The Eddie (And How Big Wave Surfers Handle Fear)

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There was a lot of randomness and chance that led me to being at The Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau. First of all, the legendary big wave surfing contest hadn’t run since 2009 due to conditions not being perfect. They only run the contest when Waimea Bay is over 20ft and perfect all day. It’s run only 8 times in the last 30 years. Earlier in February the contest was green lighted, but on the morning of the contest it was called off for conditions not being good enough. Everyone was bummed, but with the contest period extending till the end of February, they were hoping for one more big swell before month’s end to potentially run the contest. A few weeks later, Brock Little, a North Shore surf legend, passed away from cancer. Brock was loved and respected by many, and it was a huge loss in the surf community, especially on the North Shore. Days later a massive swell was headed for Hawaii. On the radio I heard that it was the biggest swell ever recorded there, since they had started recording swell data 50 years prior. It was named #BrockSwell. The Eddie was again green lighted on Monday to be run that upcoming Thursday, February 25, 2016.

I had never been to Oahu before, but on that random week in February, I happened to be there. I had never been to the North Shore before, but on that random Thursday I happened to be there. And on that Thursday, February 25 at 8am, they called The Eddie ON! I rescheduled most of what I was supposed to do that day and headed over to Waimea Bay to see many of surfing’s biggest names surf massive waves in what will forever be one of the greatest days in surfing history.

 

As I watched these guys drop in on 30-40ft waves, I could only imagine how fucking scary it would be to be out there. Looking at their faces though, I couldn’t tell if they were scared, or if there was so much adrenaline that they were just ready to charge. I remember thinking, as I watched wipeout after wipeout, are these guys just insane madmen, or are they just really good at managing the fear? I’m sure it’s a little bit of both. I read this article recently called How Big Wave Chargers Accept and Handle Fear, and two of the best actually break it down pretty well.

Greg Long was one of the surfers in the Eddie, and is the current Big Wave Champion of the 2015/2016 season. I love how he breaks down:

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GL: For me, the greatest trick to overcoming fear, especially in big waves, is the understanding and embodiment of the fact that I have total control over how I interpret and react to every situation I face in life. All of our experiences are a result of how we perceive what is happening around us, and in every moment of our life we have a choice to perceive them in a positive, or a negative way.

Fear, is actually a very healthy emotion to feel. I simply interpret it as I have stepped outside of my comfort zone…and that is one of the greatest things to do in the world.

Unfortunately many people have been conditioned into believing otherwise and let fear manifest into actions of panic which is the worst thing you can do in any situation, especially riding big waves. Knowing that I have the choice in every moment to decide how I feel and that I don’t have to let the reactive mind take control of my actions has helped me tremendously to embrace those moments of fear.

Here is something I do regularly to help prepare myself for those inevitable times; Well before any big wave session, I think about all the situations I may encounter that may invoke those feelings; be it getting caught inside, paddling over the steep ledge into a wave, dealing with a long hold down etc.

Then I identify the very best way to react in each situation, as well as what I may also do if I were to react negatively out of panic. In identifying the negative, it becomes easy for me to recognize and change, in the event I do start behaving accordingly.

By identifying the positive, I have a thoughtful understanding of the best course of action to achieve whatever goal or overcome whatever obstacle is before me.

And most importantly, in the moment, I never forget that I have complete control over my feelings, and actions.  And no matter what you do in life, it is always better to keep them thoughtful, constructive and positive.

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Albee Layer surfed Jaws in Maui on the day of the Eddie, and got one of the greatest waves of all time there. Check it out…

 

Albee also has great advice around dealing with fear:

AL: I don’t think it’s so much over coming fear as much as accepting it. Like, everyone’s scared all the time surfing big waves (besides Aaron Gold, maybe) so it becomes about using that fear positively.

Fear has its place in big wave surfing but panic does not and it’s important to identify the difference between them. I read in a book called “The Fear Project” that it’s a battle of two brains, your ancient brain and your young brain. You have to battle your most basic instinct which is survival (old brain) with your new brain that’s aware of your ability to make it out of potentially lethal situations okay.

