Miss the biggest best swell of the season by a week before you come!!! What?
Hi my name is Chris Bertish. I’m 33 years old and I have been surfing for over twenty years. I started getting into surfing bigger surf in my late teens and have been going over to California and Hawaii almost every year since 1999 to surf the big, winter swells of the north Pacific, over Dec through Fan/Feb.
Since the 2000/2001 season when I paddled into Jaws and won the XXL Award for a wave I paddled at Todos Santos, I have been on and off the Mavericks Alternate’s list numerous times. Now let me tell you..It takes a hell of a lot to be put on the Alternate list at the Mavericks event, let alone make the cut..the elite top 24.
To make the cut, as an outsider, not from the USA, you need to have been a stand out at Mavericks for at least two seasons in a row and after going back three or four times now over the last seven times, after last year’s performance, which I was adament, I couldn’t have done more, I swore that If I didn’t make the elite top 24 this year, then it was not meant to be!
Well, literally two weeks ago I got the news from none other than Jeff Clark himself, I made the cut and the next thing I know I was on the plane to California.
Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t happen as quick and easy as that.
I have been preparing and training for this decision for the last three and a half months now..No Alcohol for the last two months, training twice, to three times a day between surfing, Stand up paddleboarding, swimming and under water training, so it’s been a lot of hard work and sacrifice to get to this point, but if you want it..It’s there waiting for you to take it, you just got to put in the time, the money, heaps of effort and take the risks..Balls to the wall, with zero hesitation, cause hesitation out there will cause your worst fears to become a reality and the consequences can be fatal!
So, Friday 12th I’m flying the following day and by freak accident, I partially tear my ACL-Cruciate ligament in my knee coming down from a floater in two foot surf.
With all the time, effort and sacrifice that goes into preparing for one of these trips, this is the worst news you could possibly want and the worst ligament to pull or tear, as it often takes months to heal and I only have days…
Completely freaked out, hoping for the best, but expecting the worst I postpone the trip four days, so I can go and see two specialists to get some advice and the best treatment possible. Prognosis: 3-10 weeks recovery and in a heavy knee brace for 3-5 weeks…Well, it could be worse!
Screw that I fly tomorrow, I look at the forecast for the first six days and it looks small, so it’ll have to heal then. The following day I’m on a plane and out of here.
After packing my bags and loading my 7.2 , 9.2 and my SUP paddle, overweight, overjoyed and on a plane. 34 hours later and via Senegal, I land on Wed at San Francisco airport and the season begins.
I sort out rental cars, visit a good friend, Jeff Clark with whom I normally stay, check out the new boards he shaped me…a perfect looking 9.1ft for Mavericks bombs and a unreal looking stubby 6.3ft tow board which looks like a gem.
I check the forecast for the next four days and Surfline predicts the next storm to only hit North in 3 days time…I can make it!
I jump in my car and head for Oregon 1400km north and home to Naish HQ, where I can hook up with the Naish guys and grab a new SUP for the trip and then head back before the first decent swell hits!
Good chance to rest the knee, recover and stay out of trouble and not get tempted by the ocean, so I hit the road. Four hours into my roadtrip and the blue lights from hell, creep up behind me in the rear view mirror and pull me over…Do you know how fast you were going Sir? Aaah, not too fast, I blurt, oblivious to the speed limit. 91mph=160km in a 65mph zone..
I should lock you up right now the officer notes. Licence and registration?
Aah, you from Africa? Where you staying here? Yeah, use to racing cheeta’s back home, that’s why I was driving that speed..haha The officer doesn’t smile.
I don’t really have an address, as I am moving around alot. Sorry for speeding I say apologetically, still getting use to the speeds here.
He kindly enough doesn’t take me to jail and writes me a pretty serious ticket and says I am very lucky and sends me on my way.
I decide to check in for the night before I get into further trouble.
After a good nights sleep I am on the road again and it starts getting really cold just before the snow starts falling. Shite! Storm warnings for the roads overnight…oops, that’s when it dawned on me…damn, forgot my shoes..Only my trusty Ocean Minded flip flops. Oh No! Well, flip flops it’ll have to be and some damn cold feet for the next 5 weeks.
