Featured athlete in the upcoming 2002 release of Bruce Brown’s latest film “Liquid”
Mike “Snips” Parsons
Whenever Mike Parsons mentioned his dream of a career in pro surfing growing up, more often than not, he was laughed at. Both his detractors and friends kept reminding Parsons of the math. With little more than milk money to be made in the early 80’s, any real career was impossible. But Mike always got credit for his fierce determination, steely resolve and his serious passion for riding waves. As an amateur, he was part of the prestigious NSSA National Team and he became the lead member of the U.S. Team during the 1984 World Amateur Championships. After winning the Grand Finale of that event and leading the U.S. to victory over their rival Australia for the first time ever, he embarked on his dream of a pro career. He jumped onto the world stage to join the fledgling ASP Tour (Association of Surfing Professionals) earning a whopping thousand bucks a month.
Yet Parsons silenced his early critics by climbing the pro ratings. He became just the fourth American ever to crack the Top 16, further expanding the cold war rivalry between Australia and America that propelled the popularity of pro surfing worldwide. All the while, Mike became one of the sports premier adventurers. He was famous for arriving weeks early at competitive destinations to chase and find big waves he always dreamed of surfing. Big waves were his obsession. Finally, after 8 years on the world tour, he came home to surf the domestic Bud Tour circuit in 1991. Mike topped the rankings, making him U.S. Champion that year and as the money poured into the sport, his dream of an actual career was coming to fruition. But his focus soon shifted towards the big wave arena, which is when his career really took flight. The marketability of big waves stars is obvious: while the average person on the street can’t understand the nuances of small wave performance surfing, everyone can appreciate a man conquering a life-threatening beast of a wave.
Parsons broke through existing barriers and dominated the giant waves of Todos Santos, a break 11 miles off, the coast of Ensenada, Mexico, and was quickly dubbed, “Mr. Todos” by the surf media. Then in 2000, he made history out at the Cortes Banks, a nautical hazard 100 miles off the coast of California where waves break seemingly in the middle of nowhere. There, Parsons was towed into a giant 65-foot wave by his partner Brad Gerlach. When he let go of the rope, he dropped into the history books with one of the most famous rides in surfing history. The photos and film from that ride were blasted worldwide across every medium. From the big screen to CNN to Dateline NBC, as well as Newsweek, ESPN, Sports Illustrated and surf magazines the world over. Last year, he backed it up with another historic ride at Jaws during the 2001-2002 Tow-In World Cup that shocked even the veterans of the famous break, some of who pioneered tow-in surfing.
Towsurfer: How was the November 26th, 2002 session out at JAWS?
Mike: It was a really incredible day as big and as perfect as waves can get. It was so clean almost no wind, which is unheard of for Jaws. The swell lasted for two days and it was in the 30-foot range.
It looked like it was really crowded and that maybe there were a few teams in over their heads!
It was really crowded and there were quite a few guys out that should not have been there. A few guys doing really stupid stuff and I’m sure some of the local crews were bummed.
Were there any waves as big as the Jaws contest last year?
Yeah, there were a few waves as big. The swell was about the same size as the contest and the conditions on this swell were a lot cleaner. I saw Makua Rothman get a wave that may have been bigger than all the waves during last year’s contest.
Did you see that sick tube that Garrett got?
Yeah, I just saw him towing into it and it looked pretty sick. He was really deep and committed and it was definitely one of the best tube rides ever. The consequences had he not made that wave, would have been very real!
It looked like your partner Brad took a mean one on the head. Do you recall what happened?
It was the first wave of the set and it was our turn. As I pulled him across it I looked back and noticed he let go really early. He was a little too deep and at the last second had to straighten off. He then got blasted about 100 yards under water and took a few more on the head. It was the heaviest wipeout he has ever taken and it was pretty stressful trying to get in there and get him. His board got destroyed on the rocks and it was a humbling experience for the both of use.
Has your level of confidence increased out at Pe’ahi now that you have towed a few giant days?
Yes, it was unreal to get a few more days out there and we are finally starting to get a good feel for the wave and what it does. We also both lost our boards on the rocks and had to get them which turned out to be quite an ordeal. We nearly lost the ski on the rocks and it was a very good learning experience.
Has your equipment changed from your first experience last year at Jaws?
Yes, our boards have been changing specifically for Jaws. I have gone from a 7’2″ to a 6’6″ way thinner and a lot heavier to handle the wind and chop. I also have changed the outline of the boards and the fins. The boards we are using at Todos and Cortes do not work as well at Jaws mostly because of the chop.
Let’s go back to the swell before this one that hit California. The one with a ton of weather on it. You and Brad towed Todos with a few others including Chuck Patterson. How was that session?
Yeah, that was quite the swell we had two good days at Todos the first day we were paddling most of the day and the swell just kept building. When it finally got over 20 feet at about 3 pm is when we started towing. It was raining and blowing south wind but we managed a couple of really big waves, some of the biggest I have ever seen there. It was an incredible session very and very challenging.
Tell us about your evening crossing the channel and how you ended up ways down form the Harbor.