Your brain and body actually does its best work at a certain level of fear, this is why you can run faster when running away from something, rather than just sprinting but if you get too scared it can make you lose control of normal functions over your body, like, when you’re too scared to move and freeze. So what it all really comes down to is understanding and balancing the fear; that you are going to feel there’s no avoiding it or over coming it just learning to live and work with it.

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I’m definitely not about to go chasing waves the size that Greg and Albee ride. But watching these guys charge it at the Eddie made me want to step out of my comfort zone. Seeing the way they dealt with fear, and how they came in from their hour long heats just torn up and laughing, made me want to feel at least a little part of what they are feeling. There was such good energy that day on the beach at Waimea Bay. It was inspiring. It’s hard to describe. I could use a little bit more fear in my life. I would enjoy it. I think we all would.

 

Why The Son Of A Butcher Gave Up Meat

And How A Lifestyle Experiment Turned Into A Lifestyle Change

My dad is a butcher. I grew up eating the best cuts of meats. Rib eyes and filet mignons were a normal thing in our house. Don’t get me started on Dad’s Backyard Boogie Burgers. It was wonderful, and as you could imagine, I fell in love with meat. Once I moved out and started doing my own shopping, I would get the huge Costco packs of chickens and steaks and pack my fridge and freezer. When it came to bacon, I would spend extra buying only the best bacon, the thick kind that is seasoned on the outside. My shopping cart was always filled with ribs or corned beef or anything to fill my crock pot. One time a guy in a meat truck pulled up next to me on the street and sold me 80 frozen steaks on the spot. How could I say no?

So why did I decide on December 10, 2014 to stop eating meat?

It started as a lifestyle experiment, inspired by some Netflix documentaries. I did a deep dive on Netflix food documentaries. Fed Up was the first one I watched, and it really opened my eyes to the power of the food industry and big business and their control of the eating behaviors of the mass public, which has resulted in an epidemic of obesity in America. Next I watched Food Inc., which dove further into the horrors of the food industry. My feeling after watching these two documentaries was that I as a consumer needed to be more conscious and careful about what I ate. I should read labels more carefully, and only buy organic, non-GMO, free range, grass fed, etc.

And then I watched Forks Over Knives, and that’s what got me. The documentary examines the claim that most degenerative diseases that affect us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting our present menu of animal-based and processed foods. Degenerative diseases like heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and several forms of cancer, could be prevented or even reversed by adopting a whole-foods, plant-based diet.

Could I even go without meat? Every meal I ate had meat in it. I loved meat. What’s a breakfast without bacon, really? Well, I was about to find out, because at that point, I was at least sold enough to try a little experiment. No meat for at least 90 days. I was no stranger to these little challenges. I have done months on the Slow-Carb Diet, I’ve done 30 days without drinking, and I’ve done 200 days in a row of taking a cold shower in the morning. As difficult as it would be, I knew could do 90 days without meat. (For the record, I continued to eat fish)

I forgot to mention one thing before. Not only did I love meat, but I really didn’t like vegetables all that much. I ate them, but definitely didn’t look forward to eating them. I had previously never thought to myself, “oh yummy, brussel sprouts!” So this new whole-foods, plant-based diet thing would definitely be interesting. After the first couple weeks of trying it out, to my surprise, I felt great and honestly was having a lot of fun. Two things happened: I was really excited to cook again, and I looked at a restaurant menu with an entirely new perspective.

