This article originally appeared on Surfers Village News
By Ryan Masters
Don Curry & Pescadero Point a Big Wave Surfing Dream
The Call of the Big Waves
It´s Halloween and Don Curry is waiting for a monster in Pebble Beach because this may be the last year he can ride it. It´s the season of monsters. Between now and next spring, great swollen beasts are liable to rumble towards our shores from across the North Pacific at any time.
And upon meeting the lip of our deep submarine canyon, they will arch their massive backs, rise up like great water djinns and bow their heads to our shore with a terrible roar. And when they do Don Curry will be ready. He has to be. There´s no margin for error this year.
It´s a very unique combination of elements that creates a 40-50 foot wave face capable of being ridden on a surfboard. Such spots are so rare they have names that resonate like holy mantra to surfers — Baja´s Todos Santos, Maui´s Jaws, The Cortez Bank, Tahiti´s Teahupoo, Half Moon Bay´s Mavericks…
Yet others exist. Perhaps only as rumors first, whispers of some titanic pitch out in the fog, up the coast, far offshore. Perhaps never breaking at all, existing only as theoretical combinations of submarine topography, wind and swell. But sometimes, the real thing materializes, standing up out of the sea, once, twice, maybe a half dozen times a year like some beautiful myth come to life.
Fostered by the perfect blend of atmospheric pressure, offshore wind, ground swell and tide, a deep shelf off some particularly inhospitable or remote stretch of the coast can suddenly start generating waves the size of five-story buildings with a perfect, thunderous grace. And if such a spot can be relied on to break under a certain set of circumstances, no matter how uncommon they may be, and if its capable of being ridden and survived, then certain men will bring the tools and experience necessary to ride them.
Don Curry and Pescadero Point
Don Curry is 44 years old. He stands 5´9″ and is built like a blocking fullback. Not your typical surfer´s build, but then he´s not after your typical surf. He and his best friend Armin Yeager have been surfing the Monterey Peninsula´s reef breaks together for over 30 years.
Yet by their count, this is only their 12th big wave season. That´s because California surfing underwent a major revolution in the early 1990´s with the “discovery” of Jeff Clark´s Half Moon Bay mysto spot, Mavericks.
Curry is one of the original Mavericks hellmen. Since paddling out to the legendary break for the first time on October 31, 1992, he´s been in the water for some of the biggest and heaviest days of the last decade, including the infamous December swell of 1994 and the Quicksilver Mavericks Men Who Ride Mountains contest of 1998.
Yet despite helping pioneer California big wave surfing at Mavericks, Curry is a Monterey Peninsula homeboy. Born and raised in the Carmel area, he has lived his entire life here. Curry recently sold Carmel Fitness, the business he ran with his wife Marcy, to focus on, among other things, the world-class big waves breaking in their backyard.
Just ten minutes from Curry´s home in Carmel, there is a wave comparable to Mavericks breaking, in of all places, Pebble Beach. Pescadero Point lies just south of the Lone Cypress Tree along 17-Mile Drive. It is a jagged and foreboding stretch of granite that leaves no room for error.
“It holds waves as big as they get,” Curry explains, “Forty-to-fifty foot faces that are rideable as long as the wind is right.” Forty-to-fifty foot waves breaking into granite. That´s a pretty good explanation for why big wave surfing has been slow coming to the Monterey Peninsula. And only with the relatively recent development of tow surfing have such things become possible.
Strapped and Whipped
Pioneered at a monolithic break on the North Shore of Maui called “Jaws” and quickly introduced to Northern California at Mavericks, tow surfing refers to the use of Personal Water Crafts, or PWCs, to catch huge waves. Clutching a towrope and with both feet strapped to their boards, surfers achieve the speed and position necessary to stay ahead of the hundreds of thousand of pounds of breaking whitewater by getting whipped onto the wave faces by oversized Jet Skis.
