live in an existence of duality, Yin and yang, where all energy and emotions are intimately intertwined working synergistically to help us cultivate the ability to continuously feel on a deeper level. All of which ultimately leads us to a fuller life, and learning experience. The last few days were a joy seeing so many friends get amazing rides and managing to find a few of my own as well. To those who went down hard, I’m wishing you the fastest of recovery and look forward to seeing you back out experiencing the blissful satisfaction of gliding through a gem out there very soon. And as always, the utmost gratitude to the Puerto locals for sharing their home and waves with us.
With another decent Puerto swell appearing on the long-range models, we called up Greg before he traveled back to Oaxaca and asked him more about his ride, but also about the concept of duality in surfing, and how our most memorable rides are confirmed when we endure their opposites.
I have to ask what that barrel was like.
When that wave was coming in, it was one of those Puerto Escondido peaks that you dream about. You could see it doing the whole 90% turn as it was coming in, forming up into this sideways wedge with a long tapering wall. I had been sitting out there waiting for the duration of the morning. When that one came, I just turned around knowing that it was everything and more that I had been dreaming of. A couple of other people were around. But I had been there for three hours and had been waiting there patiently, so they were gracious enough to give me enough space to move around and line myself up to get in position, as deep as I could to still possibly make it. That was one of those waves where you make the bottom turn and just don't make any unnecessary movements. There was one small adjustment in the tube — I gave a subtle pump to stay right above the foam ball. When it spit, it went full whiteout inside for a couple seconds, and I came flying out. That's what you sit and wait for down there. The beauty of Puerto, in my mind, is that you don't get those waves every single session. If it did, I almost feel like it would lose its attraction, that you have to work for it and pay your dues. Some sessions, we don't get any good ones, but when we do, it's a lot more special of a ride.
Before we get to your write-up after the wave, can you walk us through what happened a year ago when you blew out your knee?
It was another big swell after the BWWT competition. There were three back-to-back very sizable swells. I've always been very cautious down there about how easy it is to get hurt. Obviously, the more days that you're immersing yourself there and the more confident you get, I feel like it's a matter of time before your number is up. I remember on that swell, I was thinking about going down south and surfing the points instead. But at the last minute, even though I had my fill of surfing big Puerto, I decided to stay, because there was this crazy sandbar that had formed down at the Far Bar. The lefts and the rights off of it were going below sea level. Insanity.
The next swell, I went out there and surfed and had a couple of good waves early in the morning. There was one double-up where I was a split-second too late and got a little bit of air on the way down. I landed perfectly after the drop, but as I was pulling up underneath it, I was a fraction of a second too late. I took the brunt of the force, which drove me through my board, and instantly, my whole left knee buckled. I came up seeing stars and in a complete daze. I got washed to the beach. Drug myself up the sand, shaking my head. I didn't know quite the extent of how bad my knee was, but I knew that I was in bad shape. Even while I was paddling into that wave, I knew that it wasn't one that I would have typically gone on. Against my better judgement, I took a risk and paid the price for it. I spent five months out of the water, the back half of last summer and early fall.
In reference to that description you wrote, what did it mean to you to get that recent wave?
My last experience down there was a shocker, for lack of a better term. It made this wave that much better. I've ridden bigger barrels and have had better barrels in my life, but the satisfaction from that one went above and beyond anything I can remember. The more effort that goes into some sort of pursuit, or something you're trying to accomplish, the greater the satisfaction and reward at the other end. That's what keeps me going back down there every single swell. It was a great feeling of redemption, I guess you could say.
Do you feel like the last El Nino winter, where there was no shortage of perfect waves, affected at all how you chase that one memorable wave now? It seems to speak to what you’re talking about, but in the opposite way.
It did. If you have a great wave, or a phenomenal season like that El Nino winter, which was probably the best big wave season guys have ever seen in their lives, and that becomes your benchmark for fulfillment, you're setting yourself for a very disappointing and frustrating life. Those moments, you have to appreciate them to their fullest, and recognize that they are a rarity. As beautiful as endless days like that may sound or seem, I don't know if I would ever want that in my life. Then, you would have to have something bigger or better to bring about those moments of real exhilaration. It's a matter of keeping everything in perspective, and appreciating those moments when they do happen and not being frustrated when they don't. That's what makes our sport so spectacular and a huge allure for me: You don't know when it's going to happen. That next swell could be two weeks from now, it might be two years from now. You have to search for satisfaction in the moments in-between.
Intimate with this idea of duality is scarcity. You have this abundance of something, and the opposite becomes a lack of it. Coming off the high from that El Nino winter, and going to a place like Puerto where that memorable ride is so rare, do you find yourself getting anxious that scoring that kind of wave again might not happen?
When I was younger, I was so consumed with the promise of the next swell, and then being let down, that I was living an emotional roller coaster dictated by the ocean and the weather. That is the most foolish way that you could possibly be living. I don't want to say I quickly learned, but after some time, I had to sit back and take an outside perspective looking-in about what I was getting so let down about. As surfers, your love and passion is dictated by the most unpredictable elements that exist: the weather, a giant moving mass of water, wind, and sand, all of which need to fit into place. If anything, the thought arose that, for me, my years of chasing big waves are numbered. I might not have this chance ever again. But the thought of that actually excites me. It brings me to appreciate those moments even more, because we're not going to live forever. I'm not going to be wanting to paddle out at giant Zicatela when I'm 60 years old. While I'm doing it in the here and now, I want to be savoring every single moment. That goes all the way back to the initial question. Those amazing successes and rides wouldn't be as amazing without all the years of frustration, of sessions where you didn’t catch a wave, or you broke a board, or you hurt yourself. Each event compliments a previous one, or one that’s yet to come about in the future. That's what it means to be human.