Don Curry Interview from the 2003 Towsurfer Vault
Donald L. Curry
|Height: 5′ 9″‘|
Color Hair: Blonde
Color Eyes: Blue
From: Taipei, Taiwan.
Residence: Carmel, CA
Years Surfing: 30, Started on Easter Sunday in 1973
Years Tow Surfing: 1
Home Breaks: Monterey Peninsula to the South Coast, Monterey County
Favorite Big Wave Spots: Mavericks and Sunset Beach.
Favorite Tow Spots: Anywhere it’s huge and mostly on the Monterey Peninsula.
Other Interests: Photography, Writing, and Exercise.
Places Traveled: Indonesia: 1991 and 1994. My wife and I left G-land 11hrs before a tsunami hit.
Life’s Priorities: My wife Marcy and daughter Scout. Living a healthy, clean and happy life and Surfing.
Sponsors: Other than On The Beach Surf Shop, I have none at the moment. I have never actually been paid to surf with the exception of the first Quiksilver Men Who Ride Mountains Event. Over the last ten years, I have received a few free wetsuits, board bags/ accessories, and clothes. I am grateful to the companies that have provided me with their product, either for free or at a discount. Those companies are Xcel Wetsuits and DaKine, both high-quality product lines and I would recommend them to anyone.
Don: I was hoping to have the chance to talk to a few of the pro surfers and industry guys, but most of them were hanging out in the VIP lounge. The prize I felt went to the right surfer.
Makua stepped up to the podium and accepted that fat check with style and graciousness that you would not expect from someone his age. Even giving thanks to the servicemen and woman for allowing him and his friends to do what they love to do, surf giant waves. Toby on the other hand, is so low key and comfortable in his own right. I was very impressed with his overall attitude and unconditional commitment to the man above.
Early on in my surfing I was hooked on the rush of riding big waves. It’s something that you either have or you don’t. The sooner that you realize it’s in your blood the faster you can take the appropriate steps to become comfortable in extreme ocean conditions. When it all comes down to it, experience is the only equalizer. Mother Ocean will always dish out more than you can chew, for with out good judgment she’ll shove it down your throat and make you choke on it. Survival becomes instinctual with every wave you take on the head. It also helps to have a great deal of testicular fortitude. Looking back on my years of surfing, the best big wave experience I got was in Hawaii. I lived on Maui for two and a half years and worked for Royal Hawaiian Air Service, a small inter-island airline. I was able to catch the last flight out from Kaanapali to Honolulu, run out to the highway to catch da bus up to the North Shore. It cost me 25 cents each way, so I would hope off da bus in Wahiawa for a six pack of Budweiser at 7-11. I stayed with friends at Sunset Point in an old cane house, right in front of backyards. Sunset Beach was my main staple for the winters of 1979 and 1980, when Sunset got above twelve feet or when it was closing out, I would fly back to Maui and surf Honolua Bay. That was a great time for me. I got to watch and surf with some amazing surfers.
The summer of 1992 is when I began to strength training for big wave surfing. My wife trained her client’s in a studio behind our home, so I could just walk out the back door into the gym. Marcy gave me a few exercises and made sure I was getting enough cardio, aerobic and anaerobic to survive the beatings. The first time I surfed Maverick’s was October 31st, 1992 and one other time in the spring. I trained harder the next summer and surfed Maverick’s a few times more that season than the year before. The 1993-94 season I was getting more comfortable in the lineup at Mavericks. My confidence was bumped up a couple of notches when I changed to riding Jeff Clark’s shapes, but without my regular workout routine, there would have been no way I was taking off in the pit. The following off-season, I spent a month in Bali with Marcy, surfing Uluwatu, Padang Padang and ten days at G-Land. Followed by a quick ten days to the North Shore in early December. This really helped me to prepare for what would become a benchmark moment in the history of Mavericks. The swell that hit on December 17th, 19th, 21st and 23rd of 1994 will always be embedded in my memory. Good physical conditioning can make all the difference when your life is on the line.Share with us one of your worst ever wipe outs at Mavz.The worst wipeout I have suffered occurred on December 19th in 1994. I just watched Jay takeoff into infamy when about fifteen minutes later I jumped into a solid twenty footer and lost it at the bottom. My back is still hurting from that one.Have you ever had any real frightening moments to the point where you are asking yourself, “What am I doing out here?”
