Once on the fringes, big wave surfing has moved into the forefront of the sport of surfing with a generation of surfers riding waves of unfathomable height and magnitude, and reinventing the limits of what is surfable. The Finest Line is a photographic foray into the world of big wave surfing and the first book to look at this subculture as a whole.
Written by Rusty Long, professional surfer, journalist, photographer, and one of the biggest names in big wave surfing himself, The Finest Line takes us around the world, from one legendary wave to the next, with breathtaking images and awe-inspiring stories of hallmark sessions from such breaks as Maverick’s, Jaws, Cloudbreak, Teahupo’o, Belharra, Nazaré, Shipsterns Bluff, Dungeons, and Puerto Escondido. The book also includes interviews and insights from many of the leading surfers of this era, including Mark Healey, Greg Long, Grant “Twiggy” Baker, Mike Parsons, Peter Mel, Dave Wassel, Kohl Christensen, in addition to a foreword by famed surfer Tom Carroll.
FROM TOP: COVER: GRANT “TWIGGY” BAKER AT MAVERICK’S © FRANK QUIRARTE; SHANE DORIAN (L) AND MARK HEALY (R), JAWS, MAUI © ZAK NOYLE; ROSS CLARKE-JONES, PEDRA BRANCA, TASMANIA © STU GIBSON; GARRETT MCNAMARA, NAZARE, PORTUGAL © TÓ MANÉ
In the introduction, Long shares how from just after the turn of the century until 2014, big wave surfing has risen to completely new heights. Feats that were once very rare, like paddling into fifty-foot plus waves, have become normal. The introduction of the Jet Ski was perhaps the biggest factor in assisting big-wave progression. Tow-in surfing pulled surfers on to waves too big to paddle into. Surfer Laird Hamilton rose to prominence during this era, along with Buzzy Kerbox, Darrick Doerner, and Dave Kalama, who shattered boundaries with the Jet Ski assist, and redefined the way surfers could approach and ride giant waves. The tow-in surfing boom around the millennium, most prevalent at Jaws on Maui and Maverick’s off Half Moon Bay, California, opened the door to the pioneering of many other waves. Waves considered unrideable or even unapproachable, like the giants at Teahupo’o in Tahiti and Shipsterns Bluff in Tasmania, became rife with chargers yearning to be towed into the craziest waves possible.
Recently, however, the shift has been away from tow-in surfing on big waves, with many of the best surfers in the world deciding to leave the Jet Skis behind unless absolutely necessary. We recently spoke to Long about this evolution, who told us, “People have gone back to paddle surfing because the tow-in surfing situation has gotten out of control. There are too many people doing it, creating these clusters in the lineups on days when jet skis don’t need to be used. You don’t get the same feeling when you jet ski. There is something missing in the satisfaction department.”
I asked him a few other questions about the sport and riding giant waves:
CL: What defines a “big wave”?
RL: It depends on the magnitude of the wave. Generally waves that are above 25 ft. are what you would consider a “big wave”, but there is difference between a 25 ft. mushy wave and a 25 ft. wave at Teahupo’o or Shipsterns Bluff. Those waves will be 25 ft. and just as crazy as waves 40 or 50 ft. in other parts of the world. It really depends on the girth and scale.
CL: I’m so intrigued by that monstrous wave in Nazare, Portugal. It seems to have come out of nowhere. Was that always there or did the ocean change?
RL: The wave was always there, but there weren’t people in that part of the world looking to ride waves like that. With the whole expansion of big wave surfing, going to every continent, every little corner of the world, that was one of the spots that got pioneered.
CL: And a giant wave like Nazare, can you paddle into it or is that one you have to be towed into?
RL: When it’s really big you have to be towed in. There is no exception. But there are waves up to 50 ft. that can be paddled and I think in the years to come more will be paddled at that size.
FROM TOP: MARK HEALEY, JAWS, MAUI © FRED POMPERMAYER: “I GOT THIS WAVE, AND IT WAS SO DOUBLED UP THAT I KNEW IT WAS GOING TO TURN INTO A MUTANT… IT WAS ONE OF THE WORST, MOST VIOLENT BEATINGS I’VE EVER HAD IN MY LIFE”; JAMIE STERLING, NELSCOTT REEF, OREGON © MATT MARINO; TYLER HOMER-CROSS, SHIPSTERN BLUFF, TASMANIA © 2015 STUART GIBSON
CL: Are there other areas that have yet to be pioneered? Are there other giant waves to be discovered?
RL: Yeah… there are more waves out there still to be discovered. They’re not right dead center in front of European towns like Nazare, or Belharra in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France. Those are exceptions. But there are some giant waves in Ireland that have yet to be pioneered, and there are other spots off Tasmania and South Australia. Those missions just take so much more effort to do.
CL: What is it for you that drives you and pulls you into this part of the sport? And what do you think drives other big wave surfers?
RL: Most of us just naturally progress into riding big waves. The level of satisfaction, the thrill, the enjoyment of going to these places and traveling for these waves is just so special that it becomes part of our lives. It really becomes sort of normal to be honest (laughs).
CL: Do you get scared?
RL: Yeah, I get scared when it’s really big. There’s no doubt. If you don’t get scared then you’re a bit numb to reality. All of us have been around the sport for awhile. We’ve seen some friends pass away. We’ve seen countless injuries. If you don’t understand the consequences, you’re not accepting reality.
CL: Do you have a favorite spot?
RL: For me it’s probably big Puerto Escondido. That’s the spot for me that has really resonated.
CL: Why do you like it so much?
RL: I like it because you can get really big tubes out there, and it doesn’t have the crowds of other places. That’s pretty much the double whammy for me.
MARK HEALEY, CLOUDBREAK, FIJI © TOM SERVAIS