We towed very late in the day and by the time we got all our boards on the ski it was nearly dark. We crossed between the Islands and started blazing towards the Ensenada harbor. The fog was intense, it was raining, blowing and we could not see our compass. Not to mention we had no lights on the ski and when it got pitch dark we were somewhere in the middle of the bay completely lost. We went by feel based on the wind and swell. We finally could see a light and just go straight for it. When we got close we could see cliffs and rocks the open ocean swell was huge and for a few minutes it was really nerve racking and we had no idea where we were. We figured we were way south of the harbor so we headed north and just slowly worked our way up the coast. We finally found a beach and we just blazed the ski up on it. We had been 25 miles of the course and hit the beach at La Buffadora. We then knocked on someone’s door and it turned out to be a surfer from La Jolla that was friends with Pat Curren and he helped us get out of our mess. It had been about four hours from when we left the Island and we were happy to get out of our wetsuits and on dry land.
Then there was the Cortes drill run on a smaller day but all in all another good experience?
Yeah, there is nowhere like Cortes and even though the surf was not nearly as good as the first trip, it was still a great day of surfing. Kelly Slater got the wave of the day and everyone ripped this session. I can’t wait to get back out there.
In your opinion, which is the more challenging wave to tow into, Jaws or Mavz and why?
It really just depends on the day. They are the two heaviest spots I have ever surfed. Mavz has the rocks to deal with and Jaws is the most powerful wave I have ever seen.
You and Brad are getting a lot of hours, waves and mileage in over the past couple of seasons. How stoked are you to have this opportunity and be apart of the Odyssey?
I am really stoked because the last few years of my life have been the best. We have ridden so many incredible waves and we are just getting started. The best thing about the Billabong Odyssey is the chance to surf spots that have never been surfed before.
What is your ultimate goal with all the traveling and big wave searching that you are doing?
My goal is to just improve my performance in big waves and find new spots and get the best waves of my life.
Do you visualize yourself being the first ever to tow into a 100-foot wave?
No, I don’t care about getting a 100-foot wave. I do think it is possible and I think someone will do it someday.
And what happens if this person is you and you let go of the rope?
I would only let go of the rope if I were completely confident I could make it.
What are your thoughts on the overall sport of tow surfing with respect to how popular it is becoming?
Well the leaders of the sport are going to have to set the examples of how to do it responsibly, especially in regards to where they tow. We all know the first rule is that paddling and towing do not mix and the wrong person on a watercraft can ruin it for everyone.
Talk to us about the importance of safety and having a partner that you can rely and depend on when you need him most.
The most important aspect of towing is that we do it safely. It is very important that you have a good partner that you can rely on and has the experience to rescue you if the situation arises.
Share with us your worst ever hold down experience while towing.
During the Jaws event last year I had to straiten off on a really big one. I just got in front of the lip and got blasted. I have never felt that much power as I was dragged about 100 yards under water before I finally popped up.
You must be looking forward to the Jaws TIWC this year?
Yeah, we had an amazing day during last year’s event. It is the greatest show on earth and it was unreal just to be apart of it. I hope the whole strapped crew does the event because they are clearly the best guys out there and we have learned a lot from watching them.
Who or what inspires you to be the best that you can be?
Well, my Parents have always inspired me to be the best I can be at whatever I do. As for the big wave thing, I get inspired watching the best guys and seeing what is possible. Watching Laird at Jaws is the most inspiring surfing I have ever seen and you have to see it live to believe it.
You and Brad were both recently mentioned in an article written by Scott Hadley of the Santa Barbara News-Press. The article stated that you are one of the tow teams involved in a future Santa Barbara Channel Islands tow-in expedition being organized by Greg Huglin and David Puu. It’s a place called Psychos and I was wondering if you had any comments on your involvement?
I would really like to surf out there and the most interesting aspect of the Santa Barbara Channel Islands is surfing somewhere new. However, for Brad and I, our number one priority and commitment lies first with Billabong Odyssey and what our goals are. Our goal is to search and surf the largest waves in the world and find never before ridden locations. It’s hard to say if we’ll actually make it out there with Greg. It all depends on our schedule, where the best swells are and where Bill Sharp has us going next.
Are you bummed you missed the Todos session on 12-16-02?
Yeah, I heard it was pretty good and it would have been nice to be there. Right now is Island time and we are getting a lot of surf in. That shot of Mel carving off the top was pretty sick.
Thanks, Mike for the interview and good luck with all that you do this season!
Yeah and thanks for your time and support. The site looks awesome!
Today, Parsons is a big wave icon and one of the sports most tenacious characters. His relentless commitment to chasing the best waves in the world has earned him top-notch credibility throughout the surfing realm. That’s why when the Association of Surfing Professionals returned to California for the first time in two years for the biggest contest ever to be held on U.S. shores, they asked Parsons to be the Contest Director. Under his watch, the Boost Mobile Pro was such a huge success it’s already being billed as the measuring stick for all events in the future.
Now Parsons has carved his own niche. He parlayed his big wave exploits into a full-time job as a celebrated member and founder of the Billabong Odyssey, a three-year search for the world’s biggest wave. As the premiere star of this quest, Parsons has already nabbed headlines across the globe as they’ve uncovered a handful of new life threatening spots that have never been surfed. With 2-years left to go on this journey, there’s no telling what Mike Parsons will accomplish, but those closest to him say, “Basically, he’ll do anything he wants.”
(c) 2002 Towsurfer.com