Reef McIntosh and Derek Dunfee On Big Wave Surfing

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Reef McIntosh and his pal Mark Healey at Waimea Bay. Photo: Bielmann/SPL


Heavy Water: Reef McIntosh and Derek Dunfee On Big Wave Surfing
With the winter surf season quickly approaching us, we took some time to see what a couple of the worlds best big wave surfers have been doing in order to prepare for the 2012/13 winter surf season. It’s interesting to note that La Jolla’s Derek Dunfee and Hawaiian charger Reef McIntosh are polar opposite in preparation, but always tend to snag the biggest and baddest waves of the day.—JC

TransWorld SURF: What do you to prepare for the big stuff?

Reef McIntosh: I surf the small stuff to prepare for the big stuff. You can prepare as much as you want but I’ve always found that surfing is the best preparation. It’s great to keep your cardio up, do yoga, and all that stuff but I’m not that disciplined and I find that stuff boring.

Derek Dunfee: Last year I worked with a trainer named Rob Garcia and created a handbook of what we did. So this year I’ve been using that and doing a lot of running, bike riding, and long paddles. I just try to stay super active and get my strength and conditioning up. After seeing a few guys drown, Sion Milosky and Noel Robinson, it freaked me out and made me take these extra steps to be as prepared as I could.

So it’s the morning of the first big swell. What’s going through your head and what’s your routine?

Reef McIntosh: Get up and eat some toast—but no coffee when it’s big! When I drink coffee I tend to skitz out and make bad decisions. And I’m not one to paddle out in the dark—I like to watch it for about an hour. Drink water while I’m doing that, stretch, pace around the yard. I like to take a nice paddle out and get in tune with the ocean. I also like to catch a few warm up waves, smaller ones, and get the feel for my big canoe-like board.

Derek Dunfee: I wake up and drink a huge glass of water. After that I’ll eat something—I’ve been into oatmeal lately. Then I’ll have a small cup of coffee or shot of espresso. It’s kind of a steady buzz and I don’t get out of the water feeling nauseous or overly hungry.

So you’re warmed up, at the spot, and feeling good. What gets you over the ledge on a big one?

Reef McIntosh: Seeing other people do it. I get psyched to see a guy like Kohl Christensen or Dave Wassel get a good one. It gives you motivation—you definitely feed off the other guys out there. There’s an underlying competitiveness out there, that’s how it gets pushed to the next level.

Derek Dunfee: First of all, I love to surf. I’ll surf twice a day all week so when I do get out in the big stuff and finally get a bomb, I can pop up and be super in tune with my surfing. So I’ll just paddle straight to where I want to sit and try not to think too much. It’s hard to turn your brain off like that but sometimes I’m feeling so good and in tune with the ocean that it comes easy. That said, I’ve had days where it was big and perfect but I paddled in because I just wasn’t feeling it. I try not to force it.

How do you conquer the fear?

Reef McIntosh: Either you eat shit or get a really good wave. If you eat it and don’t die, you’re like, ‘That wasn’t too bad, and I didn’t die.’ That or you get a bomb and you’re like ‘That was a bomb, I want a bigger one!’ That said, if your inside is telling you ‘No, it’s too big,’ you probably shouldn’t go out. Like the first time I surfed Mavericks, I was thinking, ‘F—k, I don’t even belong out here.’ I was lost and following people around kinda clueless. I got four waves though.

Derek Dunfee: It’s not something that just happens—it comes with time. I think that’s why guys like Nathan Fletcher, Bruce Irons, and Shane Dorian are the best big wave riders in the world—they’re all like 5-10 years older than me and super experienced. Anyway, on a big day I’ll wake up and I’m kinda nervous but you can’t feed into that. I know I’ve trained mentally and physically for months so I’m like ‘I’m ready for it.’

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve got regarding surfing big waves?

Reef McIntosh: Take baby steps and slowly get comfortable in bigger surf. Start at somewhere like Sunset when it’s big, then slowly work your way up. Hit a couple outer reefs when it’s breaking but not huge. Then, when you’re out on a really big day sit way wide in the channel and take it all in nice and slow. There’s no rush at all.

Derek Dunfee: Do it for yourself and not to talk about it with other people. Do it because you love it. Train and get ready and understand that it’s a lifelong pursuit—you’re probably not going to get a big wave for three to five years. Watch how guys do it from the channel and get used to sitting on a ten-foot board.

What spots do you have on your radar for this winter?

Reef McIntosh: Anywhere that’s exciting and unpredictable. I like it all; Fiji, Puerto, Off The Wall, Pipe, wherever the waves are exciting. I don’t wanna be pigeon holed as a big wave only guy—I like it all.

Derek Dunfee: My main focus is going to be Mavericks and Hawaii. There are a lot of good big-wave spots I want to surf in Hawaii—but really it just depends on what the jet stream is doing where the swells are going. It’s really exciting to see the performance level going up, it gets me pumped to go bigger and sit deeper.

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Chasing Mavericks, the Jay Moriarity story, premieres this Friday, October 26 at theaters nationwide