If heavy-wave surfers had the same luck in Vegas as they do in the ocean, we'd have a lot of millionaire psycho-chargers among us. Somehow, swell after swell and wipeout after wipeout, they're able to defy odds and come out relatively unscathed.
This was understandable even 10 years ago, when XXL surf generally "happened" a few times a year at a few, pre-determined spots. Back then, Jet Skis were still a novelty item, giant waves hardly existed outside Hawaii and California and there were only about a dozen certified hellmen making the most of every high-surf advisory. Today, that approach is globalizing faster than McDonald's as well-equipped local crews chase Big Macs everywhere from tip of Ireland to the bottom of Chile. Mix in a growing number of stormwatchers who are paid to be wherever the maps scream purple, and you have dangerous, triple-black-diamond sessions increasing tenfold every year.
In most pursuits, a significant increase in risk-taking behavior usually results in a significant increase in disasters. Not for us surfers. In the mid-'90s, we had three big-wave tragedies in three years: the drownings of Mark Foo, Donnie Solomon and Todd Chesser. We flogged ourselves for pushing it too hard, and cautioned that the list of fallen heroes would keep growing fast at spots like Maverick's, Waimea, Jaws and beyond if we kept it up. But it hasn't. And the definition of "pushing it" – as explained by Garrett McNamara in this issue (see "Pure Danger”) — has certainly expanded beyond our wildest imaginations.
So, how can McNamara pull in 30 yards too deep on a 15-foot Teahupo'o monster, take 10 more on the head and come out of it with a couple of scraped knees? You can credit the use of flotation devices, PWC assist or maybe even energy drinks for his invincibility. But I have a strong feeling McNamara's reason is a lot more accurate, one that will never be transferable to casinos or other man-made pursuits. What keeps guys like mad-man McNamara alive in situations like that? As he says, "I call it the hand of God." –Evan Slater