Editor’s Note: Normally, a story of this depth with content of this quality would only be available to our devoted Premium fans. However, 100 Foot Wave organizer Bill Sharp has given us free rein on the content of this ride, as long as it’s available for all to see. Enjoy.
On Friday, January 13, the California coast was graced with an unusually long pulse. For just one day, light winds from Southern California combined with power that increased from 6 feet in 24 seconds to approximately 17 feet in 19 seconds.
It was impossible not to score if you were south of Point Conception.
In these days when every point on the map is bursting with energy and railways, it seems every surfer has a schedule of potential trigger points spinning in their minds. Pointbreaks, secret slabs, fickle sandbars, and ever-idle coves: it was all in gear on Friday.
Sure it was crowded, it always is, but this was one of those waves where everyone would walk down the path at sunset with a smile, back to phones filled with exuberant messages and shaky lineup shots.
However, there was one place that was not on anyone’s radar. Well, no one except the six surfers and the production crew in their forties who made the perilous 100-mile overnight journey.
Mythical in nature, the open-ocean shoal, deep off the San Diego coast, played host to a big-wave towing session the likes of which its participants had never seen before.
“I’ve been focused on Cortes Bank for maybe 20 years,” says Garrett McNamara. “Friday was the best big day from dawn to dusk that I have seen as far as conditions go. It was 60 feet and it was flawless all day.”
The monumental adventure has been undertaken for an upcoming season of the hit HBO documentary. 100 foot waveand it took a little more planning, and a ton more cash, than your average Mentawai boat trip.
Nine jet skis, 41 crew members including water production and security, a helicopter, and a 104-foot multi-million dollar industrial ship to haul it all.
While I didn’t get an exact number, Bill Sharp, former editor of Surfing Magazine and the genius who put together the strike mission, astutely told me that it cost about one-eighth of a WSL Big Wave event. Nic Von Rupp estimated it at around $150,000 USD.
However, money is only part of the picture when it comes to producing an entire documentary in the middle of the ocean. The rest? Very good planning and a lot of patience.
“I’ve been involved in trying to slay the Cortés Bank dragon for 30 years, when I was editor of Surfing magazine,” Bill says proudly. “We rowed in the 90s and towed it in 2001 with Mike Parsons. now i am involved with 100 foot wave, and we had a very successful first season. After that, I felt that Nazare’s story had been told quite well, so I shifted my focus to Banco de Cortes. I made a plan and it was scheduled for last winter, but it ended up being the worst winter in California surfing history. (Laughter) So this trip ended up being over 18 months of planning.”
And how did they know this was it? tea puff up?
“On Sunday, I saw this storm on the charts,” continues Bill. “This one had all the ingredients, the perfect track, without hitting us, and a window of a day without wind. We spent a lot of time figuring out the logistical stuff. We confirmed the boat, watched the swell, and consulted with Kevin Wallis of Surfline. You know, most forecasts turn weird. They look crazy 5 days later, and then something goes wrong. We knew the swell was coming, but it always comes with the local wind, and that’s what happens with Cortés. It’s 100 miles out to sea, so if there’s a southerly wind at 30 knots, you’ll die.”
*somewhere, Neil Young’s “Cortez The Killer” plays softly*
G-Mac confirms the danger of such a mission: “I went there in the early 2000s for the first time and didn’t make it, we turned around halfway. The weather was too bad and our small boat could not tow the two jet skis.”
Along with Garrett, five other surfers were lucky enough to be called up for Friday’s break: Nic Von Rupp, Justine Dupont, Andrew Cotton, Will Skudin and Lucas “Chumbo” Chianca.
“I was on my way to the Eddie and they canceled it when we were in the middle of our flight,” explains Nic Von Rupp. “Bill had been planning this for quite some time and the perfect swell came along. I was lucky to be involved with the right people to date. The logistics involved in organizing a trip like this are insane. We left the port of San Diego, drove all night, and got there in the morning. I felt like I was going on my first surf trip.”
Nic continues: “The boat ride was a complete old school mission, Chumbo was sleeping on the deck outside all night. We finally got there and it was magical – full glass. He had never seen waves so clean, so glassy for a whole day. He felt like a lake. It was a dream.”
Well, a dream with blood in the water.
“At one point, a big shark came up and bit a tuna in half next to us,” Garrett recalled. “Water safety was talking about big fish, I didn’t even want to go look. “
Nic corroborates the story, adding: “About 20 minutes later a great white shark hit one of our jet skis and one of the guys saw a great white shark when we were sitting on a ski. I mean, you’re in the middle of the ocean, you know there’s a big fish down there for sure. We would get back on the sled immediately after each wave (laughs).”
So, rowing purism aside, you can’t blame them for exclusively flogging these mutants.
“We don’t paddle at all. It’s hard enough to position yourself when you’re towing, and then there’s 60 feet of height in the lineup. There is a north peak and a west peak, the security team had been there before. It’s a great playing field, but it’s a fucking legit wave, the West Bowl guys were the best, they’d go top to bottom.”
Everyone agreed that Andrew Cotton’s barrel, featured as the headline image for this story, was the wave of the day.
The session will be featured in an upcoming episode of 100 foot wave, but for now, Bill and the team are just focused on making sure the shoot gets as much exposure as possible.
“It’s strange, all the other projects I’ve done have been for a brand and we always wanted to control the rights,” reflects Bill. “We just did this because we wanted to, it was almost like a community of surfers, shooters and water safety. Our goal right now is for all of them to benefit and be able to watch their airwaves and videos.”
He ended our chat simply.
“I’m not going to lie, it was great.”
Pretty fucking great, Mr. Sharp.