Garrett McNamarra Interview from the 2008 Towsurfer Vault

Garrett McNamara / Mavz / Photo: Curt Myers

by Eric Akiskalian

On December 15, 2004, I experienced Jaws/Pe’ahi for the very first time. What I had witnessed was like nothing else I had ever seen, surfed or experienced in my life. I knew then, it would be a few hours before I towed, if at all. Truthfully, all I wanted to do was watch, observe and feel good about my decision to let go of the rope on what I knew would be the biggest wave of my life. The question at that moment was, would I even nut up?

I spent the entire morning shooting images and watching the biggest waves I had ever seen unfold right before my very eyes. I took my ski and positioned myself deep in the pit, off on the rights and over inside on the lefts. It was a cluster, with all the observers, future hopefuls and photographers positioning for the best shots and view.

I saw some incredible rides and some death-defying wipeouts. The one of Dan Moore taking a 60’-70’ wave on the head was a situation where I thought we might just be losing a great friend and waterman today. How he survived this one can only be a true testament of his powerful mind, strength, fitness and ability to survive the worst. Dan did suffer from a very bad hold down, cuts on his face and a fractured ankle.

I saw, photographed and talked to most of the crews that were towing that day. Needless to say, Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama were owning the session hands down and deserve full respect. I can only image what was going on in their minds with so many other teams, helicopters, photographers, filmmakers, and spectators around.

I remember clearly thinking what it must have been like back in the early 90’s with just a couple of teams out on giant days like this. The evolution and growth of this sport have caused such a huge explosion that mainstream media is all over it. Like the powerful and untouchable team of “Laird and Dave”, surfacing now as the next wonder team of the sport is “Garrett and Ikaika”.

Garrett McNamara and Ikaika Kalama two professional Hawaiian waterman. The first–ever, SoBe Beverages and No Fear sponsored big wave tow-in team. With years of big wave experience, the branded team were charging and scoring some of the biggest waves during their December 15th session at Jaws. Here is what Garrett had to say…….

Interview with Garrett McNamara
Current Tow-In World Cup Title Holder and Champion – A lot went down on December 15, 2004, during what many are calling one of the biggest, if not the biggest day ever at Jaws/Peahi. What was the session like for you and Ikaika?

We got out there a little later then we had planned on. This was because of Uncle Bobo’s tractor which we were using to launch our skis at Mailko Gulch almost got washed away by a title wave like serge. The launch never happened because the surges were out of control and the swell was too big. Because it was not safe we decided to pack up and launch at another private spot. When we finally got to the lineup, Uncle Bobo got the first few waves of the day. They were giant!!! He made the first one and saw God on the last one!!! Bobo is da man as far as I’m concerned. Ikaika and I got ready, I said you want to go and he said you go. If it’s big, I always want to go, so I was stoked. Ikaika likes to check it out and be smart!!! I just want to go!!! The board I was riding had weights between the front and back feet. On the first wave, it didn’t feel right so I took off the front weight and then the nose started to pop wheelies. Then I took off the back weight as well, and finally, it felt right. It was time to have some fun. I got a good size wave, did a good turn and then I went for another harder turn and it got me from the bottom. Ikaika came in to get me but couldn’t see me because I was wearing a white rash guard. When he finally got me he said that I needed to take off my white rash guard because it is too hard to find me in the white water. We had a great session and I ended up pulling Ikaika into some really big bombs.

Tell us about that super deep giant barrel you got while Pato was charging down the face of that same wave.

That was the biggest wave I have ever ridden. Ikaika was pulling me into the wave, I looked to my left, Dave and Laird were going as well. I was about to pull out when Laird signaled that he was going left which basically meant I could go right. Pato a good friend of mine from Brazil was trying to go as well, I was saying go Ikaika go!!! As I dropped down the wave I wanted to fade as deep as possible, but then I saw Pato coming down and he kept going. I had no choice but to change my line so I wouldn’t get ruined in the barrel by his track. As I turned under his track, I started going so fast at a totally different angle than normal, it caused the wave to pass me by and for a second the lip was so close I could feel the wave breathing on me. The lip and the explosion from the lip actually brushed my shoulder and arm a few times. If the lip would have landed on me, I don’t even want to imagine what could have happened. As I came out from under the lip and made the section, I was so stoked and there was Pato stoked as well and then to end the ride we went for a high five. Pato said that was the biggest heaviest ride I have ever seen. I didn’t know what to think. I said I could feel it breathing on me!!! About 10 minutes later this overwhelming rush came over my whole body and I started to weird out. I said Ikaika, please take me outside and away from everyone. I never felt like that before.

What happened when you got away from everyone and can you explain what you were thinking and feeling?

It is too personal. I don’t want to go there right now!

It looked like you were putting Ikaika into some of the biggest lefts that day. Tell us about your driving strategy with so many other teams out there positioning for the same waves.

We would wait our turn and sit back when we didn’t feel right when the wave came that we were waiting for we went. It was awesome to be able to share waves with the guys who I consider the kings of Jaws, Laird, and Dave. The highlight of the day for me was putting Ikaika on a right as Laird put Dave on a left they went towards each other and then charged down the line, KALAMA TIME!!!

It seems no matter how crowded or hectic the lineup is, you and Ikaika never have a problem getting most of the waves during your session. How did you guys pull off getting so many more waves than most of the other teams?

Lots of Mana!!!

I spoke with Archie Kalepa a couple of days ago and he said he was watching a clip of you on what looked like a 90’ wave or even bigger. Do you recall ever being on the biggest wave you have ever ridden, or do they just all feel the same after a certain level?

That was defiantly my biggest wave yet!!!

