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Adventure: What inspired you to transition from normal surfing to surfing big waves?
Greg Long: Coming from a lifeguard background, when I was younger, I probably had a confidence level in the water that exceeded [that of] other kids my age. I’d find myself, on the biggest surf days, having so much fun. The excitement, and the thrill, and the challenge of it just really captivated me. So, like anything in life that you love and are passionate about, you want to continue to challenge yourself. For me, that was riding larger waves and pushing myself to the edge of my comfort level. Next thing I knew, I was 15 years old and I realized I want to start trying to ride the world’s biggest waves.
A: You say you train mentally. What do you mean by that?
GL: Understanding your thoughts—these ideas of fear and doubt that you often feel when you’re out there in the ocean when it’s at its biggest, wildest state. Learning to understand those thoughts and emotions and what they actually are—if you’re just reacting to certain circumstances or if there’s real validity to them.
A: Why do you paddle in to waves rather than getting towed in?
GL: When you’re towing in, you’re essentially eliminating the most difficult task in big-wave riding, which is catching a wave and making that initial drop. When you’re paddling, you’re sitting in the middle of the lineup and in a place of imminent danger, and it’s up to you to almost intuitively read these swells as they’re coming in and adjust yourself only the few feet so that you can paddle that distance in a short amount of time. You’re relying on a life’s culmination of learning how the ocean moves. When you’re dropping in, you’re literally looking over the edge of a 40- to 50-foot dropoff—in a way, a cliff face. You get to your feet, and it’s that weightless feeling of free-fall. And in those few moments it’s really this complete, total presence in what you have to do in order to make that wave.
A: Did you consider not going back to surfing—or at least not to big-wave surfing—after your accident?
GL: I swore that I would never do it again. It was one of the lowest moments of my life. It was almost as if the rug of everything I’d built had just been yanked from underneath me. From the age of 15 to 30—basically 15 years—there was one path for me, and that was this road of riding big waves. It was my life’s work.
When all that settled, and I was able to kind of remove myself from that emotionally traumatic stage, and view it from a more rational place, I began to really rethink and reflect on why I was doing this in the first place. It’s always been my passion to explore this, and where I really feel alive. I wanted to find my physical and mental potential as a human being—that was the avenue by which I was exploring it. So, I decided I was going to go back.
I’m still sorting through the pieces and the aftermath of my accident. It’s almost a daily or weekly contradiction of how I feel. There’s a lot to contemplate when you come that close to losing your life. When you start to think about your friends and family. I know that I’m always going to ride big waves in some form or another. How, when, why, what’s my motivation—is still settling into place. I’m happy with however it comes to be, what feels right in my heart.