DEAD IN THE WA­TER

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - JACK MORPHET

BIG wave surfer Aaron Gold has never shied away from the risks of rid­ing mov­ing moun­tains of wa­ter, the kind that have pinned him to the ocean floor dur­ing a wipe­out and kept him from life sav­ing breath for min­utes which seem like hours.

There have been mem­o­rable rides that turned into near-death ex­pe­ri­ences, he said, but none closer than an in­ci­dent six months ago in Fiji. Pushed to the ocean floor by the tonnes of crush­ing wa­ter, he even­tu­ally sur­faced up­side down, life­less, and sus­pended by only the leg-rope at­tached to his surf­board.

“I’d just got to the point when I re­alised my air was start­ing to run low. It was like some­body switched off the lights,” he said of his last mem­ory of that wave.

Gold had made a splash a few months ear­lier when he tamed a 19.2m (63 foot) wave at the in­fa­mous Jaws break in Hawaii, set­ting the world record for largest wave ever pad­dled into. Not too long ago it was be­lieved a surfer needed to match the speed of such a large wave by be­ing towed by a jet ski to catch it.

The Hawai­ian car­pen­ter was still rid­ing a wave of f suc­cess when he trav­elled to Fiji to surf the world fa­mous wave Cloud­break, 4.8km off f the coast of a re­mote is­land.

Gold (in­set) was warm­ing up on some 6m waves in an­tic­i­pa­tion of 12m “mon­sters” later that day.

“I surf those con­di­tions 150 times or more ev­ery sea­son back home in Oahu,” Gold said.

“But when I took off the cur­rent was weird, a gust of wind came up the face and I wasn’t over the board prop­erly — so I bailed out.”

Af­ter be­ing tossed around un­der­wa­ter, the surfer was lit­er­ally climb­ing up his leg rope to the sur­face when he braced for an­other pound­ing from the fol­low­ing wave.

“I was only two or three feet be­low the sur­face when the next wave hit and washed me around in the foam, but I thought I still had a minute or so of air left,” he said.

That’s when Gold blacked out. Fortu- nately, his surf­board was spot­ted in the churn­ing white­wash and a jet­ski rushed him to a nearby sup­port boat where some fel­low big wave surfers per­formed mouth-to-mouth re­sus­ci­ta­tion.

Footage of the re­cov­ery and en­su­ing scram­ble to breathe life into him out at sea will air this week when vet­eran Aus­tralian surf­ing doc­u­men­tary pro­ducer Tim Bonython pre­mieres his new film The Big Wave Project.

“The guy was grey when he was dragged on to the boat,” Bonython said. “When you’ve been un­der­wa­ter for so long, it ain’t pretty.” Gold was even­tu­ally re- vived by for­mer world big wave cham­pion Greg Long, who came fright­en­ingly close to drown­ing in almost identical cir­cum­stances kilo­me­tres out from the Cal­i­for­nian coast­line in 2013.

Mr Bonython’s film doc­u­ments a groundswell of sup­port for surfers who pad­dle on to a wave, rather than be­ing towed by a jet­ski.

“Any­one can be towed into a big wave and call them­selves a hero, but hav­ing the balls to pad­dle into a mon­ster — that’s what sep­a­rates the boys from the men,” he said.

The Big Wave Project: Band of Broth­ers will be screened in cin­e­mas and RSLs across the coun­try for the next month, start­ing with the Hay­den Or­pheum in Cre­morne on Tues­day night.

Aaron Gold (in­set be­low), and surf­ing a big wave off Jaws, Maui, Hawaii, in 2015. Pic­tures: Tim Bonython

A jet­ski brings un­con­scious Gold to a rescue craft. Fol­low surfers re­sus­ci­tate Gold.

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