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Thursday, March 22, 2007
Updated: May 21, 11:07 AM ET
Belly of the Beast

By Shaun Tomson
EXPN The Magazine

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A simple place, a refuge from cell phones, BlackBerrys and computers.
During a break from the world surf tour in the early 1980s, my phone rang. On the other end was Cubby Broccoli, a big-time Hollywood producer. He was working on a top-secret film and wanted to talk. The next day, I drove to Universal Studios to meet with Broccoli and his directing partner, John Glen, who were responsible for the James Bond films. I knew I wasn't being tagged to replace Roger Moore as Bond, so what was the angle?

I had won the world surfing championship a few years earlier, in 1977, but I'd never been in a Hollywood movie. To be honest, I couldn't imagine that acting was a better job than being a pro surfer-beautiful girls, great surf and exotic locations. Come to think of it, maybe I was the perfect Bond.

As it turned out, Broccoli was interested in my skill, not my charmed life as a pro surfer. I had a specialty within my sport, mastery of a world known to only a few surfers at the time: I was one of the best at riding tubes. Broccoli knew about my expertise because he had read my interview in a popular surfing magazine. In it I said I could bend time and space while inside the tube. In a moment of youthful arrogance and confidence, I said I could actually control the wave. And I believed it.
The 51-year-old Tomson's still searching for perfect rides. In December 2006, he caught one of his best at Hawaii's Pipeline.

Riding a tube is one of the most beautiful—and dangerous—things a surfer can do. One mistake, and the breaking wave can drive you to the razor-sharp coral below or suck you up the face before slamming you into the reef. The average tube ride is short in duration, maybe three or four seconds, but long on sensation. Superlong tubes, like those at Kirra in Australia, G-Land in Fiji and the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand, can last as long as 10 seconds. But no matter the length, the great ones linger in your memory forever.

For me, there's nothing more intense than riding 20 feet back, inside my own secret world. I'm invisible from shore, hidden by a thundering sheet of falling wave and exploding white water. Inside a tube, perceptions are altered and time distorted. With tons of water crashing around you, the tube should be ferociously noisy. But it's silent. When I'm engulfed by the spinning curl of water, the unnecessary is washed from my consciousness. Racing along at high speed, trying to escape before the wave collapses on top of me, I process so much information so quickly that my focus and heightened senses seem to slow time.

To the Hollywood crew, my secret world seemed the perfect fit for their next film. "Could you double for Bond?" they asked. "Could you find a wave he could ride in secret to the beach, where the evil guards in cliff-top machine-gun nests couldn't see him?" They wanted a high-powered opening scene, something exciting, dramatic, heart-stopping. They wanted my secret world. But I wasn't ready to reveal it. Not this way. Not at this time. I left Hollywood and returned to the tour. Bond's tube ride would have to wait.
Could you double for Bond?

Many years later, in 2002, Laird Hamilton doubled for James Bond in Die Another Day. James/Laird had a board that concealed a pistol, explosives and a GPS-equipped knife, and in the opening scene, he rode a huge wave, instead of a tube, into the beach. The bad guys never had a chance, and the secret world inside the barrel remained safe, still an experience known only to those who've lived it. Until now.

When you ride inside a curling wave, instinct takes over; you react rather than plan. It's a simple place, a refuge from cell phones, BlackBerrys and computers. The tube is a place of freedom, a world not bound by artificial rules, scores or clocks. It is a place where senses are sharpened, the immediacy of life is brought into focus, and all that matters is reaching for the light that's shining ahead. **


Five Riders Put Their Best Barrels Into Words

Eight-time world champ Kelly Slater picks a pair of monster tube rides.

Longest barrel: Mundaka, on the Basque coast of Spain, 2006
"I stood in the tube forever. There were all these chandeliers of water falling in front of me. It was mesmerizing."
Perfect 10: Teahupoo, Tahiti, 2005-the greatest competition barrel ever witnessed
"That was a freaky wave. I was feeling it, and I went with it, all animal instinct. When I surf a tube, I don't think about how it's going down. As it's happening, I do what feels right, what is necessary to fit into what is there."

Seven-time world champ Layne Beachley nabbed the 2006 world title—and celebrated with a ride at Honolua Bay.

