Who drives the ski? This is where the Big-Wave rescue teams come from


Big waves have a certain mystique, at least when viewed from the beach or via the internet. When you get into the nitty-gritty, with tons of water moving around, the mystique can wear off pretty quickly. Now add in the typical programming chaos you might encounter at a crowded break like Malibu or Pleasure Point, and the crap gets downright awful.

With more and more people getting into surfing in recent years, surprisingly – or not – there are also more and more people getting into the waves of Maverick’s, Jaws and Nazaré. And unlike your local beachbreak, crowds in big wave locations can produce truly deadly scenarios. I met several rescue teams to find out what these historic places look like from a lifeguard’s perspective, and the efforts that have been made in recent years to manage the crowds of chargers who come to test themselves on some of the biggest and steepest waves. gnarled. in the world. I basically wanted to know where these rescue teams came from.

It also takes good training to know how to be rescued. Sometimes, with multiple walls of whitewater crashing down on you, you have to ditch the board. Photo: Abe Alarcon.

Like many things in our sport, the rise of big wave surfing and the challenges it poses come down to respect. For us “average” surfers, there is often a laid back “let’s just go to the beach” attitude. This attitude doesn’t exactly translate to the big wave scene. During these breaks, preparation begins when big swells are still storming in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and the upbeat mantra “let’s go surfing” is exchanged for one similar to preparing for war. Equipment is checked and plans are made, along with back-up plans. At least that’s how it should be.

Over the past two years, there has been an outcry over the disparity between the number of surfers in the water at these locations and the jet ski operators tasked with rescuing them if things go wrong. “‘This year at Jaws there were 60 surfers in the water and like two safe skis,'” Albee Layer said. DSC in 2019. “The other skis were driving photographers.”

Ski drivers can make a lot of money giving photographers a front seat to the action, and often earn nothing if they choose to operate water safety, unless they are paid as part of the action. a team responsible for monitoring an individual or a group of surfers. . Professional surfers like Kai Lenny and his brother Ridge, as well as Ian Walsh and his brothers, are able to put together their own rescue teams, which is for the best in many ways because they are part of a core group that really pushes him. (and therefore in need of further rescue).

Peahi Hui Cleaning Set

Water safety is about to get busy at Pe’ahi… Photo: Guy Mac.

Even with your own team, things can get complicated. “If something goes wrong with someone who hasn’t organized water safety for themselves, they are essentially trusting a member of another team to divert their attention from their surfer(s) and risk themselves, as well as his jet ski, to rescue them,” Ridge Lenny told me via email. To combat this problem, rescue ski operators organize themselves into groups like the The Maverick Rescue Team and the Peahi Huigiving themselves a platform from which to organize efforts with first responders and connect with surfers heading to the break they are monitoring.

“Our lifeguards were overwhelmed with people coming in from the rocks and just showing up,” says Daniel Goldberg of the Peahi Hui, a group that oversees water rescue at Peahi on Maui. “What Peahi Hui is doing by organizing is putting a bit of pressure on the guys coming in to say look, at least contact us before you come so we can be prepared.”

Sergio Cosme Jetski

Sergio Cosme, also known as the “Guardian Angel of Nazaré”, knows what it takes to be a rescue driver. Photo: Red Bull content pool.

It takes a lot to be a rescue ski operator. “As I tell people, a pro surfer doesn’t make a first responder and a first responder doesn’t know the ocean like a pro surfer, so you really need someone who has both that experience of understanding the ocean dynamics, and then who has the extra medical licenses to be able to do the job the right way,” says drake stanley of the Maverick Rescue Team. These teams certainly do it for love. “We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t like it,” says Daniel. “Some guys just like being there, or the feeling of walking in and having someone. Some guys like having their name dropped, and some guys actually have minor corporate sponsorships. I’m here to surfing in fact, but also to organize water safety, because for me if there is no safety, there is no reason for surfers to be there, it’s just too heavy.

Drake Mavericks saves the shadow

Drake Stanley snatches Ian Walsh from the danger zone as a massive wave of Maverick casts a shadow over the scene. Photo: Abe Alarcon.

At Maverick, drake stanley is one of the key members of Maverick’s rescue team, performing water rescue for seven years, and he’s seen the break change a lot in that time. “The inflation vests made available to the public have changed the scene a lot,” Stanley says, echoing a sentiment I’ve heard from the Maverick’s community before. The Mavericks Surf Awards have worked to keep the “go straight and swell” mentality out of the lineup at Mavs, only accepting contest entries where the surfer actually rides the wave they rode. They also worked with photographers to arrange surveillance from the cliffs to get an extra set of eyes on the break from a different angle. The team at Power line productions often fulfills this role as well.

Peahi Hui Jetski

Daniel Silvagni to the rescue. Photo: Peahi Hui.

Over the past two years, Jaws Water Lifeguards have organized themselves into Peahi Hui, partly in response to the difference in numbers between surfers and rescue operators at Pe’ahi mentioned above, but also to promote coordination between the various rescue groups there like the teams that work with the pros locals and visitors. “When we have a swell coming in we have a big meeting and we try to get representatives from all the professional surfer groups like the Walshes and the Lennys. We all agree on what radio channels we’re on. will be and when we launch so we know who is out there, find spotters on the cliffs with some of the local photographers, so even though there are a few different groups, it’s one big family.

Rescue of Sergio Cosme

Sergio Cosme, “the Guardian Angel of Nazaré” deserves his nickname. Photo: Red Bull content pool.

Nazaré has, and always will be, more of a towing place than a paddling area, which means that if you want to go out on the big days, water safety, or at least a Jet Ski pilot, is basically mandatory. Unless there is a competition, pilots and surfers organize themselves into teams that mainly take care of themselves, although they are always ready to help those in need.

For the most part, there is no centralized ‘Nazaré Water Patrol’, says Jet Ski pilot Sergio Cosme. Cosme has been doing water rescue in Nazaré for almost 10 years, and during that time he powered Rodrigo Koxa into the biggest wave ever surfed on the planet (although we’ll see if that record stands after this year), and is imposed as the “Guardian Angel of Nazaré” with daring rescues in the water.

Currently, he is able to do his full-time water safety job between the work he does at Nazaré, other contests and sponsorships, but he doesn’t work with just anyone. “If the surfer and the driver aren’t connected and don’t know how the other works, it can be dangerous,” says Cosme. “There is no security zone in Nazaré. When you are there you can have water coming at you 360 degrees. His favorite professional surfer to work with is actually fellow countryman Nic von Rupp. “I can trust him to drive me in all conditions,” says Cosme. “But for me, as a pilot, I would like to see something like a Nazaré Water Patrol, a safety team that always works together, whether it’s a big swell or a contest.”

Rescue of Peahi Hui Kai

Kurtis Chong Kee goes deep to pull Kai Lenny out of the jaws of, well, Jaws. Photo: John Patao//Peahi Hui.

So let’s say you want to go out on a break like Maverick’s or Jaws, and just assume you’ve got the chops to do it. What else should you do? As mentioned, the Peahi Hui encourages anyone entering to contact them in advance, set up water safety, photographers, etc. ins and outs of this wave. Maverick’s Rescue offers a few different such classes.

And at the very least, give back a little to those who risk everything to save your ass, and do it for love. Even if you don’t ride big waves, if you want to support the amazing work these guys are doing, check out the Maverick Rescue Team Fundraiser, which is currently only $950 below its target of $7,000. The funds will be invested in the repair of Jet Ski, new safety kits and the purchase of an AED for the team. Always important things to have in those treacherous queues.


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