Just then, Greg Long and Twiggy “Grant Baker”, two of surfing’s big-wave heroes, paddled out for the sunset session. Twiggy, the cheerfully fearless South African, quickly caught a wave. Andy and his ‘sea nymphs’ still frolicked in the impact zone. I felt a pang of anxiousness.
“You should take those girls in,” another guy called to Andy. “They’re getting tired and if a set comes they could drown.” His words seemed to materialize as he spoke them. All of a sudden the horizon leapt. A massive black face rose demonically in front of us. It was twice the size of any set that had come through all afternoon. It grew mountainous, shifted and then pitched a neck-breaking lip across the line-up, catching nearly all of us inside. I scraped for the horizon, knowing I wouldn’t make it. I looked back to see where the girls were just before I ditched my board and dove as deep as I could. They were in the worst place possible. I swam down into the darkness. I was far enough out that I didn’t take a terrible beating on the first, and surfaced in time for a breath before the next wave rolled over me. As I forced my body to relax through the series of underwater acrobatics, all I could think about was the girls. The board yanked on my ankle but then suddenly went limp. My leash had broken. The foamy water surged and spat and it was tough to get traction in the foam as I came up, boardless. Everyone was in a panic. Miraculously, my board popped up not too far away. I swam frantically for it and someone gave it a shove my way before the next wave grabbed us again. I held on.
Panic rose from the frothy mess of boards and surfers. A piece of a broken board floated by. Everyone looked for the girls. Twiggy, having had caught a wave just before the set, popped up on the inside after a long hold down. As he reached for his board, the head of one of the girls popped above the foam for just a moment before she was sucked back down. He tossed his board aside and dove, feeling for her limp body in the swirling aftermath of the set. He found her and hauled her back to the surface. He called to Greg in a tone that denoted the gravity of the situation. It was clear that these two had been in this kind of situation before. Twiggy handed the first girl over to the only boat on the shoulder and they quickly strategized to get inside and find the other girl. It seemed like an eternity passed while everyone scanned the surface for the other girl. Andy was all the way in on the reef, walking in panicked circles. I was sure she had drowned. I felt sick and speechless.
Then suddenly someone called from the other side of the line-up. “She’s here!!” He cried. “She’s okay!” She’d somehow been dragged way up the reef and was being helped back over by another surfer. A few minutes later we were all back in my dinghy. Andy tried to play it off like it was no big deal. Twiggy and Greg paddled back out. Neither sought appreciation for their efforts. Like superheros, they just turned back into their humble selves after the emergency had been diffused. I shuttled Andy and his half drowned harlots back to the point in a cloak of grave silence. We all get away with a few bad choices at that age; I certainly did. But I decided that from then on, Andy could find another water taxi.
A few mornings later, I had the pleasure of sharing a full two hours of dawn in solid, glassy, Teahupo’o with Greg and Twiggy and Josh with his water housing (and swim goggles). Aside from the spectacular sunrise, the unforgettably perfect waves, and the most radical rainbow I’d ever witnessed, I pushed myself a bit harder that session, knowing that in the event of a mishap, I was graced by the presence of a big-wave superhero rescue team. Thanks for the encouragement, guys, hope you cleaned up at the XXL awards! Blessed be the unsung heroes of this world.