Really didn’t think it was going to be too much of a hassle, until it started snowing heavily and the road check stopped all cars and told us to put snow chains on our tyres, otherwise we couldn’t go any further. Snow chains?
Lucky I knew I might get caught up in the snow and possibly the storm and had bought some…All good until you are outside the car in 6 inches of snow on the side of the road trying to fit snow chains on your tyres for the first time, in FLIP FLOPS! Damn, those toes and fingers get cold…
Had to sit in the car three times with the heater on full on my feet to keep warming them up..so, not funny!
After the chains were on you realise you can only travel at 50km/h with chains and it’s pretty tricky when you have snow pelting down, so they close the other lanes and everyone is cruising in one lane, snail after snail…
An hour of that and I was done..Pulled into a cosy hotel in the snowy mountains and crashed for the night.
It was all good until I got up in the morning and almost couldn’t see my car, as it was snowed in! Now you imagine how long it takes digging out your car from the snow with one of your flip flops & a Starbucks cup!
So, an hour later I carried on driving…more chains, more snow but I make it to Oregon, Friday afternoon. Stoked to finally get there after 16 hours of driving, my ass was so sore I thaught I had piles!
I think the crew at Naish were a little confused at why I was so happy to see them, until they saw I was in flipflops and found out I had been driving 16 hours through the snow to get to them.
They gave me a guided tour, a hot chocolate and a brand new 9.6ft SUP and told me that unless I wanted to get snowed in here for the next 4 days, I needed to head out now, before the storm hits Oregon tonight.
Shite….half an hour later, I’m packing my new SUP into the car-perfect fit taking a quik photo of the crew and heading back down, to see if I can outrun the storm before it catches me and snows me in… after 10 hours driving that day I crash and sleep like a log, to be up 6am to be gone, to get over the big mountain passes, before the storm gets there..once you over the main passes, where the elevation is highest you home free..you don’t want to get caught there..and miss the swell cause you snowed in at some small hotel in the middle of nowhere.
I made it through the mountains and was so focused on making it through…forgot to fill up with petrol…aagh shite, how long has the empty light been on??? Pulled in at the next station, phew, that was close…Sorry out of Petrol!! Oh shittttt…next town..35km through snow country…Aaaaaaagh!
Will I make it..I set the cruise control at 70km/h, air con off, radio off, hold your breath and start believing seriously in God…
I see the lights of the next town 10km, down as my trusty steed gives it’s first splutter!!! Aaaaagh, hot flushes of nerves…and I just scrape in…Phew! Never been so happy to get to a gas station, was having visions of me hitch hiking in my Wetsuit, gloves and booties along the highway in the snow to get more fuel..what a sight that would have been.
That’s it, make it over the pass and I pull in for the night…enough, I am sooo over driving….
That morning I sleep in and head out at 10ish after a huge mug of Starbucks…Mmmm Starbucks Coffee, soy Latte…Heaven in a mug..I’m home free… Drive for a couple hours through into Northern California, until I head over a bridge…..Beautiful…Lake Shazda! I pull off the next off ramp…to take a pic on my phone…wow, stunning.
As I’m thinking wow, awesome lake..Ping’Paddlebaord jumps into my head..I have my new paddleboard in the back of my car! Unreal.
I shoot down to the lake, where there is a stunning little lake, pull out my SUP, my paddle short arm suit, even though it’s 12 degrees and put my thermal O’Neill jumper on and I’m gone…paddle up the lake for an hour, pure still and silent..The elements and the silence and tranquillity is overwhelming! Beautiful..as close to nature and God as you get… Stoked and at peace with the world, the knee feels ok and Im on my way again….
I check in for the night and only four hours left of driving and I’m done…I check in at another cheap nasty hotel and sleep long and hard. I check Surfline and the swell on the net and it looks like I’m going to get in 18 hours before it hits…Perfect…just enough time to run through my new stick with Jeff, get her ready prepped, have a good nights sleep and hit it early as the sun comes up and mist rises off the water..
