Jul 22, 2013

Shawn Dollar rewrites big-wave surfing history



Murukesh Krishnan

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Shawn Dollar from California paddled-in and surfed a 61-foot swell off the coast of Cortes Bank, the highest till date

Skill, discipline, fear, oomph- these are a few terms that could go with big-wave surfing. If you have a 10’6 surf board and a fervor for huge swells, places like Mavericks or Cortes Bank (both California, USA) are the kind of dangerous surfing destinations you would love to go. Riding a 10-15 foot wave is in itself a great high for a wave-rider, but what about tackling a 61-foot swell and that too breaking the world record for the highest wave paddled into?


When 30-year-old big-wave Californian surfer Shawn Dollar dashed into the sea with his surf board on December 21, 2012 , he never dreamt that a casual day out in the sea would turn out to be a record-making attempt. Doing a 61-foot paddle-in is no mean thing and as Dollar himself puts it, “it was one of the craziest swells I’d ever seen in my life!”


Lets hear from the man himself in an exclusive interview by The Outdoor Journal reporter Murukesh Krishnan:


Was it your goal that day to set up a record, did you feel it was a ‘record’ day or did you just go out there surfing like you do everyday without any other expectations?


It wasn’t my goal to go out there and set a record. I knew that just catching a wave at Cortez would have been a huge feat. It just so happened that the wave I was able to catch was a world record. I just wanted to catch at least one wave.


The Cortes Bank has always seen some enormous waves, some of them rising as high as 80 to 90 foot. What’s it like to surf there? It’s not my idea of a tropical paradise surf spot…


Cortez is a scary, scary place to surf. This day I caught my wave was not sunny and pretty. The weather was bad and surface of the ocean was really rough. There is no land in sight, so you really get thrown off since so much of surfing is based on lining up from shore. I wish there were palm trees and off-shore wind. Then I’d have felt a lot better about surfing there.


Why didn’t you use a jet ski? Are you familiar with jet-ski pulling you into a wave and what are the differences?  


I didn’t use a jet ski because there is so much more pleasure in catching a wave with your own body instead of a machine. Paddling into a wave is so much more memorable and fulfilling. When you paddle, you have to use all your senses and instinct to get yourself in the right spot and everything about that is so difficult in comparison to getting pulled by a jet ski. We have to use big boards when we paddle to get momentum and that also makes for a much more difficult ride if you manage to catch the wave.


Can you describe the atmosphere among surfers on a surf spot like that? There’s a lot of respect for each other I guess…Are you also watching each other’s back?


Everyone is concerned and watching out for the guys out there. The situation is so critical that everyone is very concerned about the guys next to them. It’s really nice knowing that you can trust the guys out there with you.


I guess nature there make you feel very vulnerable. Can you describe to us what went through your mind during that session?


I took a very cautious approach and really studied the line up before I surfed. I was really intimidated and nervous. It’s cat and mouse out there and I’m the mouse! I really had to run on instinct and trust my gut. I really wanted to catch a waves so I kept pushing myself through the fear to stay focused on catching and riding a wave.




How did you get into big wave surfing? 


It’s something that just happened naturally. I’ve always wanted to catch the biggest waves during sessions and try to surf bigger spots when the waves get bigger. It’s just been a natural progression for me. Also, I had friends that were into it who showed me to ropes and helped me be in the right places with the right equipment.


What other big wave surf spots have you been and what are your favorites (Jaws, Teahupoo, Mavericks, Waimea) ?


I’ve been to Jaws and Waimea and I love the warm water. Waimea is my favorite in Hawaii. I love Mavericks though. That is my home break.


What is so cool about big wave surfing? Does that give you a high? Are you some sort of an adrenaline crazy junkie not afraid of anything?


The high is amazing. It’s like nothing else. It’s pure adrenaline. It takes all your skills and tests them to such a high level. It’s very mental too. I’ve just never done anything as challenging.


Mike Parsons has a double Guinness World Record here in Cortez Bank. Was breaking his record one of your goals?


Mike Parsons world record is from tow surfing, which is different. I paddled in and set a world record for paddling.


Was the sea, the sky and your natural surroundings any special the day you set the record?


The sky was dark and the water was rough. It wasn’t the type of day that was friendly and you want to surf.


Could you describe a typical day into your life, a big wave surfer? Why is your wife letting you risk your life like that?


My typical day is on the road or in my office as the Sales Rep for Reef Footwear in Northern California. It’s a busy job but I can be available for when the waves are big. My wife is very supportive, but it scares the hell out of her! She is really looking forward to the day I stop!


Can you talk about the board you used that day? What’s it’s dimensions and what do you like about it?


The board is 10’6 and really thick and heavy. It’s extremely large for a big wave board and 2x as heavy. The length allows me to paddle fast to match the speed of these giant waves and the weight keeps the board down in all the rough water and wind.


Now that you have achieved a Guinness record, what’s next?


I really want to win the Mavericks contest and compete in the Waimea and Jaws contests too.


Besides Cortez Bank what are the other big swell spots you’d like to surf?



Todos Santos!
How can an amateur surfer get into big wave riding without taking too many chances? What would your advice be? 


Start at smaller spots and work your way up. Don’t just show up to Mavericks or a big spot like that. You need to do your homework and be ready. Jumping the gun will result in very deadly consequences!


FYI- Back in 2010, Dollar rode a wave at Mavericks off Half Moon Bay, California, measuring 55-feet. But the following year, Hawaiian surfer Shane Dorian did a 57-footer at Jaws, Maui to beat Shawn and get into the Guinness Record books.


Slider Image Courtesy © Rob Brown
Image Courtesy © Frank Quirarte
Place: New Delhi