Why We Surf

Photography by
Justin Jay
Written by
Whitman Bedwell
Surfing is thrilling because it’s frightening
Pipeline Masters edition


Kekoa Cazimero

Kekoa Cazimero at the semifinals of last year’s Pipeline Masters trials.


When Kekoa Cazimero dislocated his shoulder in the semifinals of last year’s Pipeline Masters trials, he was lucky. He was lucky not because he lacks the ability to surf Pipline. Cazimero was twenty-six years old, and he was born and raised in Hawaii, so he can surf Hawaiian waves as well as most anyone can. Cazimero was lucky because Pipeline was big that day, and when Pipeline is big it is capable of great destruction and physical harm. Big Pipe breaks bones and wipes away skin, and it does that many times a day during the winter season. It has killed at least six people since the year 2000 alone. It is the deadliest wave in the world, and to get away with a dislocated shoulder is, in a sense, to get away easy. Cazimero was lucky that his injury was not much worse.

Most people will never surf Big Pipeline, and so they will never have to be afraid of the harm it can cause. But, Pipeline is only the most dramatic example of a much larger truth. That truth is that an ocean wave is more powerful than any one person who rides it. This is true no matter the size of the wave. The ocean is always in control. It is threatening even when it’s calm and the waves are flat. Surfers, and anyone else who goes in the ocean, are constantly subjected to this danger.

Good surfers, like Cazimero, may be able to avoid the threat through skill, experience, and preparation. But that is for a time only, because if one spends enough time in the ocean, the truth of it will be revealed. The ocean doesn’t quit, and it always wins.

There are many reasons why people surf, and I believe that risk is one of them. This is more obviously true for the surfer’s that dedicate their lives to riding the largest and most dangerous waves. But it is also true for the regular surfer. They know this risk of the ocean, even if the thought of it is usually buried deep in their minds. They do not ride waves the size of mountains, but marvel at them. If they are truly surfers and they surf long enough, they will eventually face a day at their local beach where the risk comes to the front of their mind and they are forced to push their own limits. They know there is a chance that they will enter the ocean and not come back. And they will paddle out anyway.

To risk is to be rewarded. The reward is to feel alive and free. In a world full of speed limits and stop signs, surfing is a way to go into danger gladly. It is a way for anyone to get outside of his or her realm of comfort. It is a way to chase and stare into the eyes of danger. It is a way to know that maybe there won’t be an escape. When a surfer does escape those dangers, he is braver and stronger for it.

Even with his shoulder dislocated, Cazimero paddled back out to big Pipeline to surf in the finals last winter. And with the 2016 Pipeline Masters set to begin in a few weeks, chances are high Cazimero will be in the lineup. Because in danger there is thrill, and surfers are lucky because they are thrilled.