“There’s a new motorway services on the A30!” Chris exclaimed; his soft South African accent animated as he strode into Watershed showing no effects of the 40hr journey he’d just finished. The combination of soya lattes, excitement and sleep deprivation had him infectiously wired for the UK launch and signing of his book, Stoked.
Seeing record breakers in a familiar real-life setting can be a little outer-worldly, but Chris casually chatted away with an unflustered air whilst preparing his laptop and soon the room settled with drinks in hand to listen with intent.
The evening was held at Watershed in central Newquay, the UK’s cultural hub of surfing and home to its only big wave spot, The Cribbar. Chris Bertish is no stranger to the reef, having spent years in Cornwall watching and riding the waves whilst collaborating with friends to produce new big wave equipment.
“If you’d walked along Little Fistral (beach) during those winters you might’ve seen piles and piles of pistachio shells. That’s where I would sit and watch the Cribbar break, planning my paddle out and focussing on the bathymetry of the seabed.”
His book Stoked is the story of how a love affair with the ocean drove his determination to ride and conquer the world’s biggest waves; breaks that included Dungeons, Waimea and the holy grail of big wave surfing, Mavericks. In 2010 Chris won the Mavericks Big Wave Invitational in some of the heaviest conditions ever recorded at the spot, and with the skill of a seasoned storyteller he shared some experiences of that day.
“How long can you all hold your breath for? Take a deep breath in, ready, set, GO”. We inhaled and held it as he walked us through a wipe out at Mavericks, describing the violence of the hit, depth of the water, speed of the drag and the feeling of all oxygen slowly seeping from your system. 4 minutes in (having all exhaled before even reaching 2), Chris said “Then you hear a roar over head; the next set wave has broken and it all starts again.”
The mantra of the evening was “Prepare for the worst, hope for the best”. These were the days before floatation jackets, of climbing up the leash of your tomb-stoning board and when safety teams weren’t as practiced at rescuing in 40ft surf. It was at moments like these, or when he felt himself wedged in an underwater cave after wiping out at Backdoor, Pipeline that Chris turned to his favourite piece of advice; “When you feel yourself panicking, don’t panic!” something much easier said than done.
Do you ever stop, self reflect and feel a real sense of achievement? Or do you always strive for what’s to come next?
“I’m happy with what I’ve done and am very fortunate to have won some the of the biggest awards possible in the sport. I don’t have anything left to prove, I just go surfing now because I love it, am passionate about it and it puts a smile on my face.
But I’m always looking forward to something, I haven’t surfed any waves above 6ft in the last four months because this next project is too big to sacrifice to an injury. It’ll help change the lives of 3million children so the incentive for success is high.”
Chris will attempt to stand-up paddle the Atlantic Ocean, 7’500km unassisted on a specially designed SUP for charity. The task is mammoth; a solitary paddle never previously undertaken with a million hurdles to prepare for.
“But the word impossible isn’t in my dictionary” said Chris. “I’m Possible”.
Featured image Richard Hallman. All others Watershed