Greg Long Interview: Why I didn't Surf Cloudbreak

Matt Rode

by on

Updated 2383d ago

Earlier this week, a few dozen of the world’s best big wave surfers descended on Fiji and the reef known as Cloudbreak, to paddle the biggest day of surfing since 2012’s Thundercloud swell.

Current and two-time big wave world champion and numerous XXL Award winner Greg Long was one of those who dragged boards and body halfway across the world to chase this swell, but he didn't end up paddling for a single wave. Instead, he spent the entire day on water safety, putting himself into harm’s way and working tirelessly to ensure that everyone who surfed was safe. Greg had helped to resuscitate Aaron Gold early that morning, and rumour on the reef was that after Aaron was revived, Greg announced that he was going to make it his personal responsibility to see that every charger who wiped out during the day’s sessions had water safety watching them like a hawk.

Rest assured lineup, Greg Long's got your back.

Rest assured lineup, Greg Long's got your back.

© 2022 - Stu Johnson

Two days later, Cloudbreak was 4-6 foot and perfect, and Greg received his reward in the form of half a dozen snazzy backside barrels. After he retired to the channel to watch the action from a boat, we chatted to him about his decision to sacrifice his session on Monday for the safety of everyone else.

Word in the channel is that you sat everyone down after Aaron’s incident on Monday, and said that no one was going to go down without water safety watching over them—and then you volunteered to drive ski all day. Is that how it happened?
There were a couple factors influencing my decision. If it were a truly epic day, I probably would have gone out and gotten a couple. But just with how sketchy it was—the wind, a lot of chandeliers—not a lot of regularfoots had any luck at all. So I was just assessing that as part of it. There were enough of us there that we could have all taken turns on water safety, but another huge part of it was that the incident really rattled me.
I’ve been there, I’ve experienced the exact same thing, and that brought up a lot of old emotions within me.
You know, I’ve been there, I’ve experienced the exact same thing, and that brought up a lot of old emotions within me. But at the end of the day, the number one priority is that everyone gets home safe. And, given the conditions, I wasn’t too bummed about missing it. So I made arrangements to be on the ski for the day, and I actually had a blast. I enjoy doing water safety, and getting to see some of my best friends get phenomenal barrels was really special. And everyone went home safe, so that’s what matters most.

Cloudbreak may look to be setting up rather nicely here, but the reality of trying to tuck into one of these on a windy day was much different.

Cloudbreak may look to be setting up rather nicely here, but the reality of trying to tuck into one of these on a windy day was much different.

© 2022 - Stu Johnson

That must have been pretty emotional for you, watching Aaron go through something very similar to what happened to you at Cortes.
Yeah, seeing Aaron go down like that definitely brought back intense memories and emotions, and was something that I had to process. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. I’d like to think that it will be the last, but the reality is that it probably won’t be. But having gone through that, and then watching a friend almost drown, and helping to bring him back—you know, that shook me up and obviously influenced my decision as well. I’m sure that if the waves were perfect or the risk versus reward were worth it, I could have dug deep and gone out and gotten a few, but I’m happy with my decision.

Greg watches on, ready as Mike Pietsch battles the foam.

Greg watches on, ready as Mike Pietsch battles the foam.

© 2022 - Malia Johnson

Aaron probably has a lot to process right now. Having gone through a near drowning like his, I’m sure you understand pretty well what he’s going through at the moment. But it seems like you were able to bounce back pretty well from your accident—you ended up winning the big wave world championship that year, and then won another one this year. What did you have to do to get back to a positive headspace?
It was really just a matter of time. I paddled out on a big day a few weeks after that incident, and that was probably the worst thing I could have done. Guys will tell you that you have to get back on the horse and get back out there, but I think it’s important to take the time to process everything. And this year—three years after that accident at Cortes—is really the first time I have paddled out and felt 100% about being out there.

You can be as methodical in your approach as you like, but when you're out there it's a different story. Greg packed one of the biggest Jaws barrels ever during the Pe'ahi challenge, went down, but came away unscathed.

You can be as methodical in your approach as you like, but when you're out there it's a different story. Greg packed one of the biggest Jaws barrels ever during the Pe'ahi challenge, went down, but came away unscathed.

© 2022 - Kelly Cestari // WSL

Has your approach in big waves changed at all?
Yeah, definitely. I am a lot more methodical and calculated in my approach. I mean, I was never one to take unnecessary risks. But now…today is a good example. Three years ago, if you had told me Cloudbreak was big and windy and sort of weird, there would have been no question—I would have paddled out and sat out there for eight hours waiting for a specific wave. Whereas now, I can’t be bothered. If I’m not really inspired or it's not looking inviting or I’m not feeling 100%, then I don’t bother surfing. I’ll gladly sit and watch and wait for another swell, or help my friends who are out there and are motivated, whether it’s driving water safety or running support any other way. So yeah, I am just a lot choosier about when and where I put my energy into riding big waves.

Thanks Greg. We are glad both you and Aaron are alive, and appreciate having had you in the channel watching out for us the other day.
Thanks, my pleasure.