Paige Alms has no qualms about play­ing with the boys. In fact, she’s one of the few women in the world who reg­u­lar­ly braves big wave surf­ing. Con­sid­ered a female pio­neer of the sport, Alms is break­ing down bar­ri­ers in the tra­di­tion­al­ly male-dom­i­nat­ed sport.


The Clymb: Big wave rid­ing is still pret­ty much a male-dom­i­nat­ed sport. How does that affect the things you can do or your involve­ment in it?

Paige Alms: Being a woman has and nev­er will affect the things that I or oth­er women can do, in surf­ing or in any oth­er sport. Peo­ple have pre­con­ceived ideas of what is pos­si­ble, man or woman, but all of those opin­ions are con­stant­ly chang­ing. For exam­ple, did I think I’d ever pad­dle into a wave at Jaws and get bar­reled? Not in the begin­ning of the pad­dle move­ment out there. But a few weeks before I did it, I told my pho­tog­ra­ph­er friend Tra­cy Leboe that I was going to do it. She laughed and thought I was jok­ing, but a few weeks lat­er, we were talk­ing “I told you I was going to do it!!” The pos­si­bil­i­ties are end­less, for men or women.


The Clymb: Is being a woman an advan­tage or dis­ad­van­tage in the sport?

PA: I think it can only be an advan­tage because we are prov­ing to the world that women can do what the men are doing on big waves!


The Clymb: How did you get start­ed in water sports? What’s your sports background?

PA: I always loved the ocean and felt as if I was drawn to it at a young age. My entire child­hood I played soc­cer, base­ball, track, cross coun­try, skate­board­ing, pret­ty much every­thing. I start­ed surf­ing when I was about 10 and every­thing kind of took sec­ond choice after that!

The Clymb: Why the jump to wave rid­ing rather than just stick­ing to “plain” surf­ing? What attract­ed you to it?

PA: I guess you mean “big wave rid­ing.” Well, big wave surf­ing was just a nat­ur­al pro­gres­sion for me, I always loved chal­leng­ing myself and push­ing myself to get bet­ter. Noth­ing is more chal­leng­ing and hum­bling than big wave surf­ing. It is the most exhil­a­rat­ing feel­ing I have ever experienced.


The Clymb: What would you con­sid­er your most impres­sive accom­plish­ment in the field so far?

PA: My bar­rel at Peahi in Jan­u­ary; by far my biggest accom­plish­ment of my life.


The Clymb: You were the first ever female surfer to get bar­reled at Jaws. For read­ers who are not famil­iar with this, can you explain exact­ly what that means?

PA: Just to clar­i­fy, I wasn’t the first. My dear friend Keala Ken­nel­ly got bar­reled there a few years pri­or, but it was a very short pock­et ride, she would even say that. So to explain what that means, basi­cal­ly I pad­dled into a 30 foot wave, got to the bot­tom of the wave, “bot­tom turned” up into the pock­et of the wave, and the lip “threw out” over me. We call it get­ting tubed, as you are rid­ing a tube of mov­ing water. It is the best feel­ing you can have on a wave and that feel­ing is even more accen­tu­at­ed on a huge wave like that. Only a few men in the world have been bar­reled at Jaws, so to be a woman on that list is a great feeling!


The Clymb: What made this chal­lenge so significant?

PA: That it was a first of many more to come!

The Clymb: How do you deal with fear when fac­ing a gigan­tic wave and the unpre­dictabil­i­ty of the ocean?

PA: It is all about accept­ing your fears and learn­ing how to push through that fear calm­ly. Being phys­i­cal­ly and men­tal­ly pre­pared to take on any­thing that moth­er nature throws at you is the most empow­er­ing feel­ing you can ever have. With that being said, I do a lot of train­ing in the gym, breath hold­ing and surf­ing as much as pos­si­ble, as the ocean teach­es you the most valu­able lessons of all. Con­quer­ing your fears, wow, how invigorating!


The Clymb: You have a doc­u­men­tary com­ing out lat­er this year. Can you tell us a bit more about it? What was it like to film it?

