Will Skudin Battles Monster Waves

Will Skudin Battles Monster Waves

In the small town of Nazaré, Portugal, Will Skudin lies face down on his surfboard. The tiny fishing village is known for producing some of the biggest waves in the world. Fearless World Surf League athletes shake off fear and smoothly slide down waves that look like liquid skyscrapers—and Nazaré is the Empire State Building of big-wave surfing. Some waves reach as high as 80 feet or more. As a swell of water builds, Skudin paddles forward and hops to his feet just as the back of his board approaches the crest.

(Photo by iStock)

The Deadly Sport of Big Wave Surfing

The surfer and his board then slip down toward the bottom of the wave. But Skudin loses his footing and bails into the abyss. That’s followed by a massive crash of whitewater fury engulfing the 37-year-old pro. Skudin disappears among the cauldron, eventually walking away and earning an entry in the wipeout of the year category in the WSL Big Wave Awards.

As the 2019 crash exemplifies, this athlete from Long Beach, New York, faces his share of dangerous situations. But Nazaré is something completely different. Skudin has seen other surfers’ lives come to an end when among these massive walls of water. The risk of death or serious injury is always a part of doing business in extreme sports.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” he says. “I’ve lost some friends. No matter who you are, it will always be in the back of your head. We’re very calculated. We’re not jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. You train and put yourself in these situations where there’s a 100% chance I’ll never panic. So, I can pretty much get myself out of any situation as long as I don’t get knocked out. And if I do get knocked out, people I’m in the water with are trained to bring me back to life.”

Surfing is Family Affair

When most people think of surfing, California and Hawaii usually come to mind. But New York has a deep surfing history dating back to the 60s. Skudin’s grandfather rode waves in the Empire State and taught others to get up on a board as well. That love was passed down to Skudin’s mother, who also taught others to surf.

“There’s a super deep heritage in New York surfing, and it just gets overlooked because everyone just thinks about the city,” he says. “They don’t think about that giant seashore that’s 100 miles long and hosting tens of thousands of surf families. The cool thing about New York is I grew up with a diverse lineup, and there are people of every shape and size in the ocean all the time. It wasn’t until I started traveling that I realized there’s such diversity in the lineups of where we grew up. We all just enjoyed the sea, and it’s just a big part of our life.”

Birthplace of Champions

The area has produced numerous champions and big names, with much of that surf being on Long Beach along with Rockaway, Montauk, and the Hamptons. Surfing remains a family affair for the Skudins. All three of his brothers surf, and his mother runs a swim and surf school with the family’s summer camps, teaching more than 8,000 kids each summer. Two of his brothers work in the family business, which has trained some top-notch surfers along the way.

“There’s some magic that’s gone down through our little network,” Skudin says of his family’s love of the sport. “It’s insane, it’s so cool.”

Skudin can’t even remember when he actually learned to stay on a board himself. Growing up, he stood on the front of his parents’ boards and, by age 5, was going at it alone. By 17, Skudin was traveling as a professional surfer, spending winters in Hawaii to catch more waves. In two decades on the circuit, Skudin continues testing his limits.

Will skudin has become one of the icons of surfing big waves.
(Photo by Will Skudin)

Facing Down Danger

What goes into being a professional big-wave surfer? Skudin hits the waves as much as possible, but there’s more to it than grabbing a board and jumping in. Swimming is critical, not just for positioning in the water, but also for safety, considering some of the mega waves competitors face in the World Surf League. Skudin devotes three days a week to his swimming workout and works in plenty of cardio, biking, breath work, and weight training. Visualization drills are also critical to facing giant waves. Like a football team scouting an opponent, the New Yorker focuses on the scene at upcoming events. He visualizes himself in the water and possible scenarios he may face.

“If you’ve already been there, it’s easy to do it again,” he says. “If you’re doing something for the first time, there’s more room to fail. Even if it might be my first wave of the event, I’ve already lived it 100 times in my head. So, I kind of already know. It’s not like my first wave. It’s my 100th wave.”

Walls of Death

That’s easy to say, but most people would be terrified of hurricane-like liquid monoliths bearing down on them. For the most part, for big-wave surfers, the danger and fear don’t enter their thoughts because of the massive task at hand. Skudin calls taking on waves at this level a “blackout sport.”

“You’re so hyper-focused on riding the wave, so you’re not processing a lot of sensory things as far as not capturing the sound in your ears and going, ‘Wow, that was so loud,’” said Skudin. “It’s a way to almost disconnect from your brain, just focusing on your body and reacting to what’s in front of you. A lot of times, you’ll ride waves and then afterward try to remember it, and you know it felt good or didn’t or whatever, but it’s hard to gather the information. It’s a real blackout sport because you’re just reacting at such a hyper-speed to what’s in front of you.”

big wave surfing risky business.

Conquering Mega Waves

Today’s big wave surfing competitions feature many more precautions than surfers experienced ten years ago. Events feature a team member towing Skudin out in the middle of the action. Safety crew members are trained to retrieve surfers quickly in case of emergency. Skudin’s brother Cliff works as part of his safety team and has his back again in Nazaré. Skudin and his teammate Andrew Cotton watch out for each other on jet skis in the water while the other surfs. In Portugal, a spotter also works on a cliff to directly help in the surf. 

“If the shit hits the fan, those guys have done their homework and know how to bring me back if it goes down,” Skudin says. “Nazaré is just such a big playing field, and the waves are so big that you use all the elements you can for safety. It’s like the Mount Everest of big-wave surfing.”

That doesn’t mean there aren’t mishaps. Skudin has experienced some massive wipeouts and once got separated from his team, leading to a 45-minute swim back to shore. Broken bones and other injuries are common, and just the continued pounding can mean some sore hours after a day on the ocean. At Nazaré, Skudin says surfers must really rely on their training.

“It’s a war out there, so you must be calm under pressure,” said Skudin.

Ready For Take-Off?

This year, the surfer was once again scheduled to be in the water for the Tudor Nazaré Surfing Challenge in March. Action sports brand Hurley sponsors not only the event but also Skudin. Some financial backing goes a long way in a sport where competitors are freelancers and don’t score massive amounts of cash.

“I’ve been with Harley for about a decade now,” he says. “Surfing is not the most lucrative sport in the world. You’re obviously doing this because you love it. If you win the Nazaré contest, I don’t even think you’re getting $20,000. Obviously, it’s not about the money, so anytime you can have some sponsors help support you, it’s really appreciated.”

The nature of dealing with the elements makes surfing a niche sport. Many contests depend entirely on the waves, and capturing that on television is challenging. Also, unlike other sports, a big part of the world doesn’t grow up near the beach or own a surfboard. Skudin sees a certain appeal in all that, however, and the third-generation surfer loves life in the water.

“Surfing is unique,” he says. “It’s just a wild industry because it’s the ocean, and you can’t really plan events for certain days. You can’t put chains on a wild animal. There’s a magic in that. At the end of the day, sponsored athletes in surfing get paid to spend more time in the ocean. It’s just a dream come true. If someone will pay you to do what you love, that’s just a blessing, and I never want to take it for granted.”

For more information on Skudin Surf camps, visit skudinsurf.com. Catch more big wave surfing action at willskudin.com.

Didn’t find what you were looking for?

Source link: https://www.athlonoutdoors.com/article/big-wave-surfing-will-skudin-battles-monster-waves/ by Skillset Staff at www.athlonoutdoors.com