December 4, 1969: There are really big waves piling up on the beaches at Makaha, Hawaii. Because of the big waves, people were kept away from the beaches. However, big wave surfers were out on the water trying to catch the big one. According to legend, Greg Noll, rode the largest wave ever tamed. There were people back on the beaches who watched surfers attempt to catch one of these beasts and yet there are no pictures of Greg riding the wave in. He claimed to have ridden the “greatest swell of the 20th century” which washed trees, houses, and boats into one large heap after reaching land.
Noll, born in California in 1937, had been surfing since the age of 11. He was a member of the Los Angeles County Lifeguards and competed in paddleboarding. He went on to big wave surfing at Palos Verdes, California. However, if you want big waves, you head to Hawaii. That is what he did and moved there in 1954. He finished high school and surfed at Makaha. In November of 1957, he caught a 25-foot wave that grew ever higher under his feet. On this day, he is said to have ridden the largest wave ever mastered – up to that time.
Big wave surfing is done on waves of greater than 20 feet. The boards used to ride these monster waves needs to be designed differently than those used for smaller waves. The rider’s technique must also be taken into consideration. The boards are longer and wider, giving the surfer better paddling times in order to be able to catch the wave and then they are more stable on the ride in. However, because of their size, they are less agile in the water and more difficult to maneuver. Because the water is unforgiving, this is a very dangerous sport and there have been several deaths due to the attempt to tame the monster wave.
Ken Bradshaw is the record holder (to date) for the largest wave ridden. He was towed out to catch a wave that was estimated to be 80-85 feet in height. He was surfing on the North Shore of Oahu on January 28, 1998 and managed to stay up for 30 seconds. This was his second ride of the day and he went out about 20 more times riding waves between 40 and 65 feet high. There is some grainy film shot from the shore on his 80 foot wave, but no clear picture of this run. There was a picture taken of him on a 60 foot wave which is highly impressive. Adding another 20 feet would be astounding.
“I took off on a wave, went down the side, popped out the other end, and went, shit, I’m still alive!” – Greg Noll (on surfing Waimea Bay for the 1st time)
“The ocean represents balance in my life.” – Ken Bradshaw
“There are no more committed people on the planet than surfers. We fall down a lot. We turn around, paddle back out, and do it over and over again. Unlike anything else in life, the stoke of surfing is so high that the failures quickly fade from memory.” – Gary Sirota
“Not to sound too deep or weird, but I think that the times when you really appreciate surfing are the times you’re really sort of becoming one with nature. Surfing’s as raw of a sport as it gets.” – Kelly Slater
Also on this day: