Greg Long takes us back to the big-wave-paddle-super-session that started it all…
He mightn’t have actually made it into the barrel but the 20 foot air drop Greg Long stomped at Puerto Escondido back in 2009 is still one of the waves of his life. “That one drop, the one I didn’t get barrelled on, was the highlight of my season. There is nothing like paddling into one of those waves,” he recalls of the wave which would end up nominated for the Billabong XXL awards that year.
It might look tame compared to some of the recent heroics at Jaws, Cloudbreak and Chopes but remember this was when big wave surfing was only just emerging from a decade dominated by tow surfing. And it all went down in a beach break. “What we went through just to get out was a victory itself,” recalls Greg. “You couldn’t see the biggest sets. The one behind would be 10 feet bigger than you thought. I saw my brother take a massive set on the head and he just took it like a champ,” he recalls.
In order to reach the lineup he and his team – which included Jamie Sterling, brother Rusty and Will Dillon – were forced to paddle from a nearby harbour. Once out there they remained in a state of catlike readiness as mother nature threw the kitchen sink at ‘em.
The dangers were endless. So tremendous was the volume of water pouring through the lineup that the inside section between the impact zone and shoreline had turned into a Zambezi river rapid as the water tried to find a way out back out to see. None of the surfers were wearing leg ropes because of their tendency to anchor you to the impact zone following a wipeout, meaning if you survived the whipping of your life, you were boardless and facing a 50 meter sprint across the rip to safety. Fail and you were straight back in the impact zone in a matter of seconds awaiting a 20 footer on the dome.
Greg had waited four years for this swell. He’d witnessed something similar two years earlier but hadn’t had the equipment to ride it. He didn’t make the same mistake this time, arriving with a 9’6 gun, which, by the end of the three days, had smashed him in the leg causing a gash that required 15 emergency stitches from a local gynaecologist.
With the high performance big wave paddle scene still taking root, Greg and his team made a few classic mistakes that day. Watching from shore as giant teepees tipped into perfect spitting A-frames, the boys were understandably very excited. They failed, however, to grasp the physics at play here and were immediately taught a very severe lesson. “When we paddled out we all made the same mistake,” recalls Greg. “We were so excited, the first corners that came through we went. We didn’t calculate how fast the waves were going. Mind surfing from the beach you were getting barrelled everywhere. You don’t realise with a wave that size, there is a one or two second delay before you can pull up and into it. They just steamrolled us,” he says.
Blow a wave out here and you’d be facing an hour round trip just to get back out. Greg caught four waves in four hours that day but the pure challenge of pitting himself against the ocean in a state like this was a rush like no other – and far superior to that of tow surfing.
“I found on a day where I towed instead of paddled, that I became numb. I didn’t remember my waves. There’s so much going on with the rope and the ski, you lose sight of what is important – making that drop, even if you don’t get that massive barrel. It’s just you against the ocean and that’s the ultimate challenge. You lose that when you bring a big motor into it.” It was the start of an incredible year for Greg. He’d go onto win $50k for the Billabong XXL Ride Of The Year for another paddle effort at Dungeons, South Africa, before finishing the year winning The Eddie. - Jed Smith