PA: Yes, it is called “The Wave I Ride” and it was made by Devyn Bis­son. We pre­miered it here on Maui in June at the Maui Film Fes­ti­val, under the stars in Wailea, with a turnout of more than 2,500 peo­ple. Being a part of this project was a huge learn­ing expe­ri­ence for me and I am so grate­ful to have been a part of it all. The movie should be on iTunes by the end of the year and a sched­ule of the film tour should be up on the site soon.


The Clymb: What else is com­ing up next? Any com­pe­ti­tions planned?

PA: No com­pe­ti­tions at the moment, although I am hop­ing there will be a women’s heat at the Peahi Chal­lenge this win­ter! As far as what’s com­ing next, I am get­ting shoul­der surgery next week for a spot of avas­cu­lar necro­sis I have on my humer­al head, which I got when I dis­lo­cat­ed and frac­tured my shoul­der two years ago. So lots of rehab and train­ing ahead to be ready for winter!

Mav­er­icks, in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, is a rel­a­tive new­com­er to the big wave surf­ing scene. Three surfers first attempt­ed the break in 1961 with a white-haired Ger­man Shep­ard named Mav­er­ick that wouldn’t stay put on the shore. The surfers had lim­it­ed suc­cess, and by all accounts, Mav­er­ick had the most fun that day. It would be more than a decade before Jeff Clark, a 17-year-old high school stu­dent in Half Moon Bay, became the first per­son to suc­cess­ful­ly ride the 20-foot waves.

The break remained a secret for the next 15 years.

It wasn’t until 1990, when Clark’s friend pub­lished a pho­to in Surfer mag­a­zine that the surf­ing com­mu­ni­ty tru­ly noticed. It was like find­ing Pipeline or Jaws, leg­endary Hawai­ian surf breaks, right in their own back­yard. But there was a catch; a very good rea­son why no one was surf­ing there.

In 2007, NOAA released maps of the sea floor at Mav­er­icks. They show a long, slop­ing ramp of ocean­ic crust that ris­es from the depths toward shore. Surfers call this ramp “The Thumb,” and there are numer­ous shelves of rock on it. Pow­er­ful win­ter swells gen­er­at­ed from mid-Pacif­ic storms ride The Thumb as the first point of con­tact with land and then explode with tremen­dous force upon the reef, near­ly two miles offshore.

It’s a very dan­ger­ous place to wipe­out. As leg­endary surfers began flock­ing to Mav­er­icks through­out the 90s they began to learn that the hold downs could be par­tic­u­lar­ly long and bru­tal. Mark Foo’s trag­ic, and untime­ly death in 1994 high­light­ed the extreme dan­ger of get­ting pinned among the under­wa­ter rocks, but even still, the surf break’s rep­u­ta­tion grew.

Now it has reached super­star sta­tus with a cameo in the surf doc­u­men­tary Rid­ing Giants in 2004, a Hol­ly­wood biopic called Chas­ing Mav­er­icks, and it plays host to the infa­mous Mav­er­icks Invi­ta­tion­al surf com­pe­ti­tion that kicks off this week.

Dur­ing the com­pe­ti­tion, you can watch live-stream­ing footage here.

Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu is an undis­put­ed mec­ca for all surfers worth their salt. They flock from across the globe to test their met­tle on what’s often con­sid­ered one of the most dan­ger­ous waves in the world. When huge win­ter swells hit the reef at Pipeline it forms a large, hol­low, A‑frame shaped wave with a thick, curl­ing tube.

No video cap­tures the beau­ty, car­nage, and chaos of a ses­sion at pipeline more than Eric Sterman’s aer­i­al footage. From this per­spec­tive we can see the lethal reef lurk­ing just beneath the sur­face. We can see the rain­bows that launch from the wave’s crest. And we have a great look at the poor souls who get tossed over the falls of this glo­ri­ous wave. 

Big thanks to Ster­man for shar­ing this video. For more, fol­low him on Insta­gram.

Brazil­ian surfer Car­los Burle rode what is believed to be the largest wave ever surfed. The ini­tial esti­mate of the mon­ster wave Burle caught at Nazare, Por­tu­gal is over 100-feet high.

But that’s not all Burle did that day. Ear­li­er that morn­ing he also res­cued fel­low Brazil­ian surfer, Maya Gabeira, 26, after she was pinned beneath the white­wash of a 70-foot wave.

