Surfer Grant Washburn Awaits Monster Waves
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
I'm Alex Chadwick.
Coming up, how climate change is changing coastlines and creating headaches for mapmakers.
BRAND: First, lots of weather headaches across the country today; blizzard-like conditions in the Northeast and in the Pacific Northwest. People are still dealing with the effects of storms that killed four people, caused mudslides, flooding and hurricane force winds. The governors in Oregon and Washington have declared states of emergency.
CHADWICK: But awful storms can also mean good times for surfers with waves as high as 40 feet, forecast up and down the Pacific Coast.
We're joined now by big wave surfer Grant Washburn. He's waiting for those waves at the Mavericks Break in Northern California. It's just south of San Francisco.
Grant, welcome back to DAY TO DAY. We talked to you back in March when surf didn't show up for the International Mavericks Surf Contest. There were no big waves then, but looks a little different today, I guess.
Mr. GRANT WASHBURN (Surfer): Yeah, except for we can't see it because of the haze.
CHADWICK: So what does that mean? Are you standing on the beach there?
Mr. WASHBURN: I am. I'm in the rain with all my friends who've flown from all over the world, and we're looking at a very gray, bleak California day. But we know that out there some of the biggest waves of the year are arriving. And sometime in the middle of the day, probably the largest wave of the year will be breaking at Mavericks, and if we're lucky we'll be able to see it and ride it.
CHADWICK: How big a wave do you think that'll be?
Mr. WASHBURN: I'm guessing it will be maybe 60 or 70 feet high. That's on the face, so they would call it 30 foot ocean swell, but that basically doubles when it hits the reef, so it wouldn't be shocking if they were 70 feet.
CHADWICK: So right now there's fog and haze, and you can't really see to get out and surf?
Mr. WASHBURN: No. Yeah, it's actually raining. These waves are really dangerous, even when you can see perfectly, and you really need to know where you are when you're in the water because when you're in the wrong spot, they beat you up a lot. So.
CHADWICK: You said surfers from all over the world have flown in for this?
Mr. WASHBURN: Yeah.
CHADWICK: How many people are there with you on the beach?
Mr. WASHBURN: Well, they've actually gone back to hide in their hotel rooms. A lot of them are tired and cold. Guys from Australia and Brazil; a friend of mine from New Zealand called. I know a friend from Africa left two days ago to get here for these waves. He's the actual current champion for Mavericks.
CHADWICK: And people know about this because these surfers watch these kind of satellite weather reports, and so you can tell that these conditions are going to be there and then everybody comes in for them.
Mr. WASHBURN: Yeah. Well, you can tell that they might be there, and you really never know until you get out there, and that's one of the things that's really difficult to predict. You know, we know the swell is out there. We know giant waves are coming because there was a huge storm just off our coastline a couple of days ago. And so that's why the guys are here, but they also understand that we might not even get to go in the water.
CHADWICK: Well, what is going to have to happen today for you to go try it?
Mr. WASHBURN: We need to be able to see the land. The break is quite away offshore. And if you're just out there and you can't even see the rock where we line up, then you're pretty much a sitting duck. So we need to be able to see something and once that happens, we'll have to see, assess, whether the waves are too dangerous to surf because of the surface condition, like bumps on the face can make it too dangerous, or sometimes the currents can make it really, you know, a challenge.
CHADWICK: What is a bump on the face of a wave?
Mr. WASHBURN: I think, you know, like a stairwell. Pretend you are going to take a skateboard and try to go down a big hillside and then halfway down there a stairwell appeared in the middle of your sledding hill. It throws you off and makes it difficult to turn and it can be the reason that you take a really bad wipeout.
CHADWICK: So I talked to you last March and you weren't surfing because there was no surf there at Mavericks, which is one of the most famous surfing zones and beaches in the entire world. Now I'm talking to you in December and, again, you're not surfing because the conditions are not quite right. It's huge, but the weather's so bad you can't really see.
Mr. WASHBURN: Yeah. That's - I mean, a lot of people don't realize these places don't break every day, and even when they're really huge, that doesn't mean that we can surf it. It's really hard for us to get a perfect day, and sometimes we wait five years or 10 years for those conditions to come together and allow us to really do what we want to do. But you know, guys are willing to fly around the world just on the chance that they might get to do this.
CHADWICK: Grant, maybe we'll call you back tomorrow to see how things came out.
Mr. WASHBURN: Yeah. We think tomorrow is going to be a nicer day just because the weather starts to clear and hopefully I'll have some stories for you.
CHADWICK: Grant Washburn, a big wave surfer, standing at Mavericks Beach in Northern California, waiting for the air to clear.
Grant, thank you again.
Mr. WASHBURN: Thanks a lot.
CHADWICK: And we have a picture of Grant Washburn surfing at Mavericks at our Web site, npr.org.
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