Do you know how much a static cubic metre of water weighs? One tonne. Now imagine a wave 30 metres high, the same wide, that’s been hurtling across the ocean for hundreds, even thousands of miles. How much do you think that weighs? I’m sure some bright spark could do the maths, all I know is that wave wouldn’t hesitate in killing you.
I got to catch up with Carlos Burle, Brazilian big wave surfer, champion of the first ever big wave world tour back in 1998 and the man who arguably rode the biggest wave ever surfed in 2013. We talked about his journey into big wave surfing, dealing with fear and setting targets for yourself.
If Carlos ever decides to hang up his wetsuit, he’s definitely got the skills of a life coach
I was hoping for an interview, I came out the other side feeling inspired. If Carlos ever decides to hang up his wetsuit, he’s definitely got the skills of a life coach.
When I see people riding those waves, I always wonder what they’re thinking in the lead up to it and if fear even comes into the equation. I dove in and asked Carlos what he thought fear was. He took a moment and replied,
“When you talk about fear to me, you talk about the emotion that is very important to keep me alive. I think we all should feel fear, otherwise we would be dead by now. Some guys that are really crazy, they have a tendency to die early.”
I tried imagining these other people, the people a man who regularly puts his life on the line described as really crazy.
But my thoughts were cut off quickly…
“the point here is train yourself physically and mentally to overcome those situations. That’s what I did in my life. I always like to push myself to the limit and get involved with those things that will heighten my adrenalin. But I always respect that I was getting training and I should train myself also. But the problems are there, you’re doing something that can kill you. We all know that. You gotta respect. I have to understand and respect the situation.”
The consequences of falling in a 100m sprint are slightly less severe than in Carlos’s profession
He talked with a calmness and pragmatism I often hear in professionals. During his training he breaks down tasks step by step to reach the final goal. It’s what I’d expect of a professional athlete, although I consider the consequences of falling in a 100m sprint slightly less severe than in Carlos’s profession.
He went on,
“I can’t afford to have a routine where I’m not going to eat well, I’m not going to sleep well or not train at all. Those times didn’t exist in my life ever. When I was young I was focused. From the beginning to now I was always focused on the result.”
In my opinion, there’s a big difference in rocking up to you’re local break, having fun and scoring some waves, to what the big wave surfers are doing. I wanted to find out more about the journey he has taken to ride giant waves and get inside why he does what he does.
“It’s more than just physical,” he said, “the best trip that I did in my life was an inner trip to understand myself.”
I didn’t quite understand, thankfully he explained,
“the more you know yourself the easier it is for you to be happy. If you don’t know yourself very well you’re going to follow others.”
Some real emotion started to make its way into his words.
“MAN if you know yourself it’s much easier. If you don’t know yourself you just get fucking lost. You know? It’s too much information.”
He came back to his point, slightly composing himself.
“So the best trip in life is the trip you do inside yourself, the trip inside your mind. That’s related to what I have done my whole life, especially when it comes to big wave surfing. That shows how I love to drive my life, with a bit of excitement but a lot of respect. I am here and I have to take the best of this opportunity which is life. There isn’t any better moment than today. Why should I be dreaming about the future too much, or regretting about the past. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’m still making mistakes. We’re just a blink, don’t try to push too hard on yourself.”
His journey to riding big waves started off with a lot of yoga and meditation, but to get to where he wanted to be physical barriers needed to be broken.
“I realised that wasn’t enough for me to surf really big waves so I started to do some workout training, hard workout training to be able to overcome all those situations you face when you are surfing big waves. At the beginning I wasn’t surfing the waves that I am now, I was training cardio and a little bit of stuff for my muscles. Then I realised that to really surf bigger waves you have to have a stronger body on your joints. Otherwise you’re going to get yourself disconnected. I learnt that I had to get more and more stronger, physically and mentally to face those fears. Face those obstacles and be able to succeed.”
As we talked, Carlos revealed that the physical act of riding waves wasn’t the only challenge. He had to overcome obstacles within the surf community also. When he first got to Hawaii, the place seemed like paradise. It was everything and more to what he had seen in films and magazines whilst growing up. But there was an element to the place which the films hadn’t prepared him for.
