The Coaster: big wave surfing

Surfers don't measure big waves in feet and inches - they measure them in increments of fear

Alex Wade

div#related-article-links p a, div#related-article-links p a:visited {color:#06c;} I'm nervous. I've signed up to get an up close and personal view of big wave surfing, but, as I try to sleep the night before, the fact that I'm strictly a double overhead guy is gnawing away at me. Double overhead is surf-speak for waves that are twice my size. They're the biggest I've surfed, and, unlike the muscular, intensely focused man who yearns for outsize waves in the celebrated Guinness advert, I haven't been in a hurry to repeat the experience.

In the advert huge waves crest into galloping white horses, capturing the mystique, allure and adrenalin inherent in big wave surfing. This potent combination has led me to accept an invitation from one of the men at the vanguard of the UK big wave scene: 29-year-old Ben Granata from Newquay.

“Tomorrow's the day,” Granata said. “If you're interested in what genuine big waves are like, come out with me on the back of a jet ski and I'll show you.” Granata is an expert in tow surfing, where one surfer rides a jet ski and uses a rope to tow another into waves too big to paddle into. It's strictly an experts-only pursuit.

Granata reckons that the forecast promises perfect conditions for the Cribber, a notorious big wave that breaks a few times a year off Newquay, and I'm to meet him at first light.

I recall that the renowned big wave surfer Buzzy Trent says: “Big waves aren't measured in feet and inches. They're measured in increments of fear” - and already as I wake up at 4.30 I'm scared. I log on, check the meteorological charts, and it gets worse: the swell is massive. Tony Plant, a Newquay photographer who is often in the sea with Granata, says: “When you're in big surf, water becomes something almost beyond our understanding.” For Plant, capturing this phenomenon is his life's calling, but for me going back to bed seems preferable. Fortunately, a text message from Granata arrives telling me to do just that.

Later, Granata explains that the wind switched direction as dawn was breaking. The wind turned onshore, ruining the waves and creating so much chop that even sitting on the back of the jet ski would have been a risk too far. “Sorry,” he says, “but there are a lot of false dawns in big wave surfing.” Or, as the good folk of Guinness like to say, “Here's to waiting.”

Ben is a K38 UK Instructor: