Greg Long on the set of Chasing Mavericks. ©Ed Grant grantsgraphics.com
Among the many talented and borderline insane big wave surfers to paddle into the world's largest waves, one stands out for his many accomplishments both competitively and in breaking new ground. He's surfed one of the largest and scariest waves in the world, Cortes Bank, and has both towed and paddled into the behemoth wave. He is one of the pioneers of paddling into the gargantuan waves that break off Maui's Pe'ahi reef better known as the infamous Jaws. He regularly gets barreled at one of the heaviest beach breaks in the world at Puerto Escondido. Most refer to him as the greatest big wave surfer on the planet. He is of course Greg Long.
In essence, Long has become the unofficial ambassador to big wave surfing, and rightfully so. Long is the only surfer to win all three prestigious big wave surfing contests in the history of the sport. Long was victorious at the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational in 2009 (Kelly Slater finished in second), the Maverick's Surf Contest in 2008 and the Red Bull Big Wave Africa contest at Dungeons in 2003.
Long's competitive accomplishments are unmatched, he handles himself incredibly well, and all in all there is an overwhelming consensus amongst his peers that Long is a genuine, good person.
And while Long continues to push the boundaries of big wave surfing, particularly with paddling, Long has been making more news lately for his work in the new Hollywood surf film Chasing Mavericks that will be mass released on October 26th in theaters across the U.S.
In the film, which focuses on the late big wave surfer Jay Moriarity and his relationship with mentor Frosty Hesson, Long makes appearances as an actor and as Jay Moriarity's surf double. It's a new role for Long, who spent months in the frigid waters of Maverick's and various other shoots near Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz playing a major part in a Hollywood film that is being distributed worldwide.
My interview with Long took place earlier this year, as filming of the movie was near completion. Long talked about many things, including his experience making the film, hanging out with the movie's star Gerard Butler, chasing a swell that hit multiple big wave breaks, how his approach to competing and freesurfing differs, and which big wave terrifies him the most. Here is an exclusive interview with arguably the greatest big wave surfer on the planet, Greg Long.
Cyrus: I've interviewed you a lot and from the first time on to now it's like night and day. You sound like an absolute professional just talking at this particular time. You probably can sit in this seat tomorrow and kind of just keep going like a champ. So the movie Chasing Mavericks, which is starring Gerard Butler, is based on Jay Moriarty's life. Are you an actor, are you doing stunts, are you doing both? What's your exact role in the film?
Greg: I'm doing both. I actually do have an acting role, my character doesn't have a name but we're kind of these elusive figures that Frosty was going up and surfing Maverick's with in the earliest years before anybody really knew about it. So again, myself, Peter Mel, and Zach Wormhoudt are playing those three characters who are actually labeled as the "Magnificent 3." So kind of no-name, enigmatic figures that are just sort of there. The reason they actually chose us to do it was we have some speaking lines on the water and a lot of dramatic paddling shots when it's big. So rather than getting normal actors to do it they had to find some surfers who could pull it off. I was a little hesitant at first, it's a world I never really thought of myself being a part of, the Hollywood acting scene. But it was fun. It was a great challenge and interesting to see the whole production of it.
I'm also going to be doing some of the surfing doubling for Jay as well. When the days come I've got my quiver of wetsuits from my character to then what Jay's wearing and Jay's surfboard. I'll be thrown out in the mix to try and get a couple of dramatic surfing shots as well. So that's been the most fun. The sessions the other day where it's just us surfing and doing what we do obviously for the production and seeing the footage has been absolutely astounding. No one has ever witnessed big wave surfing before thru the lenses that they're capturing it with. It's going to be incredible when it's finished.
Cyrus: So basically the production aspect is finished except for your surfing scenes where you're playing Jay Moriarty's stunt double?
Greg: That's it. Basically all the acting has been finished. Gerry took off and embarked on new and different projects. It's the surfing stuff and all the second unit stuff, which is everything that takes place in the water and on the water that's still yet to be filmed. Those that are basically condition specific. So any shots where they needed somebody in the ocean when it's big and stormy. Now they're waiting for the day that it's big and stormy so there's continuity with the story line. We're just waiting basically to have the film and hopefully get all the data that they need to finish it off, which I'm sure they will.
Cyrus: You call him Gerry, where his real name is Gerard Butler which means you're clearly on a little closer level to him than most other people. Were you hanging out with Gerard Butler when the cameras are off. Are you guys going out at nights and getting crazy?
Greg: Yeah, I got to spend a lot of time with him. He's a class act, a really fun guy to be around. It's incredible to see someone that well-known around the world and just how well he deals with the public. You'd think someone with his kind of stature and recognition, he'd get tired of socializing. But he goes out there and he lives it up. He's just a great person. As you were saying early when he showed up on your TV show it seemed like he was hung over from partying too much the night before, funny enough the guy hasn't had a drink in 15 years but he still goes out there and just has the time of his life in socializing (this interview was conducted before Butler checked himself into rehab for an addiction to prescription medication).
Cyrus: That's true? He really hasn't had a drink in 15 years?
Greg: Nope, he doesn't drink at all. He's just an off-the-wall character and a genuine, incredibly nice human being. So I really enjoyed my time hanging out with him on the set and off. Especially surfing with him, he's as passionate as I've ever seen somebody for picking it up only a couple months ago. He progressed incredibly well, just a tremendous athlete to begin with. Yeah it's been a fun adventure, the whole project.
Cyrus: I don't know if you're single or not these days but if you are I'm sure those must have been awesome nights to hang out with the guy wherever you guys went. Just to get his entrails.
Cyrus: You've accomplished pretty much everything there is to accomplish in big wave surfing. You've surfed Cortes Bank, you've won all the major contests, and you're the only big wave surfer to do all that. You grew up in San Clemente and I believe in your teenage years you started hitting big waves. Who inspired you to be a big wave surfer? Were there any surfers who were surfing big waves when you were that age that you really looked up to that inspired you?
Greg: Yeah, there was an amazing big wave surfing contingent coming out of Southern California here at the time. Most notable probably Mike Parsons. At the same time the McNulty brothers who I happened to be friends with at the time as well. One of the younger up and coming ones, a guy by the name of John Walla who was actually dating my sister at the time was down there with the guys on a regular basis. That was right around the time when I was about 14 years old, 15 years old that I really, you know, I had been watching it and seeing all the photos and videos in the magazines in the years leading up to it when I really wanted to go down there and check it out. So I had all these older San Clemente locals to look up to and really inspire me. It was actually John Walla who took me down to Todos Santos for the first time. Undoubtedly had it not been for those circumstances I probably wouldn't have had those opportunities presented to me in those early years which ultimately led to my world being consumed by big wave surfing. It quickly became my passion.
As well as my up-bringing, my father was a lifeguard for 38 years so I grew up in the ocean with diving, swimming, fishing with a thorough understanding and comfort being in the water. So all those things coupled together really just created the perfect environment to foster a big wave lifestyle for me. I'm really fortunate to have had those opportunities.
Cyrus: You've done so much and a lot of people look up to you. I'm not sure where you got more of your fame and your claim from, whether it's because you've won all those Billabong XXL awards for all your big wave accomplishments, but then you've also won all these contests. What do you like more? Do you like the contests more or do you like going out there without any sort of restrictions and just doing what you do?
Greg: The contests are fun. I've never been a fan of, well I take that back. There's one side that I like is, that when you're out there within these time constraints and competing it really forces you out of your comfort level. My normal approach when I go out and surf big wave, is that I'm happy to go out there and sit and if I only catch three to four waves throughout an entire session that's fine with me. I make sure they're very calculated, and looking for the biggest waves. When you go out there in a heat you now have 45 minutes to catch two waves. So you're going to be pushed to go on waves you normally wouldn't have which, looking in hindsight, some of the best waves of my life have come during these contests that I might not have taken the chance and gone had it not been for being in the heat.
Greg: In the same sense, being in a competitive environment tends to bring out a lot of the negative aspects that people don't appreciate. That the competitiveness and hassling in the water really takes away from the root of why we're out there. It dilutes that overall feeling. There's nothing like spending the whole day on the water and just laughing and sharing waves with your friends, and there's a lot of respect and camaraderie throughout the big wave surfing community, which is another part of why I'm so attracted to riding big waves. So the competition can tend to just throw a different sort of wrench in the mix and some people's personalities change. Ultimately, my surfing has never been about going and having to win contests or XXLs. I've always had goals to do these things but it really just boiled down to whenever I go surf I want to ride the very biggest and best waves that I can whether it's in a heat or whether it's free surfing around the world. I've been fortunate enough to be able to have the support from my sponsors to go to these places and spend extended periods of time in South Africa, Hawaii, chasing waves up and down the west coast. When you're given that chance to surf big waves on a regular basis and be there for every big swell, the chances of you riding the biggest waves obviously increase. So again, I've been fortunate enough to be at the right places at the right time on a few different occasions.
Cyrus: You've surfed pretty much every big wave in the world, or at least those that we're aware of, and also some extremely heavy waves that don't necessarily classify as big waves but pretty much are. Out of all of them, which scares you the most? Which one honestly makes you apprehensive a bit when you're out in the water?
Greg: The most terrifying wave for me, well two of them. Teahupo'o, I've never actually surfed it when it's been at that tow size. It terrifies me to death that, you know, it's one of those things with big waves you can train for a lot of situations. Train to hold your breath if you wipe out for extended periods of time. If you fall there you're really at the mercy of the wave as to whether or not you're going to hit the reef. That's something that mentally I haven't been able to get my head around yet. So I haven't dabbled in the big tow-in size waves yet there. But I would have to say the one that terrifies me the most is Jaws. My very first attempt at towing there when it was big I nearly killed myself multiple times in the same day. I haven't towed it since, at that size it's a different level. Ironically enough, now we've gone back and started paddling it which is equally as terrifying but I'm just a bit more comfortable paddling than I am towing I guess. So I feel a little bit better but nevertheless, that wave the way it breaks, how much energy it has, how fast it moves, how windy it is, there's nothing easy about it. It's downright terrifying.
Cyrus: Just from the pictures, Jaws, in my opinion, always looks the scariest. When we conducted our first interview many years ago you had no sponsors. It was long overdue for the surf industry to truly recognize you both as a person and as a surfer. Now you have some big sponsors taking care of you. Who are those sponsors paying your bills?
Greg: Main sponsors, Billabong, XL wetsuits, Von Zipper sunglasses, Ocean Minded sandals, and the newest edition being Peligroso Tequila.
Greg: It's an exciting one, let me tell you! (Laughing)
Cyrus: That's the wild card no doubt! Greg, thank you so much for taking all this time out. It was a pleasure.
Greg: Thanks for having me back, always great to talk to you.