Darrick Doerner talks on the state of Big Wave Surfing
Darrick Doerner Speaks His Mind on the State of Big Wave Surfing.
ďOn my list of the top 5 best big wave towers Darrick is right up there. He goes big.Ē - Buzzy Kerbox
Darrick Doerner goes big, and he has been going big for quite some time. An Hawaiian resident for more almost 30 years, Doerner is originally from California. He first surfed at five years old in France and continued as a teenager in southern California. At 13 years old he moved to the Big Island where he ďbarely graduated from high school.Ē Growing up Doerner admired surfers from Duke Kahanamoku to Reno Abellira-surfers who surfed Hawaiian waves with style and passion.
He moved to the North Shore in 1974 and has been there ever since. Since 1974 Doerner has established himself as one of Hawaiiís most accomplished, daring and experimental watermen On January 31, 1988-Super Bowl Sunday-Doerner was surfing a giant day at Waimea Bay when he paddled into what is still considered one of the largest waves ever caught by human power. A few years later, Doerner was hand-picked by Patrick Swayze to perform the death-defying stunt at the end of Point Break. Doerner wiped out on purpose at Waimea Bay, intentionally bodysurfing to the bottom of a huge, 20-foot pit and escaping out the back.
In the early 90s, Doerner was working as a North Shore lifeguard and he watched with professional concern and professional curiosity as Buzzy Kerbox and Laird Hamilton began experimenting with boats and PWC to catch waves on the North Shoreís outer reefs, particularly at Backyards. Doerner and many other longtime North Shore surfers had become disgusted with the crowds at Waimea Bay and at some point he decided to pick up the rope.
Doerner became one of the innovators of tow surfing, bringing his lifesaving expertise and waterskills to a new kind of surfing that regularly put some of the worldís best surfers in harmís way. Tow surfing is now over 10 years old and Doerner is still at the head of the pack, regularly blowing minds with his partners Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama. It was those three who surfed Jaws for the opening sequence of the James Bond movie Die Another Day, and it is those three who are leading the way at Peahi and other outer reefs.
Now ??? years old, Doerner is a veteran waterman at the top of his game, but wiser about the risks and rewards of giant surf. Like most experienced big-wave watermen, Doerner is not comfortable talking about himself or his accomplishments, but he does have a few things to say about the state of modern big-wave surfing. He is a little concerned about the growing number of tow surfers in Hawaii and around the world, and he is a little worried that in their desire to escape the crowds, he and Laird and Buzzy Kerbox and Dave Kalama may have created a monster.
There is a lot to talk about but maybe we should begin with the ďhere and nowĒ as Gerry Lopez likes to say. Where are you here and now?
Yeah Iím on the North Shore. Iím out on the beach at Backyards. Beautiful turquoise water. The surf is about three to five feet. Iím over here with my kids and theyíre picking up trash on the beach riding around on the ATV. No shirts on. Bare feet.
Well thatís fun.
Do you own a house at Backyards?
No Iím a renter. Iíve been renting a house at Backyards from Flippy Hoffman for the last 20 years. But a couple of months ago they sold the house so I am inquiring on picking up a home out here as we speak. So with a little bit of luck and future prospects of sponsors which I havenít had for the last five years, it will all come together.
It seems like the last time I talked to a sponsor they said that they werenít really into sponsoring big wave riders which seems funny to me, because I think big wave surfing is the essence of surfing. But Eddie Rothman has been supporting me with airline tickets and getting me back and forth to Maui in trade for teaching Makua and Ryan Rawson so itís really helped me a lot. And along with that I pick up other employment that enables me to keep me in the lineup whenever the surf comes up which is great.
Youíre not lifeguarding any more.
I worked for the City and County for 20 years but basically I got tired of working for peanuts. I was kind of really into going forward but I was being held back by politics so I became a private lifeguard, working for private companies and individuals. Since 9/11 it hasnít really been paying off because everyone is a little reluctant to be taking business cruises and chartering on boats and Tavarua Island and various other places. But thatís just par for the course for what is going on in the world right now. Myself, Brian Keaulana and Terry Ahue and weíre pretty much self-employed. We are all a part of Hawaiian Water Patrol and we work most of the contests and movie productions that come to Oahu. We organize water safety and make sure that they get what they need in the can, basically. Itís a big job, Second Unit.
How much of that work do you get a year?
Enough to get by. And we share duty, too. There are a lot of individuals who are doing it: Full-time lifeguards, part-time lifeguards. So I do two or three days but Iím not too greedy because it can create problems with friendships and I try to stay open-minded. If I bank two or three days or a week Iím always going to look down the line to be able to go ďOh you know what, this guy hasnít been working for a couple of weeks and heís off for the next two or three days so why donít we slide him in for three days.Ē The SAG rate is $800 a day and that really helps the guy out. Iím a firm believer in one hand shakes another.
What kinds of jobs recently have you done?
Well I worked with Don King and Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama to shoot the opening sequence for that James Bond movie, and then there was Blue Crush which I stayed away from.
Why did you stay away from Blue Crush?
Well I was on Maui doing the Bond stunt and I made a substantial amount you know, but Uncle Sam destroyed me. When I came back there was a solid crew for Blue Crush that had been working already for a couple of weeks and needed to keep working. Like I said Iím not too greedy. I had bagged Big Wednesday and I did Point Break and James Bond and In Godís Hands. I did a lot and figured it was time for the new crew to get some time. Right now weíre working in a new crew: Kai Borg and Kala Alexander and Makua Rothman and theyíre really good watermen and weíre basically breaking them into what we do. Theyíre really good backup and theyíre better than backup theyíre our front guys. That allows Hawaiian Water Patrol to have more employees qualified so we can take up more space in jobs. There is a lot of action coming here right now.
Brian Keaulana is busy full time.
Yeah Brian is our pointer. He is our point man. He is a logistics personality. He is a genius waterman with a heart of gold. He has the biggest heart in the world. I donít think heís ever said the word, ĎNo.í and lived up to it, you know? What Iíve learned greatly from Brian is he always has an alternate route, you know. You get upset about something turn it around and put it in a positive perspective. Right now he is at Buffaloís Big Board meet. Terry Ahue is over there and Iím over here doing a Roxy photo shoot for a week. And I was a little concerned with this Roxy shoot we are doing because it involves girls and a tow segment. At first I was reluctant to do that but Brian and I discussed it and turned it around to make the public see what these girls go through to learn to tow and and how difficult it is. Maybe the public will see itís not as easy as it looks. Everyone thinks itís so easy to do but no one thinks of the gravel truck or possible death or drowning or actually getting so scared that you never surf again. I have been scared a few times in the past three years to the point where I go to the lineup now and I go, ĎWell, I donít have to do this today. I can just cruise. Ride the shoulder. Be safe. I have nothing to prove and I want to go home and see my kid.í And then you have the other side where guys are really pushing the envelope and almost dying by a hair and not even realizing it in a sense. I was doing the same thing at that age, too. So you know if you go through parts in your life where you charge it and charge it even more and then you still charge it but youíre a little safer and then youíre real safe but you still charge it and then youíre senior so you get to teach and share a whole lot longer than your youth. It all balances out.
You say youíve been scared a couple of times.
Riding Peahi is the scariest thing that anyone can do, because the more you do it the more afraid you become of her because you look at what sheís doing and your eyes canít believe what I see happening in front of you. Itís hard to believe. As much as I go out there, which is every time it breaks, I am awestruck at what happens: the amount of pressure, how big the barrel is and how much energy is transpiring in one little place and how easily she can claim someoneís life. B out there as much as I have I have seen some really heavy shit and I am in a position now where I donít have to do that and I can hold back.
Um, two winters ago on Christmas Day you went left on two giant waves. Giant. Is that holding back?
Yeah we were going left you know. Like Uncle Gerry was saying, ďWell what the hell are you doing going left?!Ē Well weíre just opening up another envelope, Uncle Gerry. And Iím doing it on a 5í 11Ē. That is all I ride. What Laird and Dave Kalama and I are doing now is composed of 13 years of pushing, evolving, pursuing the things that I envisioned and working with Gerry Lopez and Dick Brewer exclusively to come up with the ultimate riding machine. Which is the ultimate tow board. One board fits all sizes. I only tow surf when it is 20 feet plus because I am an avid surfer and I love this feeling of paddling in with a pair of shorts and not having to deal with the preparation and the gas and the Jet Ski and the foul plug and the tow rope and the partners which are really hard thing to find. Because I only have two partners Dave Kalama and Laird Hamilton and anyone else I hook up with is like going backward 10 years so I would rather not go there.
Iíve always said that you are like Ginger Rogers to Fred Astaire. He got more fame and notoriety, but she had to do everything he did, backwards.
Laird gets a lot of attention but you are right there with him. Iím thinking of Christmas Day two years ago when you and Laird towed a big day at Peahi. You pulled into a giant barrel on the rights and went left on a couple of monsters.
A few years back we had a day out there where I struck those three barrels in a row. First time ever, really. And Laird was with Kalama and I was with my good brudda Billy and um I stuck tíree in a row and Laird was pointing at Kalama to drive him deeper and then Laird stuck one and when Laird sticks anything itís like you canít match it. But it was like I provoked him and I provoke him and I still do. Well that Christmas morning two years ago we were going right and had it to ourselves and then the crew showed up and it was like, ďWeeeeeeeell letís go over there and ride those lefts.Ē So Laird towed me into this one wave and I went left and it wasÖ well if I would have wiped out I would have just been mauled.
