Ever wonder what a professional big wave surfer thinks about moments after they wipe out on a 50-something-foot wave, shatter their arm into nine pieces, then get pummeled by thousands of tons of frigid water and violently flung deep into the churning, darkness 40 feet below the ocean's surface?
"I should have done more yoga," recalls Garrett McNamara when asked about what was going through his battered head after his spectacular pummeling on Jan. 7 at Mavericks, a surf break in Northern California.
On April 23, McNamara and several dozen of the world's best big wave riders – including Bethany Hamilton – will gather for the World Surf League's Big Wave Awards in Anaheim, Calif., to learn who gets bragging rights for such pursuits as riding the largest wave and surviving the worst wipeout during this past season. This year's El Nino has fueled some of the largest swells in recent memory.
"It's kind of like the Oscars for big wave surfers," laughs McNamara, who holds the world's record for the largest wave ever surfed, a 78-footer in Nazare, Portugal, that he rode in 2011.
Besides being nominated for the worst wipeout, McNamara, 48, is up for this season's biggest wave award based on his performance in November on a wave he thinks could be "up to 20 feet higher" than the liquid skyscraper he rode in 2011. Exact wave heights, as calculated by the World Surf League, will be announced at the event.
Bethany Hamilton, 26, who first made headlines after losing her arm to a 14-foot tiger shark in 2003, is also nominated for an award for a massive wave she rode on Jan. 4 at Jaws, a legendary break on the north shore of Maui.
"I don't know how big it was – maybe 25 or 30 feet high," says Hamilton, who had never tackled waves of this size before. "Of course, others might say it was 40 to 50 feet. All I know is that it was big!"
What makes Hamilton's feat even more unique is that she'd given birth just six months earlier to her son Tobias. "I definitely have a little different thought process now that I'm a mother," she says. "I think things through a bit differently than I did before. But I now totally understand why some surfers spend their lives chasing these big waves. It's addicting. Nothing compares to it. When I got done, I had the hugest smile on my face."
McNamara, who vows to be back out riding monsters later this year when his broken arm and shoulder finally mend, definitely knows what Hamilton is talking about.
"It's the most amazing experience, riding these big waves," he says. "It makes you feel small, but at the same time it makes you feel a part of something much, much bigger than yourself."