Sunday arvo…21st Dec.
Hi my name is Chris Bertish, for those who don’t know me, I’m thirty three, been working in the surf industry for the last eight years and I’ve been surfing for twenty odd years and big waves for roughly fifteen and still learning.
I have been coming to Northern California & Hawaii for eight years on and off.
I was the first South African to make it on the Alternates list for the Mavericks event and but have never made the main invitee list until this year.It’s a long and hard road, but if you make the top 24, it’s all worthwhile, now they just have to run the event so I can represent and kick ass.
But it doesn’t all just happen and you jump on a plane and there you are…As many of you know being South African isn’t easy, visa nightmares, minimal sponsorships, the rand dollar exchange and jobs that won’t give you enough leave, all these factors make it really difficult to achieve your dreams.
This is where good old South African enginuity, sacrifice, commitment and dogged determination come in. If you want it enough, you’ll make it happen, no matter what it takes
Over the last eight years I’ve lost or sacrificed numerous girlfriends, sacrificed many opportunities, parties, jobs and amounts in cash that would have paid up a house in full, with the trips I’ve made, the pilgrimage to live the dream, to get an invite to the heaviest Big Wave Invitational event in the world-The Mavericks event. 24 of the world’s best big wave paddle surfers, a three month waiting period, pitted against the heaviest big wave spot on the planet!
Picture Kalk Bay at twenty feet (40ft faces), a mile out to sea, deep dark and ugly, water as cold and frigid as Dunes in mid-summer, except with a wind chill factor of 5 degrees and below, very big great whites which bite or bump surfers annually, with jagged pinnacles of rock sticking up on the inside section 15ft out of the water, that strike fear into the bravest of big wave warriors. Welcome to the heaviest spot on the planet, welcome to Mavericks.
So, does it begin when I book my ticket and get on the plane? I don’t think so.
It starts in August, the training begins…training? What?
Training once or twice a day, besides surfing, six days a week for four months before I leave to get into the right shape and be ready to take three beasts on the head and live to tell the tail. September is when I stop drinking…zero tolerance for three months before I leave, as part of the training and prep for the trip.and then a day before the I leave in middle December, I partly tear my MCL ligament in my knee. Specialist says 8-12 weeks out…Wrong! Not when you put this much into getting ready…Welcome to my life, this is where it all really begins…
So I postpone my trip three days, that should do it, see a couple of specialists and an acupuncturist and get a kick ass knee brace and head off to Northern California, barely able to walk and there we go and so the trip begins…
So day 1, I land in San Francisco, grab a rent a car big enough to take my 9.2 big wave stick and I hit the road…
I head out to meet an old friend, big Wave legend and Mavericks guru, Jeff Clark.We touch base, he shows me two new boards he’s shaped for me, magic peaches and catch up over a traditional Starbucks coffee, I look at the forecast and the next four days are small.
So I decide to head North to Oregon, rest the knee and avoid getting tempted by the ocean and go touch with the guys of Naish International, to pick up a paddleboard I can use while I’m here…and the driving begins. Six hours in and the sirens start. First speeding ticket and the cop wants to take me to jail, I’m over the limit by 20 mph.Not good in this country, if you that much over, you go to jail…I sweet talk the guy, plead ignorance as a poor South African, I get a pretty ugly ticket 60$ and I’m on the road, into the heaviest snow storm so far of the winter heading to Oregon.
With a ten our drive into one of the heaviest snow storms of the season, all seems a little sketchy, but optimism right now is my best friends.
And so the snow begins to fall and the roads slow and then the snow really starts coming down and that’s where a little foresight helps.Snow chains for the rent a car.Stoked I bought them before the trip, just never put any on before and I have no shoes..Just my Ocean Minded flip flops. Not clever Bertish! So imagine lying on your back on the side of the road in flip-flops in 6inch snow trying to put snow chains on your tyres…Not funny and frikken cold. After one tyre, I jump back in my car and turn the heater onto my frozen toes full blast till they unthaw, then I jump out to do the other one…Repeat the cycle till snow tired up and then head out at 60km top speed with chains..Nice.