I donít want to think about it.
I donít want to think about it either. And this year November we were reluctant to go ride a lot because there were 20 skis there buzzing around and no one near the lefts so we went left a lot because it was more peaceful. We were able to surf the wave instead of around tow ropes and JetSki tracks and three or four guys coming in on the shoulder. Thereís not a whole lot of respect going on until the last minute they realized we were going and then they pull off. But theyíre pushing and shoving us all the way and most of these guys donít have 25 years of surfing. Combine each guy on the ski and surfing and you hope you have 25 years of paddle surfing. And it seems like most of the guys I see donít have 25 years and that should be a like a grandfather rule. One guy has to have five and the other guy has to have 20. Twenty five years should be the Golden Rule. But itís not. They can go down and buy a Double D Gerry Lopez tow board or a Brewer five for a dollar and then you can go buy a JetSki and a tow rope and the next swell youíre out there. I mean to tell you: ďDid you see that guy? Ooooooooooh!Ē Itís unbelievable and that even scares you, watching that stuff going on. On that November day I plucked guys out of the middle of nowhere and there was another guy lying on the ski with no guy driving. He was lying on the sled with no guy on the ski and he went on the rocks and then there was two skis on the rocks and there was one in the river bed and another one over in the cove and it was like ĎGod maybe this is going to happen more with a lot of guys washing in.í
Twenty skis in the water?
Thatís an understatement. Have you seen any of the footage? It looks like the 405 freeway. Guys going left, guys going right. I heard guys were bouncing off of skis and each other. Five guys going on one wave. How do you kick out with a Jet Ski when there are three to your right and two to your left? I canít even imagine. And then thereís the Billabong XX and then thereís the XXL and the Brazil World Cup all in the same lineup. Itís a cluster fuck. I love surfing big waves and surfing with my buddies and I donít want to have nothing to do with any of that. Donít tie my name in with any of it. We want to be more stealth in where we go and what we do and when we do it. And hopefully these guys wonít find us. It was inevitable that weíd have to put up with what we created. Weíre going to have to live with it.
Seems to me you guys started to do this to get away from the cluster fucks at Waimea and the other traditional paddle places.
We went out there to get away from all of that. From the beginning. Waimea Bay was overrun with all these ďbig wave surfersĒ so we went looking around in the Outer Reefs. We were even seeded in the Aikau, or the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau and they came out to get us. Mel Puíu came out to get us and we said: ĒThank you brudda but no thank you.Ē And Mel looked around and he understood. Big Kenny was out there but he chased the Golden Carrot. He went in to chase the Golden Carrot but he said that was the hardest thing he had ever done. So Laird and I surfed the Outer Reefs all day at 25 feet, straight offshore all by ourselves. We had discovered the Unridden Realm and it was the most awesome feeling. Probably like surfing Sunset in the 40s or the 30s with no one around. Maybe like our friend at Mavericks surfing there all by himself and then he took some guys in there and then Surfer and Surfing showed up and I told him ďBe careful. Be careful.Ē And then he was going to throw the Quiksilver contest and I said, ďBe careful. Be careful.Ē And now itís out of his hands, isnít it? He cries. It hurts him. It hurts us. It probably drives him to drinking. More than he should.
I was involved in all of that. I was SURFER Magazine that came to Jeff Clark. I had known about the place since 1976 because my dad lived about a mile from there. When it all started to break, Half Moon Bay was nowhere and I said to Jeff, ďItís up to you. We can break it open or leave it alone.Ē He said, ďBreak it open. Mavericks will take care of itself.Ē
It will take care of itself in a long course of time but there are going to be problems. When you have these wild cowboys on Jet Skis that donít respect the surfers out there charging through the lineup well youíre going to have problems. Iím surprised the surfers havenít gone back to the boat ramp and pounded out the guys coming in on the skis. Even though they are born and raised there the shit is going to happen, dude. And the northern California crew they are hard core thereís no way you could pay me to go out and surf in that condition in the water. Cold, bruddah, you know? Jeff Clark and Peter and them, theyíre awesome.
Arenít there a lot of people towing at Backyards these days? It must be like having a bunch of leaf blowers in your ear.
