It all begins simply with the challenge and how far you have come in life to get to the final beloved moment of a successful big wave ride. Combine that with hard work, determination, faith, and raw natural energy. A big wave ride is the product of a lifetime of training. Male or female, any person who successfully rides a big wave has spent many years of their life working in the ocean to achieve their ultimate goal. As a big wave surfer myself, I push every day to take small steps towards executing the ride of my life. It isn’t always perfect every time. Mistakes get made and I must learn from them but there are also moments of great triumph. Throughout all of these moments of personal struggle and victory, the results produce something beautiful, and the beauty that I am describing is ultimately the beauty of life itself. Life is never going to be one perfect wave all the way to the beach every day that you wake up to experience it. As humans, we have to adapt to so many crooked situations.. such as those moments where you’re screaming “whyyyy whyyy whyyy!” We’ve all had that. It’s when we can truly let go and flow in a moment, good or bad, that awakens us to do something bigger, better, and greater than ourselves. What I enjoy so much about surfing is that this activity, sport, journey, whatever you want to call it.. gives me the freedom to accept the inevitably of nature, adapt to multiple situations that are beyond human control, and learn how to apply those skills in my own life to reach out to help others searching for meaning or purpose in their lives.
In my journey surfing big waves, I have had some glorious moments that will forever live in my memory. Other experiences have been terrible enough to require weeks or months of recovery. Speaking of recently, I have sustained two back-to-back injuries. The first was a ruptured eardrum which happened while surfing Waimea in the beginning of November. It’s gotten slightly better over the past few weeks.. and just as I was about to get back into the water again, I broke my foot after missing a step walking. Yes, walking. They say injuries happen when you let your guard down or when you least expect it. Breaking my foot walking back to my car was the last thing on earth I ever expected to happen. Luckily I won’t need surgery and it should heal fine after several weeks. My diagnosis is a non displaced fracture of the fifth metatarsal.
With an injury like this, I’m forced to sit in bed all day and think. Writing is another one of my spiritual outlets where I can express myself and release the negative energy by turning my experiences into a good story. I’ve learned that when the universe hands you a no, it’s possibly a redirection for a higher purpose. I’m still coming to terms and also a little confused this early into recovery.. but for whatever reason I’m stuck with this misfortune, I’m going to choose to trust this moment in my life, have hope, and start sharing some more of my stories with the world now that I have all this extra down time laying in bed. I’m understanding that it is my duty to appreciate what I already have and be thankful that even if surfing were to end for me right now, I still had the opportunity to do what I have done so far up to this point.
I struggled with my thoughts for many years growing up, especially as a teenager. I knew I wanted to surf big waves long before I truly knew what big wave surfing really was. I grew up in a place that didn’t quite produce the wave size that’s required to be in the big wave category, however we did have storms that produced cold heavy barrels and life threatening conditions. In the many years before experiencing the waves I am able to ride today, I enjoyed surfing in those gnarly conditions on the east coast of the US.. for however dark and stormy it was, I wanted to conquer the day with the wonderful sensation I felt from a successful ride. I found peace and comfort being out there on the biggest days that the Jersey Shore had to offer. However, there was still this burning emptiness in my heart and it plagued me for many years. I felt so trapped and unable to express myself in the way that I could envision only in dreams and photographs of other big wave riders. I didn’t lose sight of those dreams and I believed deeply in the potential I had. I kept that dark secret of wanting to be a big wave surfer in my heart and didn’t actually sound my own proclamation trumpet until I came to Hawaii and actually started doing what I knew I had missed most of my life.
I was extremely excited to be doing what was once impossible for me to do located on the east coast of the mainland. Looking back, it took an incredible amount of courage. It wasn’t until after I graduated college that I was able to gather the resources to get myself here. When I first arrived in Hawaii, I hadn’t even owned the proper equipment to get me into the big waves I wanted to ride. I had small boards with thin rails that were designed for east coast waves. I got scoffed at and laughed at by my then closest male friend. Any time I brought up an interest in surfing Pipeline or Waimea I got mocked, and I quote he said, “You don’t f*cking belong there!” Eventually the verbal abuse from this so-called friend got so bad, that I ended up running away which left me homeless for a few weeks. In this time frame I met my now best friend, angel, and greatest mentor who gave me the gift of learning the right way to surf bigger waves. He allowed me to borrow his equipment, took me surfing with him, and eventually helped me to invest in the proper equipment of my own. This man literally saved my life, my spirit, and my dreams that I thought were absolutely over the day I ran away and became homeless on the North Shore. My story would most likely be very different if he hadn’t come into my life.
It took some time after that initial journey to gain the courage to return to Hawaii after having such a traumatic experience running away from domestic abuse. However, once the seed of surfing big waves was planted in my heart through this initiation, I knew I had to return to spend time training with the new friend I had made here. During a 10 day return trip, I ended up having a great epiphany. I realized that in order to achieve my goal of becoming a big wave rider, I would have to stay in Hawaii and not return home as planned. I found a job at the very last minute, canceled my returning flight, and called my loved ones to tell them about the decision I had made. Everyone thought I had absolutely lost my mind. Some felt betrayed that I was leaving them behind, especially my mom. I felt a bit guilty and sometimes I still do, however, it’s been several years now and she and the rest of my family have been extremely supportive about my decision to stay here. They understand how much happier and better of a person I have become over these past few years.
I am definitely not the kind of person who is out there surfing big waves to satisfy my own ego. I surf to have fun, experience joy, and get satisfaction from the feeling of the ride. Surfing also allows me to escape from the world as I know it on land and connect with the spiritual aspect of my beliefs. I truly believe that surfing allows me to better my relationship with God and know Him in a way beyond the confines of a strict and religious perspective.
During the first couple of years surfing big waves, I was out surfing some really obscure places that nobody could see from the beach. I had no spectators or anyone shooting photos of me. Once I started to gain a little more confidence in my skill and once I felt ready, I finally paddled out to Waimea to surf my first session there. I caught three perfect waves, all of which were caught on camera by someone shooting from above the cliff. It was an amazing experience to be able to look and actually see what I had accomplished that day in the ocean. I absolutely love being able to look at myself surfing from the viewpoint of the audience. It’s something I never had before. I never had people shooting photos of me on the beach or anyone with any interest in documenting what I was doing, until I got contacted shortly after my first Waimea photos had circulated on social media. I got invited to a full production Women’s Big Wave Expression Session sponsored by The Go Big Project in March 2016. We took a boat ride to an outer reef on Oahu where 7 women were filmed surfing in epic heavy conditions. We all had a very successful and fun day at sea. Nobody got injured and we all caught plenty of waves. It’s a moment I will remember forever. Also, it brought us closer together as a group of women from around the world who surf big waves on the North Shore. We all have an amazing bond in friendship and support. I am very grateful for that.
I wish to inspire others to pursue their dreams and achieve the goals they set for themselves. Don’t stop believing that your dreams and goals are possible. Sometimes things don’t always happen in the timing that we wish for or expect, but eventually great and magical things happen in life and it’s the bad experiences we have that make us appreciate the victorious moments so much more. Remember, you are always only one decision away from a completely different life. Making the right choice is where it all begins and ends.
Matt Paul Catalano @mattp.aul
Surfer: Brittany Gomulka @surfgirlbrit
Also, here is the photo my very first wave ever caught at Waimea. Had to share it with this guy, not sure who it is..