In this blog series, Craig Jarvis revisits some of surfing’s most monumental rides. 

It was the morning of the Pe’ahi Challenge in 2015 and Mark Mathews, who was a late replacement for Kelly Slater, thought he might warm up with a few forty footers.

The wind was screaming offshore, and it seemed like he wasn't going to catch it, but Bra Boy Mark Matthews paddled harder and harder into the streaming wind. When his gun had picked up enough momentum he jumped to his feet, but he seemed to hang in the air, on top of a forty-foot wave, and nothing was going to let him begin his descent.

When gravity eventually overtook updraft, Matthews was late, so late, and it was clear that his route down was going to be perilous. He navigated a few bumps and wobbles, all the while facing into the fierce wind and somehow, miraculously, made it to the bottom of the giant Jaws wave, only to get immediately eaten alive by what resembled an avalanche.

Cartoons

It was a wave of cartoonish proportions, and despite showing to the world the epic conditions that were prevalent for the event, what it revealed to me in stark reality was the absolutely ridiculous risks that surfers are willing to take for fame and fortune and glory.

I didn't want Matthews to wipe out. Many years ago we hung out for a few surf sessions in my hood, getting some barrels at my local beach-break, and with me tempting him to have a few of my special double Captain Morgan and Tab concoctions.

“Tab is sugar-free,” I told him back then. “So it’s kind of good for you.” He always declined, with a quietly muttered ‘fuck,’ under his breath as he shook his head, but we got on great. I didn't want to see him hurt.

The wave earned Mark the cover of Tracks.

Fractured, dislocated

I was cringing when the wind lifted his board up, and sent him wafting down, and I cheered when his fins dug in. It was a long way down and when he got to the bottom I cheered, only to see him disappear under the whitewater. It was quite a while later that we were told that he had suffered a bad injury, sustained a dislocated arm as well as a fractured shoulder, that would ultimately result in a few months out the water.

"Straight away, I felt the impact and my shoulder ripped out," Matthews recalled in an interview with ABC News.

"I was rolling around hanging onto my arm trying to nurse it, but at the same time, I had to pull the cord to inflate my vest. I ended up pulling it a bit later than what I normally would've because I was holding onto my arm.”

Mark Matthews at Pe’ahi

The wave wasn't a make, as is imperative in big wave surfing, but it did solidly confirm Matthews as one of the hardest charging and talented surfers of that time in 2015, and also played a vital part in his career as a motivational speaker. Nowadays all he has to do is play the wipeout video to an audience of suits to get their full and undivided attention for as long as he needs.

The WSL nailed it

Despite their failings, which are voluminous, one thing the WSL does get right is the quality of the webcast. From a purely technical POV, the webcast product is shit-hot. It is state-of-the-art and they deliver a better product at times than what your eyes and your brain can digest while watching a surf contest live.

It is for this very reason that we as viewers tend to get desensitized to giant waves as viewed on the (former) Big Wave Tour webcast. To be able to deliver this sort of quality that we were watching, of Matthews surfing giant Jaws bombs, to thousands of screens around the world is an incredible feat of technology and production. So good is it, however, that at times we absently look away when someone paddles for a forty-footer, or we reach over to answer a Whatsapp when Kai Lenny paddles for the set of the day, even if it has a fifty-foot face.

Rubbernecking

This wave was different. It was like watching train crash or morbidly rubbernecking a body-strewn car wreck. You could not turn away. Matthews was recognized, correctly I might add, as a contender in the 2016 Tag Heuer Wipeout Award in the WSL Big Wave Awards, and the most amazing thing was that he didn't even win it. The prize actually went to Nicolla Porcella who tried to torpedo headfirst into the Teahupo’o reef on a gigantic wave for the win. So there you have it.

Nicolla Porcella at Teahupo’o