It´s a tricky ballet on an unpredictable stage. The two-man tow surfing teams can train for months before their timing and communication is adequate to take on big waves. Especially at Pescadero, where a single mistake can mean a lot worse than a long hold-down. “The take-off point is extremely deep,” Curry warns, “and if you don´t make the take-off, you´ll go into the rocks and your chances of surviving are slim.”
After getting a taste of tow surfing at Mavericks in 2000, Curry bought a PWC last year and began training at various spots around the Monterey Peninsula with his partner Armin Yeager. When Pescadero suddenly began firing huge and clean during the first week of 2003, Curry and Armin joined a few teams of veteran tow surfers and Santa Cruz pros, effectively becoming the only local tow team to surf the spot at its biggest.
“Erik Landry, a local state lifeguard has been out there when it´s big,” Curry specifies, “and Kelly Sorenson of On The Beach (surf shop) owns some watercraft, but doesn´t have any regular riders. Other than that….” And although Santa Cruz pros Peter Mel and Ken “Skindog” Collins have been towing into Pescadero for the last five years, the giant Pebble Beach break has remained relatively unknown until recently.
Unlike Mavericks, which breaks a half-mile offshore, all the hairy action at Pescadero can be watched from ringside. “There were probably 50 people watching from the cliff last January,” Curry remembers. “I guess you can´t really ask for a better spot to watch.”
Subsequently, photos and digital video from last winter´s sessions have brought the spot to the surfing community´s attention. A photo of Curry´s partner, Armin Yeager, was featured in Surfer Magazine´s annual issue this year and Quicksilver has issued a popular series of posters featuring Peter Mel charging Pescadero.
So is Curry worried that Pescadero might get overrun? “Surfers around here don´t like it when breaks get attention, but, you know, big waves attract people,” he shrugs. “The thing is, it´s not like it´s going to get crowded. The number of guys capable of going out and surfing big, dangerous waves like this is really small.” No, Curry´s not worried about his big wave break getting too popular, what worries him is the possibility of Pescadero being closed to tow surfers as soon as next year.
The PWC ban
Just as Pescadero is about to find its place on the big wave surfing map, the map may be cruelly revised. In recent years, tow surfing has come under fire. It has never been popular with the traditionalist surfers who claim it taints the purity of the sport, but now environmentalists want to see PWCs banned completely.
It´s an emotional issue, complicated by a lack of accurate precedents, definitions, or clear communication. In 1992, one- and two-seat PWCs were restricted to a square-mile “pen,” legislation that effectively curtailed most recreational “Jet-Skiing.” Undaunted, the tow surfers switched to larger three-seat models and spent the rest of the Nineties reinventing California big wave surfing.
Today, environmentalists argue that any impact is too much impact and want the three-seat PWCs restricted as well, a move that tow surfers argue would effectively doom big wave surfing in the area. If this happens, Curry foresees tow surfers attempting to catch big waves using Zodiacs or other maneuverable boats that exceeds the 16-foot length that makes a watercraft “personal.”
“And that´s just dangerous,” he explains. “The whole thing is frustrating. The way it sits now is suitable to everyone. You can count on one hand how many PWC´s have been in the water in the last six months. “Besides, a cruise ship puts more waste in the ocean just sitting there seeping than an armada of PWCs. It´s hypocritical.” ,p> Another option is restricting PWCs to Mavericks. “But that´ll just clog up Mavericks,” Curry counters. “You´ll have tow teams running into each other out there.” Plus, it´ll keep Curry and Yeager from riding not only Pescadero, but a big wave break below the Carmel Highlands he calls Spindrift. Curry´s description of this inaccessible break makes even Pescadero seem tame.
“This thing won´t even start breaking until 18-20 feet,” Curry said, “and there´s zero chance of recovery if you get caught inside. Zero.” But he´s been dreaming of surfing this wave for a long time. “I grew up down there. My bedroom overlooked it as a kid,” Curry explains. “This season may be my last shot.”
Likewise, this season may be your first and last chance to see the legendary big wave of Pebble Beach ridden by guys like Don Curry.