Lonnie Ryan Tag

That's me, making the drop into KILLERS

“The waves are so hard to catch, like lassoing freight trains while trying not to get run over. Out of the thirty surfers that day most only caught a couple waves.”

There are three things that I know about myself:

1 – I love my family

2 – I love to surf

3 – I love to travel


My art is a mere side effect of these three loves.

Knowing what you love and what you want is everything.  From this point of view, anything is reachable.  You just have to push yourself over the edge and go.

An epic swell marched across the Pacific Ocean last week.  From Hawaii to Mavericks and Southern California, surfers went into a flurry of activity.

Where to surf?  For most surfers, surfing the local break on the best day of the year will do.

But for professional big wave riders, their careers are made on such swells, being at the right place at the right time and  getting paid to risk their lives.

And for a few of us, dreams of giant waves inspires us to dust off our big  guns and call  friends to line up a good, old fashioned surf trip.

The Island of Todos Santos off Baja Mexico would be the best place to go.

Such trips are what fuel my art, out-of-the-way places and giant waves that only appear every few years.

This is where most people get stuck; even me.

I wanted to go, but I had things to do, a ton of reasons not to go.  The clock was ticking and the waves were on the way, either I would be there to meet them or not.

Patrick Gudauskas charging

The waves would be the biggest at Todos.  Only the surfers who want it the most will be there. The surf spot is called Killers, a deep water cobalt blue boiling monster.

Todos Santos (Mexico) is a three hour drive from San Clemente.  Once there, you have to hire a boat and it’s another hour to the island and Killers.

Just like anything else in life that you want really bad; there are roadblocks, difficult decisions and logistics to overcome and make it happen, not to mention money.

I knew there were surfers just like me doing the same mad rush to figure it all out, to be there on the magic day.

I made one phone call to my friend Gary Linden.  Gary’s a master surfboard shaper and adventurer.  He’s a 60-something year old surf stoked grom who loves to RIDE BIG WAVES.  He answered the phone and said “we got a spot on the boat for you, get down here!”

I packed my gear, dusted off my 10’6” gun and kissed Maria and Dylan goodbye and drove South to the border in rush-hour traffic.

Once I crossed the Mexican border, the roads were empty, and the sky was black.  I pulled into Gary’s place at San Miguel.  There were figures around a fire, cooking in the darkness.  A welcoming voice called to me “you made it, just in time for dinner.”

The next morning  before dawn we began our voyage to Killers.  The dock was cold and still with groups of fishermen huddled together, hoping to rent their boats out to traveling surfers.  We were the first to arrive, and then other groups who had also made the journey showed up.  All of them had to push through their own roadblocks and logistics to be there, too.

The sunrise over Baja was intense.  Instantly, we felt the huge swells and Todos Santos began to grow on the horizon.  White water slammed and exploded on its point.  Slowly Killers came into view and dreams became reality.

The flotilla of boats took their places in the channel and surfers suited up for the ultimate challenge.  With no one out it was hard to tell how big it was; just massive blue swells in an endless sea.

Rusty Long leads the way

My friend Rusty Long was the first in the lineup and the first to catch a wave.   It is amazing that a man can paddle a ten foot surfboard into such huge waves and actually ride it.  With this first wave the session began.

Everyone knew that this was going to be a magical day.

As I paddled out I realized that I know or have met almost everyone there.  We all share a similar love for surfing and the big waves seem to call to us.

As surfers, you have one of two reactions when it gets really big:

*Either you can’t wait to get out there because you’ve been waiting for these kinds of waves your whole life; 

*Or:  it strikes the fear of God in you and there is just no way in hell you would even consider going out.

There is no in between, you are one or the other.

Of course every surfer has his limit; it’s soulful to push yourself and inspiring to see others pushing even further. At forty years old I am stoked to still be pushing.

That day at Killers many great waves were surfed.  It was pure glass all day with sunny skies.  Time melted as the hours went by.  I surfed from 8:30 to 4:30 nonstop,  as did most of the other surfers.

I only caught 3 waves in those eight hours, but that was my goal.  I was lucky to get that many. The biggest waves came late in the day and huge set came right to me, it would have been my forth wave, but my first love flashed in my mind (my wife and son) and I had to let it go and be content.

The waves are so hard to catch, like lassoing freight trains while trying not to get run over. Out of the thirty surfers that day most only caught a couple waves.

Really all you needed was one wave to be able to experience the ten seconds of taming a giant, and to feel the pure joy of achievement and bliss that you were there.

I watched as my friends charged over the edge of huge waves, knowing they were feeling this same joy.  It made me feel good about myself that I was more like them.  We push over the edge and we go.

They inspire me.  The waves inspire me.  The adventure inspires me.

The group of guys that were there, they are the rarest of surfers.  The most soulful.  They live for  these moments and I’m proud to be amongst them.

In the end, I am just a guy from South Carolina who always dreamed of surfing big waves.  Those dreams have taken me all over the world chasing them, meeting adventurous people and fueling my crazy art career.

I will just keep showing up and pushing myself over the edge, Just like I always have.

You should, too.  It makes life worth living.

Life is good – Drew

PS:  (Except for my sunrise photo above)  Photos courtesy of Captain Lonnie Ryan, a photographer who pushes himself over the edge, too.  Check out his website here:  http://bajatiempos.com/

PPS:  A great article written by my friend Jason Murray about that day can be found on ESPN here:  Topping it off at Todos.