A Trip to Todos Santos Island

A couple of day’s before Christmas we celebrated my oldest son’s 18th birthday with a day-trip out to Baja’s Todos Santos Island. It was a magical day in a very special place.

Israel.

Israel celebrating his 18th birthday.

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A cyclops wave.

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The lighthouse dominates the land and seascape.

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Because the waves come out of deep water, it is hard to see the sets coming until they break on you.

The wave at Todos Santos is a beauty.

The wave at Todos Santos is a beauty.

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That’s me on a fun one.

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My youngest son Daniel (15)  gets a set wave.

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One of the sets rolling through.

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Israel.

Israel and Daniel sharing a small one.

Israel and Daniel sharing a small one. It gives me great pleasure to watch my sons surf together.

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Daniel after a long day in the water.

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Israel after his birthday surf session. He’d been asking me to take him for a couple of years.

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Greg Long and the Upper Limits of Big Waves

Greg Long at Cortes Bank. Photo: Chris Dixon/Ghostwavebook.com

From my Patch.com column this week. Happy Thanksgiving!

Chris Dixon’s new book Ghost Wave provides insight into the exploits of a select group of big-wave surfers such as Mike Parsons, Brad Gerlach and San Clemente’s Greg Long, who are redefining the limits of big-wave surfing.

Long, 28, who has won several Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards, the 2009 Eddie Aikau and the SIMA Waterman of the Year Award, has become a surfing icon for his solid, low-key, intense and strategic approach to surfing the world’s largest waves.

He has given back what surfing gave him by working with organizations such as the Surfrider Foundation, Save the Waves, San Onofre Foundation and WiLDCOAST and is, “Among the most humble, well-rounded and cerebral athletes I’ve ever met,” said Ghost Wave author Dixon.

Greg Long with groms from Imperial Beach during the 2008 California Coastal Commission Hearing on the TCA toll road at the Del Mar Faingrounds.

“The other thing that sets Greg apart, and it’s a trait Kelly Slater has too, is an ability to remain focused on the job at hand while he has such a whirlwind and cacophony of distractions going on around him.

“As a prime example,” Dixon said, “I don’t think another big-wave surfer alive could have pulled as many strings, levers and pulleys as he did to make the first major Cortes Bank paddle in mission happen in 2009—a mere two weeks after he’d won the Eddie Aikau.

“He roped in Kelly Slater, Peter Mel, Nathan Fletcher, Mark Healey, Jamie Sterling and a crew of the most absolute badasses in our sport and had them out to the most remote surf spot on earth on Dec. 26. By my reckoning, he pulled off a Christmas miracle.”

Patch: How did someone who grew up in San Clemente become a professional big-wave surfer? What got you hooked on big waves?

Greg Long: My father was a lifeguard for 38 years. He introduced us to the ocean before we could walk. As we grew up, he instilled every ounce of ocean knowledge that he had into us. Because of this, I always seemed to feel comfortable in the ocean no matter the conditions. As I really started surfing at age 10, I was naturally drawn to bigger waves because they were so much more challenging. Over the years my surfing ability slowly progressed and continued to challenge myself in larger and larger surf.

Patch: You’ve been credited as being part of the group that is now really pushing the envelope on paddling into massive waves. What is your goal in terms of wave size? Have you already reached the limits of what can be surfed?

Long: From a paddle-in perspective, I think we are getting close to the upper limits of how big we can safely go. What you are going to start seeing now is people paddling into new waves, which were typically thought as being un-paddable like Jaws or Cortes bank. However with the implementation of Shane Dorian’s new V1 wetsuit we just might be able to push the limits a little further than we had previously thought. As far as tow-in surfing goes, there is no limit to how big you can ride as long as the conditions permit.

Greg Long at the Cortes Bank. Photo: Chris Dixon/ghostwavebook.com

Patch: What kind of boards are your riding and who is shaping them? Are you able to think critically about how your surfboard is working while you are making a big drop?

Long: I get all of my surfboards from Chris Christenson. It is imperative in our sport to know about your equipment. It is essentially your lifeline. Riding big waves comes down to managing the risks you take and if you’re out there on equipment that isn’t going to perform, you are setting yourself up for disaster.

Patch: What role does fear and adrenaline play in propelling you to take more risks or to analyze a situation in which you hold back on pushing the envelope? Do you have a formal or informal risk assessment strategy?