What size board were you riding and what about weight?

If I told you I’d have to kill you, Ha-Ha-Ha, Nah it was 6’1″ 15 lbs.

It seems like the level of performance is way up with many of the riders who are riding shorter boards this year. Have you found this to be true for yourself?

We’ve been riding the same 2 boards the last 3 years 6’0″ and 6’1″. I think if smaller is better, go smaller.

There is talk about you and Ikaika possibly winning the XXL this year between the waves you both rode. We still have plenty of winters left, but if you guys do win, how important is this to your team and sponsors?

It just means it will be easier to travel the world as a team in search of GIANT new waves. The sponsors have got to love it too. I know I would. In reality, don’t count your chickens before they hatch!!!

Honestly, did you see any teams out there that did not belong out there due to lack of experience?

To me, if you haven’t paddled into a 20′ wave then you defiantly shouldn’t be out there. I think there were quite a few guys who never rode big waves until they got a ski. I could be wrong.

What was the worst wipeout you saw?

Ikaika going straight on a BOMB!!! I didn’t see most of the bad wipe outs. I heard Dan Moore, Skindog, and a few others went down pretty hard.

Have you ever seen so many skis, boats, and helicopters around during one session?

No, It was like nothing I had ever seen. Can’t imagine it getting any worse! Things could really get out of hand and unsafe.

You guys also scored a pretty good day at Mavz in December. Tell us about that session.

I love Mavs!!! It was one of my finest surfs in a long time. That wave has mean power. I fell in front of a wave on the shoulder and the whitewater hit me so hard it bruised my upper rib which was really bothering me at Jaws, plus it popped my left knee at Mavs as well. I don’t know if you noticed but I had a Don Joy Knee brace on at Jaws and 2 Liquid Force life jackets to protect my rib.

What’s going on with your event, “If It Can’t Kill You, It Ain’t Extreme”?

The TV show on the Chile Challenge will air on the 23rd of January. As for the next one mother nature makes the call and I follow. Challenge # 3 Coming soon!

Any predictions on swells for the rest of the winter?

We just have to wait and see.

What new projects are you and Ikaika currently working on?

Top Secret!!! Wait till you see what’s next!!!

What kind of backup support and film crew did you have with you?

Uncle Bobo, Dane, and da boys take care when we go to Maui. Besides them, we brought a few good friends to film and shoot. Amen, Bo, Pear Tomata and Chris. When you travel and chase big waves around you have to make sure you have people you can be comfortable with and that fit in, otherwise they could end up being a thorn in your side which will take from what you need to concentrate on. Surviving!!! We always bring our good luck charm. The only menehuni left that I know, Fabio Franco the smallest surfer in the world.

Who in your mind were some of the standout teams during the December 15th session at Jaws/Peahi?

Dave and Laird were by far the standout team!!! Besides that, it looked like everyone was trying to survive or run for the shoulder. Actually Buzzy and Archie had it going on. Honu and Ian were catching some big ones, Carlos and Eraldo held their own like always, as far as teams go. There were a few other guys who did well as a one man show. Oh, yea Dan and Mark were charging!!!

Who are your current sponsors?

My partners, not sponsors are, No Fear clothing, SoBe beverages, Brewer surfboards, West Suits, 77 Skateboards, PTA films, Future Fins, Liquid Force, Slippery, Don Joy Kneer brace, and Carver

Thanks, G-Mac!

Thank you as always for your support. BTW, Eric, I heard you charged a few. That’s awesome and now you know how heavy this wave is!!!

The conclusion to my day:

Early that afternoon on December 15th, I finally made the decision to nut up and ride my first wave at Jaws. Actually, I have to say that it was mostly because my partner Chuck Patterson said, “If you don’t go, you’ll never know”. So I grabbed the rope and headed out to the lineup.

I clearly remember thinking, WOW! this is it, I’m in the zone and the time has come. It was such an amazing moment that only those that have been there will understand what I am talking about. Then a set started approaching, we let the first two waves go and decided to grab the third one. We were the only team going for this particular left and the wave was wide open.

As I started getting pulled into this monster swell, I made the decision to hold on to the rope just a bit longer because I knew I didn’t want to be too deep in the throat of my first wave. The last thing I wanted to do was take the beating of my life and get washed up on the rocks. I had already witnessed enough beatings in one session and although I knew my chances were 50/50, I still wanted to ride a wave, but safely and wisely.

All I remember is a very long and fast drop. For a split second, I looked back into this horseshoe like pit as this mountain size wall of water was getting ready to explode next to me and the right was going inside out into another realm. I remember thinking that I was glad I didn’t let go any earlier and maybe I should have held on a bit longer. At that moment it was all about staying focused and making the drop. I got to the bottom and made my turn back up into the face of this giant wall of water and b-lined it straight until I found the shoulder and pulled out of the wave.

At that very moment, I looked back to see Pete Cabrinha making a hard bottom turn on yet another monster left and then it hit me like a ton of bricks. The reality of where I was, what I was doing and what I had just accomplished had been a process of four years in the making. It was so overwhelming that I had tears in my eyes at that moment.

The next day was 1/2 the size with only a few teams out. Laird and Dave were one of those teams and it was great to share waves with such legends and truly experience another serial moment. I had interviewed Laird over the phone in the past but had never met him personally and I finally had the opportunity to do so. This was my second time meeting Dave and as I introduced myself to Laird, I threw a big smile their way and Mahalos were exchanged.

There are those that would say I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time and I was lucky I didn’t take a beating on my first wave. I would like to say, yes I was truly lucky but, “Luck is when preparation, commitment, and training meets opportunity!”

(c) 2008