Here is the footage of her rescue: 

Ms. Gabeira lost con­scious­ness in the water dur­ing a fran­tic res­cue attempt, and a res­cue team includ­ing Burle resus­ci­tat­ed her on the beach per­form­ing CPR. She regained con­scious­ness before she was rushed to the hos­pi­tal in Leiria.

She is cur­rent­ly in sta­ble con­di­tion and is expect­ed to make a full recovery.

And Burle’s wave is expect­ed to land him in the record books. 

Laird Hamil­ton — co-inven­tor of tow-in surf­ing and arguably the reign­ing king of big-wave surf­ing — is most known for rid­ing a Teahupo‘o wave dubbed “the heav­i­est ever rid­den.” He shot out and over the wave’s shoul­der – intact and undead. Whether it’s been push­ing the bound­aries of big-waves, jump­ing 30 feet out of the water on sail­boards or extend­ed SUP jour­neys, he’s been at it ever since.

We caught Laird on the phone at his home in Mal­ibu, Cal­i­for­nia for his thoughts on life and the ocean, the bliss of surf­ing, and the impor­tance of a morn­ing rou­tine that begins with the sunrise.

Oxbow Water­men Expe­ri­ence — Laird Hamil­ton from OXBOW on Vimeo.

The Clymb: You’ve spo­ken before on the impor­tance of ear­ly ris­ing. What’s it do for you?

Laird Hamil­ton: I get up in the dark, before the sun ris­es and hope­ful­ly watch the sun­rise, doing some solar gaz­ing is a great way to start a morn­ing. There’s just some­thing about our rela­tion­ship with nature that’s impor­tant. I think greet­ing the day is part of that, to be inter­ac­tive with your sur­round­ings. Morn­ings set the prece­dent for the kind of day you’re going to have. It’s when you’re the strongest; your cor­ti­sol lev­els are at their high­est. Doc­tors tell you it’s the best time to do any­thing stressful.

The Clymb: What’s your rou­tine like?

LH: I start my day with quite a bit of water with lemon and salt, then I’ll move in to some kind of stim­u­lant, espres­so or cof­fee, coconut oil, that kind of stuff, then a stretch­ing or breath­ing rou­tine before doing a work­out. Then start your day train­ing, work­ing out.

The Clymb: So you do your morn­ing rou­tine and then jump straight into exer­cis­ing. If not surf­ing, what do you do for fitness?

LH: Sum­mer time is our pre-sea­son, get­ting ready for the win­ter. I have a ten­den­cy to get into a stricter reg­i­men of work­ing out – gym train­ing every oth­er day, some kind of pool train­ing, car­dio activ­i­ties, bik­ing, ellip­ti­cal, run­ning. I’ll go pad­dling or surf if there’s a nice south swell in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia. I’ll always change my pro­gram and take advan­tage of the waves, because they’re not here all the time. I’m a much bet­ter per­son to the world and myself once I’ve exhaust­ed myself and have eat­en. Then I’m ready to par­tic­i­pate in the more seden­tary activities.

Laird Hamil­ton from pat solomon on Vimeo.

The Clymb: I know it’s impos­si­ble to under­stand with­out expe­ri­enc­ing it, but can you describe what it’s like to tack­le a mon­ster wave? What’s that feel like?

LH: The best descrip­tion of big wave is the act of surf­ing in gen­er­al. It’s a very present expe­ri­ence. It’s all about the moment, where time has no begin­ning or end. Big waves, or giant waves – how­ev­er you want to describe them – is that same expe­ri­ence, just exag­ger­at­ed. There’s an incred­i­ble feel­ing of ful­fill­ment. The thrill and rush and antic­i­pa­tion of being towed into a giant wave and drop­ping down into one, and the demands on all of your sens­es, you’re deal­ing off of your instincts and uncon­scious skills that we have. They’re so intense. That’s where the feel­ing of ful­fill­ment comes from, there’s an inten­si­ty to it, and very few things in life real­ly envel­op you quite like that – [laughs] – and most of them are illegal.

The Clymb: Do you ever freak out going into huge surf? Do you get that anx­i­ety that comes with a poten­tial-death experience?