Oh yeah. I cringe when a bunch of skis drive by on the trailer or every time I hear one fire up across the street from my house. There are 13 Jet Skis on the lot in front of my house. Itís like Private Parking. Thereís probably 50 JetSkis on the North Shore. I hear them every morning the surf is bigger than six feet. (He makes an annoying Jet Ski noise). Thereís one firing up like a rooster and then three more and five more and itís not even 8:00 in the morning and there are 10 JetSkis out in the water in front of my house here at Backyards. I wonder when Iím going to go out today, or maybe I wonít. And then I hear the guys going out at noon and then I hear the guys coming in and around here they rinse their skis for 35 to 40 minutes every time they use them so itís kind of a joke. You have to hear that every time they use them. Maybe they should put them on the trailer and go home and rinse them but no they rinse them right here. And I live right here so I hear every little ski fire up and then turn off and itís very depressing. The last thing I want to see and hear is a ski unless it is 20-feet plus and then, fine.
Well they outlawed leaf blowers in Beverly Hills and snowmobiles in Yellowstone and PWC are outlawed all over the place.
Itís not just a problem here, itís on Maui itís in California. Itís everywhere now. I call it mini-towings. Mini tow-ins. Itís new. Itís fun. They catch such small waves where they really canít catch big waves, but it kind of bores me. I mean I think that surfing is surfing and when you canít catch waves no more, that is when you pull the ski out. But, damn. I just wish it would have lasted a little bit longer. Now with the money and the XXL and all this money being thrown into big-wave surfing, itís the thing to do. I think the money part is going to ruin the whole beauty of the sport. I know it is. I mean, what the fuck, Iíve been surfing big waves for a long time and Iíve been tow surfing a long time and Gerlach and Mike Parsons are making six digits on something we gave them to do, you know? Iím not making a dime on it. Iím not crying about it. Iím being a man about it. But that is just the direction that it is going.
So you donít resent them at all?
No I donít resent them at all. Itís just that theyíre from the mainland and I live here and that is the difference. So, theyíre there and Iím here.
There have been some amazing things. What did you think of Garret McNamaraís tuberide at Jaws?
Well Garret is an outrageous surfer and he just barely escaped death. Heís riding the equipment that we developed with Dick Brewer so basically he just had to ask for what we already had. Heís riding the fins we developed with Future Fin Systems-the computerized fins. So thatís 10 years off. His surfing capability is that he is a really really good surfer. Itís his time. He deserves what he is doing. But even a blind squirrel can find a hole.
In the tow surfing fraternity, who do you admire the most? What about Peter and them at Mavericks?
A lot of the tow surfers now never windsurfed so they donít understand that whipping effect. I see a lot of the tow ins where they get dragged in, instead of the sling shot. Thatís why you see a lot of the waves that Laird and I have where were in the wave so far in advance, because we combine sailboarding with surfing and snowboarding it really helps us on the rope and we go home and study. Peter Mel and them are really good but they need some work on teamwork: pickups. It takes time and when you make the same mistake over and over you donít learn unless you go home and figure out what youíve done right and what youíve done wrong and then you combine that.. And also where there are surfers you donít go. And I think that maybe Peter and his partners should be making an example of not going over to Mavericks when there are guys out surfing. Even though the guys out surfing arenít catching any waves. I mean we wonít go tow surf Waimea Bay. We donít. Itís just a Golden Rule and I donít think those guys should be tow surfing Mavericks until itís Unridden Realm and there are no surfers. Period. And when that Unridden Realm has happened at Mavericks there ainít no surfers, are there? Nowhere near it because you canít be there. And thatís when they make their move. Show the world that itís a beautiful thing and this is how itís done. Not when there are surfers out. I feel for surfers being out there and all of a sudden there are these guys on the shoulder and damn if you donít envy them but thatís not why weíre out there. Weíre out there to paddle in.
Have you ever yelled at anyone for tow surfing where you were paddling?
I donít yell at anyone. I call them over and say, ďYeah we came out here to surf and could you please go somewhere else until we leave?Ē and they go, ĎOkay no problem.í Iíve been fortunate though because I handle things in a good way. Iíve heard of surfers flipping tow surfers off and vice versa and thereís a big problem down at Hammerheads because there are some guys go down there a lot when there are surfers and even when there arenít surfers. All people have to do is follow the rules but I donít think a lot of people even know the rules.
Rule Number One:
Rule Number Two: If tow surfing was only for high surf warnings there wouldnít be a problem.
Rule Number Three: If most of the surfers had 25 years of experience or more, there wouldnít be a problem.
Big-Wave-Surfing - Surfersvillage
Ben Marcus at BenMarcus@Towsurfer.com
Dave Kalama at DaveKalama@Towsurfer.com
Check out more at the Towsurfer.com website.
Official contest website, reports, photos, results.
Rule Number Two:
If tow surfing was only for high surf warnings there wouldnít be a problem.
Rule Number Three:
If most of the surfers had 25 years of experience or more, there wouldnít be a problem.
Big-Wave-Surfing - Surfersvillage