DEAD IN THE WATER
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.