How to: survive a massive wipeoutBig-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 won the prestigious and rarely run Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau at Waimea Bay (the open ocean swells have to reach 20 feet before the tournament can be held), becoming the first non-Hawaiian to do so.
In February, the now-50-year-old came in runner-up. So, how has he managed to stay alive? We’ll let Clarke-Jones tell you himself.
“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 breathe out underwater, do it in small, spaced-out measures. Even without a buoyancy vest, those lungfuls will bring you back to the surface.”
“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 free fall … or worse.”
“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.”
“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 fetal 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.”
“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.”