How to: survive a massive wipeout

How to survive a massive wipeout

Words: Ben Smithurst & Mark Thomas

Big-wave surfer Ross Clarke-Jones explains how to tackle huge swells

“I should have died long ago,” says Ross Clarke-Jones. Instead, the Australian has spent the last three decades battling the biggest waves on the planet. In 2001, he became the first non-Hawaiian to win the prestigious Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau at Waimea Bay, a rarely run competition that’s only held when the open ocean swells reach 20ft.

In February, the now-50-year-old came runner-up. So, how has he managed to stay alive? We’ll let Clarke-Jones tell you himself.

1. Know that you’re going to get out

“If a big wave is bearing down on you – don’t panic. Panic jacks your heart rate and uses up oxygen. Get a couple of big, slow lungfuls of air. If you have to breath out underwater, do it in small, spaced-out measures. Even without a buoyancy vest, those lungfuls will bring you back to the surface.”

2. Jump, don’t fall 

“If you find yourself at the top of a wave, about to be pitched off your board, jump forward. Try to pin-drop your landing, feet first, to penetrate the wave face. Do it right and you’ll come up behind the wave. Otherwise, you’ll just skittle down the wave face, go up and over with the lip and get launched into a freefall… or worse.”

© Youtube // Red Bull

3. Grasp which way is up

“It can be pitch black underwater and hard to tell where the surface is. I’ve been surfing so long I’ve got a sense for this (it’s a pressure thing).

Stay alert: in the clear water below a big wave when it breaks, there are long, cylindrical pockets of turbulence – like a washing machine. Open your eyes and try to avoid them.”

4. Check your head

“When you’re underwater, the turbulence can flail your limbs around uncontrollably. Lots of guys dislocate shoulders, tear ligaments and wrench necks. Tense up your body, but relax your mind. Go into a foetal position, keep your arms and legs in a ball, hang on tight and protect your head. If you’re knocked out and stay out, you’ll drown.”

© Youtube // WSL Big Wave Awards

5. Sometimes, stay under

“When you’re getting thrashed around, a minute feels like an hour. But it’s maybe only 18 seconds between waves in a big, clean swell. To avoid coming up under a wave, wait until you feel it pass. You’ll hear it, along with an unmistakable sensation of water pressure, and you’ll feel the drag. When it’s passed, surface.”

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10 2016 The Red Bulletin

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