I check in to get some rest and head out again early…Well that’s if I can find my car…under all the snow.45 minutes with a Starbucks coffee cup to dig my way out and I’m on the road again…ha-ha, classic!
The roads are hectic, but I manage to get up to the Salmon River, Oregon another seven hours meet up with the Naish International guys at the HQ, they are super cool. They laugh at my stories and that I’m still wearing my trusty flip flops and kit me out with a new Naish stand up paddleboard 9,6ft to use while I’m in town and they mention that the storm just starting to hit is bad and if I don’t leave now, I’ll probably be snowed in for the next couple days. So I pack it all in my car and hot foot it back south.
What a funny couple days…got to laugh!
Between then and Christmas, its lots of acupuncture and swimming and paddle boarding to keep fit and to strengthen the knee. I hate needles!
I’m back just in time for Christmas with Jeff Clark and Cassandra, his lovely wife and Pico the pet and just in time for a small 10-12ft day at Mavs. Wrap that leg and put it in a heavy brace and head out with Jeff, for a paddle on my new flying peach. A magic 9.1fter, Jeff shaped for me, before I arrived.
We share laughs and trade waves while reminiscing about past swells and good times, under a crisp, chilly, but bright blue sky and share some super fun waves, with no wipe outs for me, to keep the leg safe and in one piece.
The waves stay small, and New Years comes and goes with house parties in the streets in San Francisco.Not much surf besides some fun SUP sessions in Santa Cruz and some good times catching up with old friends…
The forecast is looking better for the next week or two and the opening ceremony is in a couple days, so life is good 2009 is looking good!
So before the opening ceremony I speed South and rack up add another quick 1000km’s on my good old rent a car to visit Shaun Alladio-K38 PWC Rescue guru, The lady is a legend in big surf rescue and training and we spent time updating training and having some good laughs with her five year old Shania, before saying our good bye’s and driving North to catch the Opening Ceremonies of the Mavericks Big Wave Invitational which is always a special ceremony and good party.
The ceremony starts off with the best in the worlds big Wave riders invitee’s standing in their suits, with their boards behind each other, while Jeff Clark, friend and & contest Director says a couple words in honour of all the past big wave riders &watermen who have lost their lives riding the mountains we come to challenge and try our best to tame.
Jeff runs though each rider in the row of big wave riders and says a couple of words. To be a part of this is such an honour, most people will never quite understand. To be standing there part of this unique and special group of internationally recognised big wave legends is such an honour and privilege.
A privilege not given, but one that is earned by dedication, commitment and plenty of sacrifice. But to be standing there amongst so many of your childhood hero’s and be part of the elite group, a big wave brotherhood is one of the most amazing feelings in the world, knowing that you finally have made it, earned that spot and it makes everything and every hardship you have ever had to face and overcome worth it, like it was nothing.
We all paddle out and join hands in a big circle out in the water and Jeff says a blessing and everyone says a couple of words in respect of being part of this special place, ceremony and being part of this truly unique group that get to charge these incredible waves out at Mavericks every Winter.
The ceremony finishes and by chance a couple waves are breaking so we all paddle out and share a couple together, howling and hooting like little happy school kids at a party.
Everyone meets afterwards for drinks and dinner at the heat selection party, where the heats get randomly drawn, which is always a good laugh.
My heat gets drawn…Twiggy, myself, Zach Wormhout, Carlos Burle, Grant Washburn and Alex Martins. Holy smoke is that the final? No that’s the first round heat! This just demonstrates the level of competition. Every heat looks like a final, as you run through them. Well, two Saffa’s in the same heat, perfect, that means two Saffa’s that are going to have to be going through to the Semi’s and so the party begins and goes on late into the night.
When this crew gets together, it always gets festive to say the least…
The next day there are small waves at Mavericks and after wiping off the cobwebs a weary few paddle out to share some waves together Twig, myself, Washburn, Greg Long and Frank Soloman.
The next week is filled with lots of training in the pool, acupuncture and shock treatment on the knee with a forecast for a big swell on the horizon and some super fun Stand up paddle sessions with Jeff and friends..
