My 30 Hour Surf (Originally Published in Eastern Surf Magazine, 2012)
The Google search for “Longest Surf Session” brought me to William Laity who set a Guinness World Record for surfing 26hrs and 1 minute in Huntington Beach CA, November 20, 2010. It was a marketing effort on behalf of Swell. com to generate holiday sales. My world record attempt would bring awareness to 26.2 with Donna — The National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer. Looking back on the early September research there were some cool ironies — I published a regional surf magazine in the late 80’s called Swell eventually ceasing distribution when my first child was born November 20, 1989. And oh yes, a full marathon is 26.2 not 26.1. Why not look at the signs?
We are now on the backside of the annual national “October Pink Wash” but underlying the color saturation remains very important messages that bring attention to a devastating disease —sometimes a message as simple as “Celebrate the Finish” by our marathon in Jacksonville Beach Florida makes a difference. The collective 26.2 with Donna heart that has been demonstrated along our coastal communities in early February for the past five years will lift the most weighted-down spirit. It’s a simple message of Love and not Fear. For more info: wwwbreastcancermarathon.com
A world record attempt was nothing that I couldn’t wrap my brain around. I’m fifty-years old and I have been through my share of strategic planning sessions and vision-oriented logistic efforts. I relish new ideas with strong purpose. In fact, it’s what has sustained me as a business owner for over 25 years with The Kurtis Group. The biggest issue with this idea would be the elements remaining outside of my control, most important, surf conditions. Predicting conditions on the Florida east coast that allows for 30 hours of reasonable surf is near impossible. I set a “soft” start date, October 28, 1pm. We needed a lot of prayers, good fortune and luck.
I finally received three documents from Guinness World Records within two weeks of the announced attempt date. It wasn’t going to be simple.
- A seven page “Specifics Guidelines Pack” which included, Guidelines for Surfing, Endurance and Evidence. The witness and logbook expectations were intense.
- A four page overview (for crazy people like me) that states multiple methods of adjudication. Adjudication is what Guinness is all about. If you have some money you can receive “high-powered” adjudicating services. Obviously I am raising money for a cause and these services were never requested.
- Finally, an eighteen page “Evidence Required” document. This was the real work.
Twelve hours in the dark on a surfboard would require friends to help in ways I never imagined. And friends showed up! We had dozens of people surfing at different hours through the night keeping me company.
My fundraising goal was $10,000. In less than three weeks I was already there between media trade and real dollars from surf shops like Sunrise and Aqua East. Actual dollars to date is now $13,000. BTW — www.marathonsurfer.com will remain active through February when the 26.2 with Donna takes place in Jacksonville Beach.
With a belief that I would get the “right” swell for my attempt I continued to build a group of individuals that could handle all the Guinness requirements. Two independent witnesses throughout with one “qualified” in the sport. A recommendation to substitute out every four hours (I worked off a schedule of three hours). Ultimately I gathered about twenty-four witnesses. I also needed stewards to manage all the documentation. This eventually was the Kurtis Group agency staff. Led by my wife Margaret, the remaining group included Heather, Jamie and Brittany all stepping up to help coordinate materials over the thirty hour period. Documentation was handled by a handful of friends that have the professional credentials to shoot and capture the entire event. Their attitude and belief in my idea was overwhelming. No one backed-off. No one complained or argued. Everyone just believed.
We needed to get a special surfboard built for the record attempt. Local shaper Skip Smith learned about what I was going to do and immediately offered several existing blanks. I chose a wide, thick, 6’4” fish on October 10. He promised to get it refined in a week. He did it. The board was glassed by Jim Dunlop owner of Mystic Surfboards. The combination of talents was as pure as it gets. The board turned out beautiful. Once again, the spirit of the surfing marathon remained intact.
Wave forecasting has come a long wave since I jumped into the Atlantic on a surfboard back in 1974. It has come a long way since I began publishing SouthSwell magazine in 1987 when the best forecasts were local based with a phone call to an 800 line. With internet you can start watching international ocean models two weeks out and narrow down conditions to a three day window and call conditions with accuracy. We were looking at favorable models setting up for the attempt give or take three days. I moved the date three times settling on a start, Wednesday, October 26 at 1pm. Conditions would be waist high with slight to moderate ENE winds and a slight drift north to south. Thursday was projected to be calm winds with remaining 1.5 ft swell and easterly direction.
I knew getting through the night would be one of the greatest battles. It would be partly a physical battle but more a mental battle. Twelve hours in the dark on a surfboard would require friends to help in ways I never imagined. And friends showed up! We had dozens of people surfing at different hours through the night keeping me company. It was a surreal time. I will never forget Christian Davis pushing me to remain fueled properly. Buddy Evans paddling out just because he wanted to be out there with us (he surfed for at least two hours). Surf buds like Gary Foster and Scott Wagner — early morning (4:30) with Tim and Mike Deegan. The support never ended. I was never alone in the ocean. I can say now that I needed that in the biggest way. But, when you think about our purpose with this record it makes sense — if I’m left alone to move through to a finish it would have been much harder.
I got slapped around by the ocean for twelve hours in the dark. Nothing too bad, just frustrating. Sunrise was my goal and I checked the LED on my watch more than I should have. Ten minutes seemed like ten hours. I caught about 60 waves in the dark from 7:30pm till 7:30am. Sunrise over the Atlantic was as good as it gets. This was when I knew I could push for another thirteen hours (no matter what). However daylight would still present challenges. I surfed with renewed energy from 8am through 11am. I think I caught about sixty waves in that three hour period which matched the entire night. I did not prep for the hot, long, lazy afternoon. After the evening session this became the second worst frame of time. Between 10:00 and 4:00 I just got cooked in the water with small waves that were difficult to catch. Granted by this time I am counting down my three hour sessions and I would brag to a fellow surfer that “there are only three of my ten three hour sessions left.” It was still very difficult. I received a good sunburn and slipped back toward dehydration.
The 3pm to 6pm session reignited me and I caught about another 60 waves. Several more surfers showed up in the water in the final two hours as we entered back into darkness. I drank a cold beer in the lineup and laughed with people I knew and had just met. One young surfer showed up from Destin after reading on line and thought it would be cool to be a part of the record attempt. The darkness came for me a second time as I floated on my surfboard. But I knew this darkness was going to be brief.
I looked to the beach and saw the flood lamps come back on. There were over a hundred spectators watching. My heart was overwhelmed. I caught a wave in the dark and heard the beach erupt. “What the heck is going on?” We did it. The crowd on the beach counted down the final seconds. Thirty plus hours and I am hearing 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, bullhorn and shouts of joy. I had caught a wave and it was time to go in. Standing in the shore break there was a loud collective call from the mid tide break, “Party Wave!”
“No,” I wanted to go in.
“Party-Wave” came again.
Three times was the charm. I paddled back out and heard the shout from out behind the lineup “Wave!” Since we were in the dark this was the warning. Everyone turned and jumped on the wave to come in together. I stood up on wave 308 and rode to the beach.
The surfing marathon remained intact until the end.