October 28th, 1998 I talked John Raymond into paddling out. This was the day that lives on as one of the biggest tow days. After two attempts to get out we managed to get around mushroom rock, by this time Chris Brown had joined us. He sailed right past me with fresh arms and John was just ahead as another set was closing out the channel. They both made it, and I was denied for the third time but was not giving up. I paddled down to the harbor entrance and made it out through Blackhand Reef. At that point, I realized that death was only twenty to thirty feet from either side of me. When I finally reached the outside, the harbormaster drove up in his boat alongside me and asked if I was ok. My reply was, “that was the longest paddle out of my life” and they offered me a ride back but I turned it down in hopes of getting a wave in. I sat in the channel next to a buoy that Jeff Clark would tie his PWC up on, staring in disbelief at the biggest waves I have ever seen breaking and knowing full well there’s no way in hell I would paddle into one. By now I had been in the water three and a half hours and it was time to go in. Waiting for a big set to break, I made a beeline for mushroom rock. Just as I got around it, the next set was coming at me full steam. The inside section was closing into Blackhand Reef and morphing into an ungodly mess when I hit the beach after that fifty-minute paddle in, my knees were shaking and I could only thank God for letting me live.Share with us your early years of experience with a stand-up model jet ski and how you guys used to tow in?
Long before it was a sport I was towing into the small surf with a stand-up model, a Kawasaki 650sx, that was in 1988. Herbie Fletcher was the first person to use a jet ski to assist a surfer for catching a wave. I think that was Martin Potter at Pipeline. I had to get one of those things but realized it was way too undependable for extreme conditions.When did you get your first real taste of tow surfing and what was that experience like for you?
I got a taste for it on Thanksgiving Day with Peter Mel in 2000. Ken Collins and Peter were partners and Peter knew I was chomping at the bit to give it a try. I had to get in the water early so I could be home in time for Thanksgiving Dinner. When the tow crews came out, Mel motored up and asked if I would mind if they could have a few waves. It was cool they even bothered to ask! I didn’t mind as long as I didn’t get clotheslined. Like what happened to me in 1994 when VC tore through the lineup. Later, Peter offered me the rope and was very patient getting me up on his 6’9″, it took four try’s before I was up and cruising. I let go of the rope only a couple of times on what would be considered small waves for Mavericks. My back was sore for days afterward because of poor technique. Overall, I felt the initiation to tow surfing was anticlimactic because of the small conditions and the fact I could not fork out the cash for a PWC.
What can you tell us about your home break, Pescadero and some of the Santa Crews Boyz like Mel, Adam, Skinny, Loya and a few others who have been towing it including yourself?
Last year Peter Mel, Adam Repolgle and Shane Desmond with photographer Patrick Trefz came down on a medium size day. I was surfing just across the bay when a friend paddled out and told me that the Santa Cruz guys were towing Pescadero. I went over to watch just as they were finishing up with their session; the tide was getting too low. The waves were breaking right on the rocks but they were going around, over, under and just blowing my mind. This is a full on underground spot that only a handful of guys had surfed, mostly because the wave unloads on granite rocks which leave no margin for error on the entry. Needless to say, the wave is big and dramatic with lots of boils and blue water.
What kind of tow board are you riding and what are your shapes and designs?
Jeff Clark designed my first tow board. A lot of boards these days are computer generated shapes. Jeff is an excellent craftsman with a solid reputation for big wave surfboard design. I have a 7’3″ round pin for the biggest conditions, though last year did not provide those conditions. Next season I will be dropping in length to 6’3″ and it is a Dan Moore design (Outereef). I’ve always felt more comfortable on a board that is shaper tested, not to say that the prolific shapers are not as good because they’re not charging huge surf! I prefer to leave the technical attributes of a surfboard to the designer. Whenever I gave a shaper the dimensions for a board it never seemed to be what I wanted. Now I just let the shaper know how much I weigh, the type of waves I ride and the length, width, and tail preferences. Too much information for the shaper can sometimes backfire. Shapers are a combination of craftsman, artist and hydro-nautical engineer and need the freedom to practice their craft without too many constraints.
What kind of big wave paddle boards do you use and what are their shapes and designs?
My quiver of big wave guns consists of three boards all shaped by Jeff Clark. My all around fifteen to twenty-foot model is a 10’0″ tri-fin. I still like to use my 10’0″ single fin that Jeff shaped for me in 1993, it is 19″1/4 wide with a one-inch spruce stringer. In 1995 Jeff shaped me an 11’11” for the insanely huge days. It works well for what it is, but once you have drawn your line you must commit to it. I’m freaked out that now, a 6’3″ will be riding waves that my 11’11” was built for.
Tell us about the Yamaha 4-Stroke you have and use for towing?
