Surf or Die

MF's exclusive interview with big-wave surf champ Garrett McNamara

A few months back, Hawaiian big-wave surf champ Garrett McNamara traveled to Alaska's Child's Glacier on the Copper River to tackle the giant waves produced when chunks of ice break from the glacier and crash into the water. MF caught up with McNamara as he thawed out to hear all about this one-of-a-kind adventure, here's the full interview.

MF: How did you come up with the crazy idea to surf glacier waves?

GM: I heard about the glaciers calving and the waves being formed, so in June, we went to Alaska to scout locations. The glacier was about a mile wide and 400 feet tall. We hiked up. Later we learned we shouldn't have done that. [Laughs] There were a lot of things we did that we probably shouldn't have.

Like what?

Like surf it.

What was the biggest danger you faced?

The building-sized chunks of falling ice. During my first session, one fell outward horizontally like a falling bookshelf [rather than dropping vertically]. Ice chunks exploded across the river to the opposite bank a few thousand feet away. I envisioned a chunk the size of a car landing on me and crushing me, and all I saw was my body parts and blood just . . . I was very interested in going home.

You actually hit some ice chunks, didn't you?

The last day, I hit a monster just below the surface. I tripped over it and landed on my knee. It ripped all the glass off the bottom of my board.

How close did you get to the falling ice?

At one point we were only 50 feet away. We were putting ourselves in a pretty dangerous position. I'd really have to think hard before I'd go back there.

Did you ever think, "Maybe I shouldn't be here?"

I thought about my son and not being able to see him grow up. It definitely crosses your mind.

How cold was the water?

GM: Thirty-four degrees. I couldn't stay in more than four hours without my toes freezing.

Did you catch many waves?

GM: In the beginning, we'd get the shit scared out of us on a half-a-foot wave that didn't even break. It was pretty different. But by the fourth day we could get any wave that broke off the glacier near us. I saw one wave with a 20-foot face that wound for four minutes.

What's next? Looking for that 100-foot wave?

GM: If we can find it. It's pretty elusive. I've been searching for three years now. But it doesn't have to be 100 feet. If I see 40-foot swells I leave home and surf it.

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