Cooking in Uncharted Territories

The fruit and vegetable section of a grocery store was uncharted territory for me, so navigating that was intimidating the first few times. I remember thinking a zucchini was a cucumber once. Cooking based on recipes was also completely new to me. When I cooked meat, I would put it on the BBQ, season it, and it was good to go. But cooking with plants was a little more complicated. This also made it more fun. I have always loved to cook, and cooking without meat actually forced me to really think about what I was cooking, what ingredients I was using, and follow a recipe. I got my first cookbook, Thug Kitchen. It’s awesome. And even beyond recipes, I got comfortable throwing artichokes, roasted red peppers, and jalapeños on some homemade pizza dough, cooking up multi-veggie omelets and scrambles, and even made a vegan chili in my crock pot that was just as delicious as a chili con carne. I eventually got so into cooking with veggies that I started growing two different types of kale in my garden. I now love waking up early in the morning and picking kale in the garden for a kale scramble or kale smoothie – though that still feels weird to say out loud.

Kale from my garden

A Whole New Menu, and a Whole New World

Shortly after deciding to not eat meat, I was eating at a restaurant in Vancouver called Forage, and the menu was split into 3 sections: Land, Soil and Sea. The old me would have gone straight to the Land section and had a tough choice between the bison rib-eye and the brown butter miso-glazed duck breast. But, with discipline, the new me looked at the Soil section, a section the old me would have completely ignored. Not knowing even what this dish was, or how to pronounce half of it, I got the French lentil and squash curry with cucumber raita, oven-dried tomatoes and Indian roti. The dish completely rocked my world! I remember it was at that moment that I thought to myself that I actually might have enjoyed that more than if I got a meat dish. After that, I started to really enjoy this new restraint I had on my diet, and this new lens on which I viewed a menu.

Menu at Forage Vancouver

I am now closing in on a year without eating meat! After the first 90 days, I decided that I wanted to keep going and at least make it a year. I really started to look at it less like a lifestyle experiment and more like a lifestyle change. And as I approach my year mark, I’ve had mixed feelings about eating meat again. Part of me wanted to stay vegetarian. Part of me felt like once I accomplish the year-long goal I should eat some bacon, similar to the way I had a nice glass of whiskey after 30 days not drinking, or took a nice long hot shower after going 200 days taking cold showers. I wouldn’t go back to eating meat every day like before, but if there’s bacon in the brussel sprouts at a restaurant, I wouldn’t have to remove that from the list of possibilities. I didn’t know what I was going to decide. These mixed feelings and indecision lasted until yesterday…

Yesterday I watched Cowspiracy, another Netflix documentary, and it put me over the edge – I’m not going back to eating meat. My mind was blown by the stats and realities presented in the documentary. Eating meat isn’t just a problem that affects personal health and animal well-being. Animal agriculture is the most destructive industry facing the planet today. The amount of animal products today’s humans eat is not sustainable. It’s the leading cause of global warming. It’s the leading cause of water depletion, of deforestation, of species extinction, of ocean dead-zones. See the infographic below for more stats.

Not eating meat is what I can do to make the single biggest impact on the environment. How crazy is that? And how many of us are actually willing to make such a big change? Definitely not many of us, at least without an alternative, which is why I’m really interested in the companies that are trying to solve the problem with non-animal alternatives to everyday foods. There is a company called Beyond Meat that creates products like burgers and chicken strips that look and taste like meat and have the same nutrients and protein. There is a company called GoBeyond Foods that makes plant-based dairy alternatives to milk and ice cream. Hampton Creek creates egg alternatives, mayo, and cookie dough that have no real eggs. Many of these companies are being invested in by the big VC firms in Silicon Valley and investors like Bill Gates and the founders of Twitter. Exactly like how Uber is disrupting the transportation industry and AirBnb is disrupting the hotel industry, I really think these food companies will disrupt the food industry. They have to, because we cannot continue to consume animal products at the current pace we are going at.

It was hard to stop eating meat. It will be hard to continue not eating meat. I won’t lie and say that I’m not tempted to eat some bacon every now and again. But after the past year, I know I can do it, and I know that I should do it. And you should do it too. If you’re more interested in how this change could affect your health and life, watch Forks Over Knives. If you’re more interested in how this change could affect the environment, then watch Cowspiracy. Or like me, watch both!

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