Long: Fear is a big driving factor behind what I do. I love the mental challenge of overcoming it. I train extensively both physically and mentally to prepare myself to ride big waves and handle the potential consequences. In doing so I eliminate all the variables possibly working against me which are in my control and, in turn, increasing my odds of success.

Greg Long taking a break at the Cortes Bank. Photo: Chris Dixon/ghostwavebook.com

Patch: How are you training in terms of physical exercise, diet and mental preparation?

Long: I train every single day in some form or another to prepare to ride big waves. The main activities are yoga, swimming, cycling and running. I also have a very clean diet, mostly vegetarian. Your body is essentially a machine. If you put bad fuel into it, it won’t perform as efficiently as it should.

Patch: What is currently your favorite big wave spot and why? And your favorite country as a surf destination and why?

Long: I couldn’t name a single favorite big wave break as my favorite but my list of favorites would include:  Mavericks, Todos, Jaws, Cortes Bank. My favorite country to travel to is South Africa as it offers the widest array of surfing breaks imaginable. From perfect points  to huge slabs, it has it all. Not to mention it’s stunningly beautiful with amazing people.

Patch: Do you work with a forecaster or are you continually evaluating wave models and weather reports to determine where to travel to find waves?

Long: I do most of my surf forecasting on my own. I have been following and monitoring swells in great detail for well over 10 years now so I feel I have a pretty thorough understanding of each of the waves I surf and what they need to make them tick. I do, however, confer with Sean Collins from Surfline and Mark Sponsler from Stormsurf.com anytime I doubt or question a decision during a significant swell.

Patch: Your brother Rusty and you have carved out unique careers as big-wave surfers. Are you competitive with each other? Does each of you give feedback to the other? How often do you surf together?

Long: Rusty and I are extremely close. Growing up we never really had a rivalry but rather worked together in an effort to help one another succeed. We still surf and travel together on a regular basis and are constantly giving advice or sharing tips.

Mike Parsons, Chris Dixon, Jim Houtz, and Greg Long. Photo: Chris Dixon/ghostwavebook.com

Patch: Your father, Steve, was a legendary California State Park lifeguard, park ranger, superintendent and now a conservationist who helped to defeat the proposal to place a highway through San Onofre State Beach. How much of an influence did he have on your choice of career path? Do your parents still worry about Rusty and you when you are out surfing huge waves in off-the-charts locations?

Long: Both my mom and pop have been incredibly supportive of our careers. Growing up they never pushed us in any certain direction but rather let us find our own paths and what made us happy. My mom still refuses to come watch us surf when it’s big but loves hearing the stories and seeing the photos afterwards.

Patch: You’ve won the Billabong XXL Ride of the Year Award and the Eddie Aikau. How do you top that? What is next for you in terms of your career and surfing goals?

Long: I surf big waves because I love it. Simple as that. Winning contests or XXL awards have never been and will never be the focus or motivation for my career. My goal in life is to be happy, live a healthy, positive lifestyle and hopefully inspire and encourage others to do the same along the way.

Cortes Bank. Photo: Chris Dixon/ghostwavebook.com

Waterman: Dempsey Holder and the Tijuana Sloughs

Dempsey Holder. Photo courtesy of John Elwell.

This is from my Patch.com column of October 5, 2011. This is excerpted from my book, Wild Sea. It originally appeared in Longboard Magazine in the fall of 1993 and helped to inspire the Surhenge Monument at the Imperial Beach Pier.

With the upcoming 8th Annual Dempsey Holder Ocean Festival and Surf Contest (there is still space avaialable so register now!) scheduled for Oct. 16 at the Imperial Beach Pier, I thought it was important to remind readers what a legendary surfer Allen “Dempsey” Holder was.

A California ocean lifeguard and big wave surfer, Dempsey was among the elite club of surfing pioneers that included such men as Don Oakey, Lorrin Harrison, and Pete Peterson who were protype watermen.

I first met Dempsey when I was a kid and got to know him better in 1981, when I became an Imperial Beach lifeguard at the age of seventeen. Retired, Dempsey lived in a huge wooden white house on the beach (appropriately called “The White House”) a couple of doors down from the old Imperial Beach Lifeguard Station at the end of Palm Avenue.

