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Sunday, January 30, 2011
Ken Bradshaw: "Because every wave is different."
[“I was trying to make my point without getting in trouble.”
Trouble? Ken, like which kind? This is a man who rides waves so heavy they shake the earth when they break. Who has sacrificed comfort and wealth to do it. Who has willingly suffered the derision of conventional minds for the choices he has made. Who recently married for the first time, and to a much younger woman. Who may give her children. Who knows that she may break his heart. Who accepts that we are all alone when we die. Who rides with a single-mindedness that no one can equal—crouched low on his board in a predatory stance, left foot forward, body coiled, intently assessing the contours ahead, swerving and carving through the salt water. And for what? To do it again without repetition. And why? Because he is an athlete. Because every wave is different.
Last winter was an El Niño winter, and conditions on Oahu were extreme. Most of the inside breaks were trashed. The crowds of pretenders stayed away. Bradshaw reveled in it, taking on giant waves at the outside breaks over volcanic reefs a mile or more offshore. These were huge ocean swells that rolled in from distant storms and reared up to twice their height over the shallows, forming vertical faces that stood 50 feet high before curling and lunging forward with unfathomable force. Fifty-foot waves are five times higher than the highest waves that most surfers ever ride. Bradshaw rode them in obscurity, with no expectation of gain, absorbing the hits and hold-downs, spitting up blood, and continuing on for hours. His subsequent tumble down the stairs seems minor by comparison, though it broke two of his bones. We spoke about it the next day. He described his loss of balance, one foot missing a step and the other stepping into air, and the perception of inevitability that followed. He said that because he is accustomed to falling from heights the tumble seemed to happen in slow motion. He curled to protect his head, rolled in flight, and bounced once hard on landing. I sympathized with him for his injuries, but expressed greater concern for the stairs.]