Risking Your Life in The Name of Competition Glory
How long will it be until we have a death in a surf event, and what will the fall-out be? Surfing falls short of most of the ’10 most dangerous sports in the world’ listicles, but it is still fairly up there as a hazardous sport and pastime for the surfers who paddle out in big surf or at waves that break over dangerous reefs.
When you think of surfers who have died while surfing, who immediately comes to mind? My stream off consciousness list is goes like this: Donny Solomon, Mark Foo, Todd Chesser, Peter Davi, Sion Miloskey, Malik Joyeux, Kirk Passmore, Ace Cool and Briece Taerea.
That’s a fair list, and we can now, tragically add Glen Jeans to the list, but thankfully we’re not going to be adding Dusty Payne to it any time soon.
The question is, when will it happen at a World Surf League event? It seems definitely to lean more towards the ‘when’ as opposed to ‘if,’ and with the burgeoning big wave tour and their inclination to take on the biggest waves in the world, it surely must be on people’s minds.
Nazaré is a wave that can kill. It killed Maya Gabeira, but thankfully she was brought back to life on the beach. It is a place that looks so treacherous and sketchy with the backwash, the side-wash, the closeouts and the sweeping currents, that things could go wrong there very quickly. Mavericks has killed before. It took Foo and Milosky. Puerto Escondido has taken the life of surfer and videographer Noel Robinson back in 2010.
On the Championship tour, the world’s most deadly wave is host to the Billabong Pipe Masters. Peru surfer Joaquin Miroquesada died there in 1967, and Beaver Massfeller hit the reef so hard at the 1983 Pipe Masters that he had to have a steel plate inserted into his head, and has struggled with speech and memory ever since. There have been some serious accidents there recently, with Owen Wright’s head rattle, Bede Durbidge’s hip slam and Leo Fioravanti’s back slam on the reef. All were proper wipeouts, but no one died in those three, and all made good recoveries. It is the place where Malik died, and there have been over 12 deaths there over the years.
Who can forget when Aaron Gold almost died at Cloudbreak, or when Mick Fanning almost got bitten at JBay? John Robins was tragically killed while surfing Margaret River when he hit an artery with his own board. Many of the venues that have WSL and other surfing events at them, are seriously dangerous.
What would be the fall-out from a death at a World Surf League event? Judging by the Mick Fanning experience, it will see a massive spike in viewership, it will make headlines the world over, and surfing will step straight into the mainstream the world over. If there is an accident, and we do forever hope that it never happens, surfing will dominate newsfeeds for a while because it can be assumed that it’ll be covered by a couple of really good cameras from multiple angles and possibly from a drone angle, so there will be enough world-class footage for this to go far. Fanning’s video clip, uploaded by the WSL, has had 25 million views thus far.
At this stage, before we all start thinking that the world of pro surfing or big wave surfing, is way too dangerous and manipulated to be enjoyable, lets’ stop to think about the safety teams and the other aspects that the WSL have put in play to protect their surfers. For the big wave events the safety teams are quite incredible, hauling surfers out of the water and taking them back out to backline without a blink of an eye. They are constantly on the lookout after every set and have a perfect record thus far. There are also a number of systems in place to monitor possible shark activity at events, which was revealed this year when the single shark came to visit the Corona Open JBay, just as Mick Fanning was gearing up for a heat against Media.
The chances of something tragic happening at a World Surf League surfing event are slim, and the odds even less as a result of the safety teams and shark mitigation systems in place. Let’s hope that nothing happens in the future.
RIP Glen Jeans
Get well soon Dusty Payne