One summer Dempsey cleared out the laundry room and charged me a dollar a day to stay there.

In 1984, I interviewed Dempsey for an oral history project while an undergraduate at UC San Diego. By listening to his stories for hours, I uncovered Dempsey’s remarkable history of athletic prowess and his unique depression-era way of looking at and respecting the ocean.

Surfing a small day at the Sloughs in December 1967. Photo courtesy of Bill Gove.

To gather material on the Sloughs, I spent a summer interviewed surfing pioneers and legends such as Peter Cole, Lorrin Harrison, Flippy Hoffman, Dorian Paskowitz, Ron Drummond, and others who had surfed with Dempsey. I was impressed by their admiration for Dempsey’s surfing skills and ocean prowess. Dempsey, who was a generous and kind man, died in 1997 at the age of 77.

THE IRONMAN

Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz: There are two kinds of surfers. There’s the Buzzy Trent type who surf big waves but aren’t really into walking the nose. Then there’s the Phil Edwards types who are blessed with amazing ability. Their surfing is like ballet. Dempsey was a big wave surfer. A big solid guy. Low-key. Not much for bragging.

Dempsey Holder: Back in West Texas where I was raised there were lots of cowboys, but that didn’t mean too much. The thing that was a real compliment was to be a stockman. That’s like a waterman—somebody that can handle themselves in the water. Emergency come along—you can take care of yourself.

Flippy Hoffman: Dempsey was the guru down there.

John Elwell: Around ’47, ’48, we met a guy named Storm Surf Taylor. He said, “Go down there and see Dempsey if you want to start surfing.” Dempsey was known as the guy who takes off on big waves. He’d been down at the Sloughs since 1939.

John Blankenship: Dempsey was just unbelievable. There wasn’t anybody else for sheer guts. He was the ultimate big wave rider. No fancy moves. He caught the biggest waves and went surfing. The closest guy to Dempsey was Gard Chapin, although Gard never tackled waves as big as Dempsey.

Bobby Goldsmith: Dempsey was an iron man. He was fearless and brave and he had the guts. He took off on anything and could push through anything in any kind of surf.

Chuck Quinn: Dempsey rode the biggest waves back further than anybody.

Buddy Hull: He’d take off even if he only had a 20 percent chance of making it. Dempsey would take off on anything, always deeper than he should have.

Jack “Woody” Eckstrom: I remember him saying, “If you make every wave you’re not calling it close enough.”

Dempsey's lifeguard truck at the Sloughs either in the 1940s or early 1950s.


THE SLOUGHS AND FIRST ENCOUNTERS

Dempsey Holder: In the summer of ’37 I went down to the Sloughs and camped with my family. Well, I saw big waves breaking out at outside shorebreak and went bodysurfing. I never did get out to the outside of it. A big set came and I was still inside of it. Well, I sort of made note of that. Boy, you know surf breaking out that far.

Lorrin “Whitey” Harrison: Back in the early ’40s, I surfed the Sloughs when it was huge. It was all you could do to get out. Really big. We were way the hell out there. Canoe Drummond came down.

Ron “Canoe” Drummond: We pulled out and the surf was probably about twenty feet high or so. I looked out about a mile and there where some tremendously big waves were breaking. I asked if anybody wanted to go out there with me, but nobody did. So I went in my canoe and paddled out there.

Jim “Burrhead” Drever: One time about 1947, I was sleeping in my ’39 convertible right on the beach at Windansea, and I heard these guys pounding on the car. I’d heard about the Sloughs and they were going, so I followed them. It was pretty damn big. This was before I went over to the Hawaiian Islands, and I’d never seen waves that big around here.

Peter Cole: I was out there surfing with Chuck Quinn and Dempsey Holder in the ’50s. The surf was about 15 foot, Hawaiian size. Chuck and Dempsey went out and got stuck in the shorebreak, but I managed to paddle out in the rip. I was out riding the smaller waves, when I heard someone yell, “Outside.” I looked out and all I saw was whitewater everywhere. I lost my board and had to swim in.

Chuck Quinn: We were out there surfing on a big day and Pat Curren lost his board. Pat was frustrated and feeling lousy. He didn’t have any money and it wasn’t like today when they break a board and go buy another one. We all looked for Pat’s board, but that board just disappeared.

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