LH: The hard­est thing for me is watch­ing big waves…the anx­i­ety of watch­ing them ver­sus when you’re out there. Before it gets big, the night before some dread comes on, the antic­i­pa­tion of how big it will be can feed into some dread and anx­i­ety, but once you’re in the activ­i­ty itself, I think dread would be a lim­i­ta­tion, and a lia­bil­i­ty actu­al­ly. You might dread mak­ing a bad deci­sion while you’re on a big wave, putting your­self in a posi­tion where you might get anni­hi­lat­ed, but you don’t want that to be in the fore­front of any of your decision-making.

The Clymb: Clear­ly you’ve been a per­son who either feels com­fort­able push­ing the bound­aries of what’s con­sid­ered pos­si­ble, or you just push through fear, anx­i­ety, what­ev­er. What holds peo­ple back in your opinion?

LH: Some­times peo­ple are so caught up about what they can’t do that they don’t look into what they can do. Hav­ing vari­ety, hav­ing a con­stant evo­lu­tion of learn­ing where you’re always try­ing to learn new stuff helps that. Humans are always look­ing for the path of least resis­tance. We want to get into a rou­tine, to know how far we’re going to run, how many weights we’re going to lift, how far we’re going to pad­dle, how big we’re going to ride. We want this infor­ma­tion so that we can pre­pare for it, but also, ulti­mate­ly, to fig­ure out how to make it eas­i­er each time. I try to avoid that wher­ev­er I can. When­ev­er you learn some­thing, you’re a lot more men­tal­ly and phys­i­cal­ly chal­lenged. You get way more out of it. To do that, you have to con­stant­ly dri­ve yourself.

I’m still eas­i­ly deterred into the rut of rou­tine. But I know that I do like that process of learn­ing some­thing new, being a begin­ner, and then evolv­ing until you’re good at it. I feel like you can be as eas­i­ly addict­ed to that as being addict­ed to the one thing you’re good at and only doing that.

The Clymb: I read a pro­file of you once that made me won­der if you got into surf­ing to fit in, or because you actu­al­ly loved it.

LH: No one likes to be a begin­ner. There’s a rea­son flex­i­ble peo­ple go to yoga, short guys go to gym­nas­tics and tall guys go to bas­ket­ball. We grav­i­tate towards things that are easy for us. It’s the nature of: “We like to be com­fort­able and be good,” not real­iz­ing that things are always chang­ing, and if you’re not get­ting bet­ter you’re get­ting worse, no mat­ter what you do.“The core of it though, is that [the ocean] is my church. It’s this place of peace and san­i­ty and hor­ror and fear and all of these things that I need to feel alive and accom­plished. There’s a cer­tain amount of duty and oblig­a­tion in that, but none of it over­rides my sheer love of rid­ing a wave and being in the ocean.

Watch­ing Dave Otto’s lat­est footage “The Orig­i­nals” from Ship­sterns Bluff in Tas­ma­nia is like watch­ing a hor­ror movie. Mon­ster waves don’t just break against the head­land, they mutate into bizarre surfer-eater shapes. 

At first, it’s all fun and games. Pros are in con­trol get­ting bar­reled in huge tubes. A surfer holds a glo­ry pose while throw­ing back a beer. Then, it all changes. Ledges appear on the wave face from nowhere. Whirlpools form beneath surfers’ boards and suck them into their vortex.

Giant swell is no stranger at Ship­sterns. The bluff was orig­i­nal­ly called Devil’s Point because it juts out from the remote, unpop­u­lat­ed south­east­ern coast of Tas­ma­nia, and it takes sub-polar storms orig­i­nat­ing in Antarc­ti­ca on the chin.

Hap­less vic­tims and near miss­es keep the ten­sion high through­out the footage. Surfers that do man­age to escape get deep into the tube and hit the stairstep ledges that form on the wave face ear­ly. Those that get rag-dolled hit a late ledge while they’re going top speed near the bot­tom of the wave.

Pros like Kel­ly Slater and Tas­man­ian local Mar­ti Par­a­di­sis slay these beasts, but with all the car­nage you start get­ting the feel­ing that someone’s not going to make it. The waves seem too gnarly, too raw, and too strong.

Then you see the hor­ror movie ending.