"If You Surf Cape Fear, You're Off The Tour" - A Message From The WSL To Their Competitors
"While I was watching it I kept thinking, I should be there right now," says original invitee, Albee Layer.
It’s not often you watch an event where the saving grace is: At least no one died. If you tuned into Cape Fear yesterday over round two of the WSL event at Fiji: Good call. When we spoke to Mark Mathews, the man behind the most dangerous competition in surfing, he was thinking Monday would be too big, and Tuesday (Oz time) it would go. However, the swell down-sized and yesterday became a strictly tow day. “This is a one-in-10-year swell,” Mark told Stab. “It’s going to be a spectacle” – choice words… it was spectacularly nerve racking from the soft and safe couch cushions of my couch.
“It was fucking wild to watch,” says Albee Layer, who was invited but due to strict rules on WSL competitors was not allowed to compete. "I glanced over at Fiji, then threw Cape Fear on and was baffled. I don’t think anyone watched Fiji yesterday. There’s something about seeing guys do shit that doesn’t seem possible. I couldn’t look away from it.” When I spoke to Mr Layer this morning, he was replaying the waves on Red Bull’s site. “I can’t stop watching,” he says.
In terms of heaviness, the waves at Ours yesterday rivalled the terrifying Code Red swell at Chopes in 2012, as well as the BWWT event at Jaws this winter. “What they were doing yesterday was 100 percent heavier than Jaws,” says Albee. “But it was similar. The morning before Jaws went was so big and gnarly. When we paddled out there was a lot of nervous energy and strong camaraderie. Yesterday when I watched all the guys get ready, it became less of a competition and more of everyone heading out to see if it was possible. It’s sessions like those that bring out the best part of big wave surfing. You can see the brotherhood behind it while they stepped into the unknown, thinking: Well, here we go boys! I’m so disappointed in myself for not saying fuck it and going." Albee laughs, but there's bitterness in his voice. To put the danger of this game in perspective, Mr Mathews, in the freesurf before Jaws, snagged one of the biggest waves ever paddled; he made the drop only to be devoured by whitewash. The beating Pe’ahi served afterwards did him the courtesy of separating his shoulder. Mark suffered the only serious injury of the day. Yesterday, Ours sent three maniacs to the hospital. Most notably, Justin 'Jughead' Allport. He was thrown over the falls, hit his head on the surgeon’s table, went unconscious and was picked up by water safety who proceeded to stabilise his neck.
“It looked similar to the Code Red swell at Chopes” says Albee. "In terms of danger, it probably was heavier. The waves they were riding, were hardly ridable. I love seeing that. I wasn’t even sure if they should be sending people out in it. But it was the surfers' decision and I trust the guys surfing to make the right call. I towed Chopes the day Laurie Towner got hurt for the new Point Break. Towing Teahupoo is almost too perfect. When you surf a slab like Ours or Shipsterns, it’s a different type of surfing. It’s much more technical when there are steps in the wave. At Chopes someone who’s not that good can get lucky and make a huge one. At Our’s, there is no way, you have to be really good to make one out there.”
If there’s one thing we love about Mr Layer (other than his hand in leading big wave progression), it’s that he isn't scared to speak his mind. He’s rightfully annoyed by the WSL not letting the guys on the Big Wave Tour surf non-sanctioned events. “People who surf on the WSL full time aren’t allowed to do any other events,” he says. “Which for the guys on the CT makes sense. They get paid much better than the big wave guys and all have good cash coming in from their sponsors; they can make a healthy living.” But the Big Wave Tour has a fifth of the events the CT has; the competitors end up nickeling their way through the season. “On the Big Wave Tour we only get two or three events each year and not even a quarter of the prize money. If you won every event of the year, you’d still make less money than someone who places last every time on the CT.”
“We should be able to try and surf wherever we can,” Albee continues. “More than half the guys on the BWWT aren’t sponsored. They can barely afford to do it. There’s not enough money in it for anyone to dictate what we do when the BWWT events aren’t on. It’s not really fair… for the guys on the CT it’s a good rule, but something needs to change for the Big Wave Tour. For us, they can go a whole year without running an event; that’s not a career. If that happens we’re making zero dollars.” And for the gents that surf on the BWWT, this is troubling. They all surf professionally, put their lives on the line and are forced to pick up odd jobs to get by. “I’m lucky enough to have good sponsors,” Albee says. “But most the guys on tour don’t. They don’t have anything coming in outside of the tour and aren’t making good money at the events. When opportunities like the Cape Fear event come up, it’s a chance to get good exposure and make some money. It seems like the WSL teaming up with events like this would be mutually beneficial to all parties.”
“I wish I would’ve done it (competed in Cape Fear),” Albee quips. “Just to see what would happen. But I really want to do Jaws next year; that was my main reason. If I missed Jaws I’d be devastated. But while I was watching it, I kept thinking: I’m a giant pussy… I should be there right now,” he laughs. “Who knows though, everything happens for a reason. I could’ve gone over the falls, hit my head and be dead right now. Which doesn’t seem far fetched after watching the waves yesterday.”