I wasn’t born here, I’m not a local, I’m not going to get respect as you do
He told me,
“I fell in love, it was amazing, but I felt a little bit of prejudice because as Brazilians, we didn’t have the image of big wave surfers.”
A lot of people used to come to him and put him down, but he didn’t say a word back to them.
“I looked at them and I said to myself if you can do it, I can do it. I might have to train harder because I don’t have the same environment that you have, I wasn’t born here, I’m not a local, I’m not going to get respect as you do. But you have lungs, I have lungs, you have bones, I have bones. We’re all the same. We all have the chance to try.”
The conversation had come onto a subject Carlos felt very strongly about. He quickly continued
“People come to Maya Gabeira and say, ‘ah you can’t do it.’ But she wants to really badly, I’m the guy to help her. I’m going to be there to help anyone that wants to do anything in life. The last thing you can do in life is try, give it a try. If you’re not out of your mind, if you approach the situation professionally, you put in time training why can’t you give it a try? You never know. The results might be positive in terms of achieving your goals, or not. But in the end you’re going to learn something so it’s always positive. It’s always very important to give it a try. That’s why I have done things that people didn’t think that I was going to be able to do.”
He spoke so passionately, I was beginning to imagine myself launching down the face of a wave better described as a mountain.
But as our conversation continued, a streak to Carlos began to be evident that, amongst other factors, sets people like him apart from the small timers like myself.
“When things get harder, I have a tendency to keep my mind cooler and to focus on things that I have to do and things that have to be done at that point. I went through a lot of really hard situations in my life. The harder the situation, for me, it’s better to deal with. It’s inside me, I don’t know why. Maybe it comes from my parents and family, but I just love to be in those situations and that comes from when I was really young.”
Surfing was a form of empowerment for Carlos, helping him to come to terms with who he is and everyone around him.
“I like to help people to get into those situations because I think that would help them feel stronger, just like I did when I was young. I had so many prejudice when I started surfing. Being a big wave professional surfer helped me a lot to be respected by my family and society. I like to help people to do the same in life. To achieve their own goals.”
I wondered if, now he knows the trials and risks of a big wave surfer, he would want the same for his son or daughter. I took the opportunity to ask how he’d feel about his children wanting to ride big waves.
“Well my daughter, she doesn’t want to ride big waves so that’s over. That page is closed. I’m very happy for that. I want my son to go to school, or college.”
His tone was jovial now,
“maybe Oxford or Harvard! Surfing’s very hard on the mind and body. But on the other hand, if he wants to do it, what can I say? I’m not going to be one of those dads standing on the beach, waving or clapping, because I want them to live their own lives. I’d support anything they want to do in life. Whether that’s big wave surfing or whatever, I’d support them. My goal’s to be able to provide education and be able to provide health for them as human beings. If they want to be happy in life, that’s what I want them to have.”
It was clear from his tone that his family are a huge part of his life. With a warmth and sincerity he went on
“something that my mother said to me my whole life when I was young, ‘it doesn’t matter what you want to do in life I want you to be happy.’ That’s what I pursued. When I realised I was going the wrong way, I always had that thought, what am I doing to my mother! She gave me the freedom to choose and to be able to pursue my values and goals, now i’m turning everything back.”
“She gave me everything, she gave me love, she gave me freedom, that’s the most important thing. Freedom to choose things in life. That’s something I just want to help my children to do, just do whatever you want in life but you have to pursue happiness.”
As our conversation drew to an end, Carlos left these words ringing in my ears,
“if you’re doing something where you’re not feeling happy, think about it. Try to find happiness in everything you do. Life gives to you what you need to evolve as a human being. You’ve got to be strong and face that, I know it’s not easy, it’s super hard but that’s the way it is.”
I thought those closing sentences help sum up Carlos. A man not afraid to pursue happiness, who’s found it charging some of the biggest, and deadliest, waves ever surfed.