"This past December, I surfed the biggest, most perfect Honolua Bay waves I've ever seen. I caught one wave and got into it easily. I dropped in, faded back and let the wave stand up in front of me. I dug my inside rail, did a bottom turn and snapped into the pocket. As I came down, the wave started barreling. I stood up straight and put my hand into the wave face. All of a sudden, I came out and punched the air because I was so excited. The locals said I surfed that wave like I'd lived there my whole life."

Keala Kennelly towed into a wave at Tahiti's Teahupoo in 2005.

"The first time I surfed Teahupoo, a wave landed on me. It was the closest I've come to dying. I towed in there in 2005—the first woman to do that and the wave was huge, between 20 and 24 feet. It was one of the largest barrels ever ridden by a woman. I was in life-or-death mode. I let go of the rope and thought, I'm going to get either the best barrel of my life or the worst beating."

Rob Machado spices up rides with friendly games of chicken.

"In high school, my friends and I would find the biggest, most closed-out waves and pull into those barrels for fun. One friend was regular; I'm goofy. We'd get 100 yards apart. When the wave came, we'd give each other a thumbs-up, start paddling and pull into the tube together. We'd surf right at each other and see who could stay on the longest."

For C.J. Hobgood, barrel riding is a group affair.

"In 2001, I was in the Mentawai Islands with Bruce and Andy Irons, Mark Occhilupo, Tim Curran and Shane Dorian—all great barrel riders. We later agreed it was our best day of barrel riding ever. I got one wave and was racing along when a big section came over me. I couldn't see, so I felt my way with my fingers. I went through three sections, then ate it. Underwater, I lifted my feet and put my hands out. They didn't touch anything, but there must have been a reef head because I bit into it, chipped a tooth and tore my lip up."


Barrels Are a Balance of Wonder and Consequence, But These Tubes Are a Balance of Life and Death

PIPELINE North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii

THE BARREL Waves at Pipe can break as wide-open tubes, tricky angular slots or horrible collapsing caverns. The lava-rock reef at Pipe is relatively flat but plenty hard, and it's so shallow that surfers who fall are often pinned to the reef while 20-foot bombs detonate above.

RAP SHEET At least 13 people have died at Pipe. In the past two years alone, the wave has claimed Tahitian pro Malik Joyeux (drowned Dec. 2, 2005) and local rider Joaquin Velilla, originally from Puerto Rico (disappeared in January). As the most photographed wave on earth and the site of many high-profile contests, Pipe is also one of the world's most crowded big waves-which makes it one of the most dangerous. On one booming day in December 1998, 30 surfers were injured in the Pipe lineup.

THE VIEW FROM INSIDE "When the lip lands on you, we call it 'white lightning,'" says pro C.J. Hobgood. "It's like an out-of-body experience. It feels like your body is splitting in half, and everything goes white. All you can do is take it and hope it doesn't last too long."


THE BARREL Thicker and heavier than any other barrel on earth, the wave at Teahupoo forms when the ocean's energy slams into a shallow coral reef at the edge of a 300-foot drop in the sea floor. As the wave rises, it sucks water backward off the reef to form this perfect tube. Surfing the wave requires a near-vertical drop, then a challenging charge toward the only exit point, 75 yards down the line.

RAP SHEET In 2000, Tahitian local Briece Taerea broke his neck and back on the reef. He died two days later. That same year, Brazilian pro Neco Padaratz was driven into a crack in the reef and held underwater for so long he lost consciousness. He finally surfaced, and lived.

THE VIEW FROM INSIDE "Anytime you crash there, you're nanoseconds from death," says Strider Wasilewski, a big-wave pro from California. "The reality of flying across the ocean floor as the reef takes chunks of your skin, the darkness of being down there—I cried for days after crashing at Teahupoo."



When a wave approaches shallow water near shore, its energy begins to drag across the ocean floor. As the water becomes increasingly shallow, the wave's energy is forced higher and higher. Eventually, the top of the wave falls forward and spills down the face, creating a break for surfers. Barrels are created when the ocean floor juts up dramatically because of a shelf, reef or sandbar. Here, the wave's energy is thrust up so quickly that the top edge of the wave pitches forward, forming a hollow tube. An offshore wind perfects the barrel's shape by lifting and supporting the crest as it pitches forward.