With the forecast looking good for the 17/18th Jan, everyone starts getting amped and the energy and rumours start circulating about the contest possibly running on the Fri 17th.
As news travels the frenzy begins and the hype escalates to a mad, overwhelming barrage of phone calls and predictions, which have everybody frothing at the prospect of the event running under unusual, warm weather, blue skies and possible perfect conditions.
To not get caught up in all the hype and frenzy, when this what you have been building up to and working towards for the last couple of years is near impossible and so the emotional rollercoaster ride continues.
By the 16th, the contest is on, no it’s not, the bouy readings are big enough, no they downgrading after a day of sitting with Jeff while hearing him dealing with over fifty calls to media and forecasters as he was making the final call, I thought I would have to head to the nearest physiatrist ward to get admitted, cause I thought I was going over the edge from the anxiety.
At the end of the day, the high pressure persisted off the coast and stopped the storm system from strengthening, so the contest was not called, which was a huge disappointment for many of us, but it was the right call and it meant that there would still be great waves at Mavericks over the weekend, just not 20ft thundering Mavericks (40ft faces).
The swell ended up being even later than forecasted and only arrived Friday during the night, but Saturday blessed us with flawlessly glassy 12ft conditions under warm, blue sunny skies. Thirty surfers in the line-up, very possibly more, all sharing waves and having way too much fun in epic, unusual, glassy, warm winter conditions…
I surfed for a couple hours with the boys; mostly going left at Mavz, as going right and being the deepest is not a good thing when you get stuffed, not able to bottom turn, because you have four people on your outside.
Tweaking my knee trying to avoid another rider I knew it was time to go in, so I got a late drop and rode it through the inside bowl, while seeing it learching I pulled up high and got barrelled off my pip and just as it clam-shelled I snuck out getting clipped as I snuck through the front of the lip, laying back and re-gaining my balance, stoked, smiling and feeling the energy & stoke of what being here is all about. I rode it in…Having a special ace up my sleeve. I pack up my board try and convince a couple of friends I know a wave that will be 12ft and cranking, but no one believes me, so I pack in a burrito and head south at high speed, knowing a wave that I surfed solo a couple of times before, which might be cranking!
Just under two hours later I am pulling into one of the most exclusive golf courses on the planet and home to one of the best big wave spots on the planet! Tow surf waves, wrong! Best paddle waves in the world…I pull into the car park and watch a 12-15fter hammer down the point…Welcome to Ghost Tree’s.
Overwhelmed by stoke, I suit up in and am walking down Pebble golf course and jump into the water in a matter of four and a half minutes. Of course there’s no one out…Only ever heard of one guy out there and that was Don Curry who took me out three years ago to paddle into a couple 15ft bombs, since then it’s been solo missions all the way.
I paddle out and score perfect gassy 12 feet waves, solo for an hour and half of bliss & perfection, before the sun sinks below the horizon. Only in America can you surf the top big wave spot with forty people and then drive an hour and half and surf just as big perfection by yourself. Magic!
The following day, Don Curry and I launch the ski and head 59km’s down the coast to surf some secret spots, while taking in the breathtaking Monterrey Bay scenery.
I come back just in time on Monday the 19th, for a small swell and a free Go Pro camera from the contestants’ pack, to mount it on my board and paddle out and score some sick footage and great, fun waves at Mavericks, while getting the first ever onboard Mavericks surf footage… A good day!
And as the swell dies and trip comes to a close, as the forecast looks weak for the next two weeks, work back home beckons and the responsibilities of life catch up with me. With the rands running low, our currency not our best friend and very little swell on the horizon for the next couple weeks it’s time to look at heading home…and with the contest on 24 hour notice, the journey doesn’t end hear.
Every time the phone rings, it could be that call over the next two months…The contest status is green light…get your ass over here, were on! I’ll have to drop everything and run, be on the next flight back over here, to charge another bomb and fly the big wave flag for my homeland…because you don’t miss the chance to live your dreams when you get this close..This is life, live it, love it, embrace it. Live every moment and have no regrets!