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Greg Long: Big Wave Rider | Nat Geo Live

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( intro music ) Greg Long: I do feel fear, but that fear is actually one of the underlying motivators of why… I ride big waves. How are we ever meant to truly grow in our lives, if we don’t occasionally step out of that comfort zone? The feelings of fear… I open my arms and I welcome them. ( applause ) Greg Long: Thank you guys, very much. I’m Greg Long. I’m a professional big wave surfer. I have dedicated my life to following the greatest ocean storms around the globe, in pursuit of riding the biggest waves in the world. As you continue to ride larger and larger waves, the stakes at play in order to do so, continue to escalate. Eventually, you get to a point, where you’ve begun walking a fine line. It’s a line between riding that next greatest, biggest wave of your life, or possibly dropping down the face of the one that could end it. For over a decade… I walked that line.Until one day, I stumbled over the other side. Thankfully, I’m still here today to share with you guys, my big wave journey. One that has literally taken me to the edge and back. ( music ) With a playing field that is constantly in motion and always changing… It is very easy to make mistakes. ( music continues ) And the consequences… they are very real. But when you reach deep within yourself, bringing your mind and body into momentary sync, with the rhythm and power of the swells, and for brief moment, seemingly defying nature, and successfully riding one of those waves. For me,… there’s no other feeling in the world like it. ( music ) ( applause ) Greg Long: Thank you. So, I grew up in the small beach town of San Clemente, in Southern California. It is a popular surfing destination known around the world, but not for its big waves. It’s known for its small perfect cobblestone point breaks that allow your average surfer to go out there and just really have a fun and joyous time. When I was 14 years old, I started seeing these photographs in the magazines. Photographs of the newly exposed big wave break, by the name of Todos Santos. And Todos Santos is on an island off the coast of Northern Baja. And, it was renowned immediately as one of the best big wave breaks in the world. And at 15 years old, I got to go down and surf this wave Todos Santos. At the same time I was competing competitively in the amateur series, in the Progressive Surfing, doing the turns in the small waves. That’s what I grew up surfing. And I had a very decent amateur career, and actually won… was the National Amateur Championship title. And immediately I had all the surf industry taking notice saying, ‘Okay, he’s the next kid we need to sponsor’. Well, I was 18 years old, and I used that opportunity to sign my first professional contract, but in doing so, I knew that’s not where my heart was. I could’ve cared less about these contests. I wanted to ride these big waves. So, in signing up professional contract, I was allowed a travel budget that I could use to go to the contest, or as I figured, at my own disposal.( laughter ) So I turned my back on competitive surfing and I set off on this life of adventure. It became an obsession of mine… beyond the passion, obsession. I’d pack up my bags, and I would go, and I would live down in Cape Town, South Africa, the bottom of Africa. And during the most torrential storms of the Roaring Forties, all in hopes of waiting for a wave by the name of Dungeons to awaken. It’s called the Cape of Storms for a good reason. And it seemed like every single week, we were constantly battered with another storm. And an opportunity to surf these big waves. You have all of these incredible harsh elements against you and then sometimes the most daunting of them all… was the real locals. ( laughter ) I wouldn’t surf with these locals.( laughter ) But all those elements, they hardened my Southern California ass up real quick! ( laughter ) And it gave me this confidence, that I could then take to any other break around the world… which is what I did. Sometimes, it was Mexico, it was one of my favorite destinations, wave called Puerto Escondido. West Australia all of South America, Chile and Peru South Pacific, Tahiti, Fiji. Now people often ask me, ‘Greg, do you ever get scared?’ I do feel fear, but that fear is actually one of the underlying motivators of why I ride big waves, why I choose to put myself out there. How are we ever meant to truly grow in our lives, if we don’t occasionally step out of that comfort zone? And that’s what big wave surfing has taught me, and one of the greatest allures of it, is embracing that fear in a positive light. Simply acknowledging it as a space where I can grow in my life. Now, over the course of my surfing career in my later years, there was one wave that captivated me beyond comprehension. And it is called the Cortes Bank, an underwater seamount that sits 100 miles off the coast of Southern California. It’s mainly recognized as a maritime hazard. But to big wave surfers… it’s our Mount Everest. Cortes Bank has the ability to produce the largest rideable waves of anywhere in the world. But it also has challenges and dangers that no other big wave break has. Your horizon line, it extends 360 degrees around you. There’s no landmass in sight. No reference point, as to where you’re going to actually can sit and lineup. There’s no continental shelf. So these open ocean swells are travelling at speed upwards of 50 miles an hour. That’s twice as fast as your typical big wave. The currents out there are moving at the pace of an easy flowing river, so it is impossible to stay whatever it is that you want to without paddling incessantly. And then the lineup, it spans over the course of about three football fields. There’s no rhyme or reason as to how and where these waves actually break out, there on the seamount. Then, in late December 2010, another massive low-pressure system forms off the coast of California. I see that there’s an opportunity to go out to the Cortes Bank. And I had one goal. All I wanted to do was paddle into the biggest wave of my life.I’m out here in the lineup. And here it is before me. I turn around, I put my head down and I paddle my heart out. I go, I go, I go… right over the front of my board and on to my face. I bet that story didn’t end the way you guys thought it was going to. ( laughter ) They usually never do. Well, I was the happiest man alive. ( laughter ) Why you may ask.Well, one, I was okay. Two… that was the opportunity that I’d been waiting for. I would’ve rather have gone on that wave, and eaten ****, wiped out, than not. And sat there and wondered for the rest of my life, ‘Could I have made it?’ I paddled back out and I wanted to do it again, not wipe out. ( laughter ) I wanted to make one of these waves.So, after about an hour, back in the lineup, and I see a great set approaching. Lineup the wave that I like, just like I had done so many times before, I put my head down and I go. Further on the shoulder I was joined by fellow suffer, Garrett McNamara and together we take the plunge down the face of this wave. We get to the bottom and we both immediately realize that we’ve misjudged the speed, and our distance to the shoulder. And we are immediately overtaken by this mountain of white water. Now, I’ve ridden bigger waves in my life. I’d wiped out in much more dramatic fashion in my life before. But there was something about this wave. The way that it hit me… with the power and the force.It’s like nothing I’d ever experienced. It was like a five-story building of white water being dumped on my back. I was immediately pushed… into the abyss. And I’d been down so long running the risk of what’s called ‘the two-wave hold-down’, where you don’t actually make it to the surface before the second wave passes over you. But I still have the time to probably swim to the surface and get that breath before it hits.And as I am about ready to penetrate this aerated water and get that breath… that second wave, towering wave, four-stories tall, lip comes pitching down and it lands right on top of me. My body instantly felt like it was torn in two pieces and shaken in this violent state of semi-paralysis. But even worse… all of the wind that was in my lungs… was immediately expelled out, knocked straight out of me. But as that wave, that lip hit me, it pushed me right back down to this place… 30 feet below the surface. My body was begging me to breathe, to re-inflate my lungs. But I knew that I couldn’t. And if I didn’t, I would most certainly drown in that very instant. So, my thoughts go a little something like this, ‘Well, you’ve really done it now, Greg. But don’t worry, just relax. You are going to make it to the surface. You are going to be okay.’ At the same time, the turbulence from that second wave that had hit me began to subside.As I started to think about swimming for the surface, I heard and I felt the third wave pass over the top of me. And I immediately go back into those cartwheels and spins, caught in the turbulence of it, and realize that, you know, these full body convulsions began to slowly settle down. Hands began to tingle. Just feel the overall life in me start to slip away. Flashes of light in the corner of my mind, but I’m still going. I let go of the tail section of that board, the last energy that I have in me. I let go and I take one more double-arm breaststroke. Reaching for the top I know it’s coming… and then blackness. Blackness and silence. I come to the surface… face down. They pulled my lifeless body on to the back of the rescue sled, and I was completely unresponsive. As fast as they could they rushed me back to our support boat, which you see in the distance here. And they began readying themselves to give me CPR, but first they are checking my vitals to see if there’s any signs of life. And, as they’re getting ready to start CPR and hopefully to bring me back, I let out the most feeble gasp for air. All the while, there is just water and foam and blood coming out of my mouth, but I’m still trying to breath, completely unconscious. It was about three minutes they sat there waiting, those gasps got larger and larger and then finally, the lights came back on. The coastguard was called, but we are a 100 miles into the ocean. It’s going to take them some time before they can get there. Four hours later, the coastguard arrived. I was packaged up, friends walked me out to the bow of the boat and in the cover of darkness and massive seas, I was lifted in a basket up to the coastguard chopper.I was life-flighted to San Diego, immediately admitted to the hospital, where I underwent a whole series of tests, CAT scans, x-rays, checking for the brain trauma, internal damage, internal bleeding. And then monitored for secondary drowning, making sure that my lungs didn’t backfill with fluid as I slept through the night. The next morning the doctor comes in, signs-off on the paperwork and says, ‘You are good to home, Greg.’ ( laughter ) I had promised myself I was done with big wave surfing. That I had pushed it to the edge, I was given a second chance that I’ve got no reason to go back there. I’ve explored my greatest potential, what I’m capable of. I know it now. I don’t care about it any more. Three weeks later… another big swell forms in the North Pacific.( laughter ) Yeah, you guys can see where this is going. ( laughter ) And I get a call that they are going to have the Mavericks Big Wave Contest. Mavericks is one of the premier big waves in the world and this contest is one of the most important in the big wave surfing world. It’s big wave surfing community. So I pack up my car and make the eight-hour drive north to Half Moon Bay. And I paddle out and I surf the contest. But things were different. I would immediately disappear back into that deep, dark, lonely place beneath the ocean at Cortes Bank. While my mind would flashback to the physical agony that I was experiencing when I was lying on the deck of the boat, desperate to breath. But for the next six months, I continued to push myself and surf every single big wave, travelling to all these destinations just as I had done so many times before. And eventually, I became so exhausted physically, mentally, emotionally. I just had to stop.I realized in that moment… I was living my life in fear. All I had ever known was a life in a world of surfing big waves. It frightened me to think of things any different. But it was also in that moment that I realized I had all the answers to this riddle that I was trying to solve in my mind. That the ocean is this amazing metaphor for life, when you think about it. You are on this constantly moving playing field. You know, the winds, tides, currents are always changing. Tides go in, goes out, there’s an ebb and a flow to everything. And I was always so good at adapting to those changes… in the ocean. Those new feelings of fear that I had never experienced before. I opened my arms and I welcomed them just as I had always done. And simply acknowledged them as places in my life that I was meant to learn and grow from. I started to regain that confidence and I started moving forward in my life.I was having more fun than ever. And then the world gave me the opportunity, for once and for all go back out and face those deepest, darkest fears… once and for all. ( music ) You know, I didn’t get much sleep last night. I was just tossing and turning and living everything that I went through the last time I was out here. The last time, last thing I remember I was literally on the bow on the boat, like this, you know, looking up at the coastguard helicopter, you know, being lifted out of here in a freaking basket.( music ) Yes. Alright! Thank you, guys. Love you all for being here. I appreciate it. Let’s go surf. ( music ) Thank you guys for being here. Love, respect and gratitude. ( applause ) ( outro music ) .

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