When I first learned to surf, I rubbed up against an emotion that I typically avoided — fear. Normally, I could avoid situations in which I would be afraid. Don’t rock climb. Don’t skydive. Don’t go speeding down a mountain on a bike or skis. But with surfing, I was actively putting myself in a position where I had to face my fear of the ocean. I had to figure out how to deal with that emotion when it bubbled up in my belly, lungs and mind. I had to learn to lean into that fear.
Mind you, I’m only surfing waist-to-shoulder high waves, maybe head-high waves. I wasn’t surfing monster big waves that are as tall as buildings. I couldn’t imagine what fear would feel like in that situation but I got a glimpse of it in a new memoir from Garrett McNamara, Hound of the Sea.
I’ve heard of Garrett McNamara (affectionately known as GMac) and his accomplishments and have seen his photos in surfing magazines over the years.
He set the word record for surfing a 78-foot wave in Nazaré, Portugal in 2011, then smashed that record two years later at the same break. He was also associated with an incident at Cortes Bank (a big wave off the coast of Southern California) when Greg Long (another world class big wave surfer) almost drowned.
After hearing all these stories, it was interesting to peel back the layers and learn more about Garret’s childhood with his brother Liam, his struggles to make ends meet, and the challenges of launching his pro surfing career.
Even Garrett himself says that he’s not the most talented surfer but that doesn’t matter. His passion and obsession with surfing, especially big waves, shines through. Many of the adventures in the book chronicle his elusive search for waves around the world (waves created by calving glaciers in Alaska??) and for Big Mama, the elusive 100-foot wave. Stop. Read that again. One hundred foot wave. He wants to be that tiny speck of a dot cruising down the face of a behemoth wave. (See below)
While you might assume that a big wave surfer like Garrett is fueled by sheer adrenaline, it’s more than that. It isn’t the thrill in and of itself. It’s about vanquishing fears and defeating obstacles past and present.
That’s the part of the book that really resonated with me. Garrett describes fear as a choice, that if we stay in the moment, we don’t have to be paralyzed by it.
Fear is a choice, something we manufacture in our minds. When we think about the past or the future, we become afraid. We’re afraid because we remember when something bad happened before, and we’re scared it’s going to happen again. If we’re in the moment and enjoying the moment and making the best of the moment, there is no fear.
For me, I loved reading about Garrett’s first hand experience surfing on the North Shore and his description of the various breaks, winning the Jaws tow-in competition (where surfers are towed into the famous Maui big wave. Think water skiing + surfing + huge wave) and being invited to the Eddie Aikau big wave invitational. In my mind, I was back in Hawaii traveling along the two lane Kam Highway watching surfers in the water doing what they love.
While it might seem like this memoir is fit for surfers, Garrett’s story is one that will resonate with anyone. Growing up in less than ideal circumstance, scrapping by, having a dream and putting together a blueprint and following through.
If anything, Garrett is proof that if you make your blueprint and follow it, anything is possible. As he says, “it’s never too early and it’s never too late.”
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review
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