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.

 

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