The Yamaha FX140 is a great machine. Plenty of power to get in and out of heavy situations, a smooth power band from low to high RPMs. I have tried the Honda Aqua Trax model, which I felt was an excellent machine with a stronger low end in white water zones. For me, it was not as comfortable to ride as the FX140. The Yamaha has a more refined hull design that allows for better response in tight situations and stability while cruising or floating. The only flaw I have noticed is while in the white water the intake is pulling in more air than water, which can leave you high and dry if you panic and give it full throttle. I’m sure an after market intake grate and an impeller with more pitch can remedy the problem.
Where do you see the sport of tow-in surfing going in the next few years?
For me personally, the sport of tow surfing is all about riding waves that are too big or dangerous to paddle into. The thought of using a PWC for catching average waves on a regular basis, other than practice, is out of the question. I much prefer to paddle on those days. As I see it, the PWC allows the big wave surfer to explore the outer bounds of human limitations. With that mindset, I feel comfortable with my decision to take up a rope and ride waves I would never have been able to otherwise.
Where did you first get your PWC training and how has this training helped you?
A highly recommended course of instruction is K38 rescue training. Shawn Alladio offers an intensive 3-day practical course and runs a tight ship. For the price of admission, you get to ride brand new Yamaha FX140s and do things that you normally wouldn’t if it were your own. I came away from the class with a greater understanding of the crafts abilities in heavy water and the importance of constant maintenance. Preparedness is a theme throughout the course as well.
Who are some of the guys that you are inspired by?
Locally some of my more inspiring surfers are Tim Watts; He led the pack when it came to a powerful style and his sense of adventure inspired countless others. Tim moved to Bali in 1976 and still lives there. Steve Spaulding; Steve has a sixth sense when it comes to knowing when and where the waves are. Back in the mid-seventies, he took me down to the Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center in Monterey. Steve showed me the science of wave prediction. This was long before 976-surf or what is now Surfline.com.
Would you recommend this sport to anyone that surfs? No. I believe that if you are towing in extreme conditions that you should already have at least a few twenty footers under your belt by conventional means. That way you will have had the experience of a big wave hold down.
What about the guys who have a few 15 footers under their belt by conventional means and have already taken a few solid waves on the head with some solid hold down’s?
Like I said, twenty feet surf experience should be mandatory for entry into the sport. Anything over ten feet is considered big in my book. The difference between fifteen and twenty feet may only be five feet but it’s an entirely different animal. The big wave fraternity is a rather small one if you were to admit only the ones with 20′ surf experience. Sure there are a ton of guys that have the talent to let go of a rope and stand on a 25′ to 30′ wave, but would they paddle into a 20′ wave? There needs to be some kind of initiation process for what is truly a dangerous sport. This will also minimize the negative impact of too many PWC in the line-up if every ya-who and his brother were to tow.
What are your concerns with those that don’t have the traditional experience of paddle surfing 20’ waves and jump right into tow surfing?
It all depends on the definition of the sport of “tow surfing”. If the PWC allows the average surfer to skip the natural progression of catching big waves then what will happen is most likely an increase in accidents and possibly fatalities due to lack of ocean knowledge.
What are your thoughts and opinions on the issue of banning PWC use in the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary that could have a huge impact on the Central Coast and spots like Mavz?
Hopefully, a fair compromise can be made for use with-in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The issue is more of a user issue than an environmental one. The motor-head mentality reputation that is identified with “Jet Ski’s” users has been the main platform for the ban on PWC’s with-in the sanctuary. The craft has evolved over the years to what is now a small boat, rather than a water bike of the anything-goes era that was the eighties. The crafts are environmentally more friendly than most of the boats floating in our harbors today. In all fairness, are we to isolate one user group because of the craft’s performance ability or should we see this as what it truly is, “a driver issue”. Individual accountability should be enforced on those not operating in a safe responsible manner toward the marine environment and fellow humans. Boating laws are already in place to allow a man to respect each other’s property and co-exist with nature. Education is the real solution to this controversial topic. Let a certification process for operating and abiding by the existing laws, be mandatory for all PWC users. A special use permit for tow-in surfers should also be required for the safety of those unqualified souls that think it’s not as dangerous as it looks.
What are you and your local crew doing as tow-in surfers to prevent this from occurring?
I’m sorry to say that I have not taken a pro-active stance with regards to the controversial ban. I came on to the tow scene a little late! In our area, Jeff Fields is representing the tow-surfers and also ocean rescue, in an effort to maintain the use of PWC in the MBNMS.
Having spoken to Peter Mel just the other day, it sounds like he could use some support from ALL the guys that tow Mavz and Monterey in order to prevent the PWC Ban from happening. Maybe you and your crew should hook up with Jeff Fields and Peter Mel because things are not looking good! Thanks Don.
Thank you again Eric
For the latest News and Update on The Proposed Banning of PWC use in the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary that could have a huge impact on the Central Coast and spots like Mavericks- click here
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