Garrett McNamara: Every year, new challenges
We won’t be surprised if Garrett McNamara’s life raises your eyebrows. His life is pure madness. It’s more excessive and more absurd than anything you would find in the sports section of the Guinness Book of World Records. Condensing it to just a few moments is tricky, but here are a few highlights. At just 11 years old, GMAC followed in the footsteps of his younger brother, Liam, and headed to Waimea to surf Sunset, where the waves rival those at Pipeline, the most renowned spot for surf on the island. When he was 17, he entered the prestigious Hawaiian Triple Crown championship and snatched his first sponsors. Since then, GMAC has been considered a living legend. From Jaws, on the Hawaiian island of Maui, to Nazaré, McNamara hunts down monster storms and swells. In 2007, alongside his partner Keali’i Mamala, he pursued a tsunami created by a 90-meter (300 foot) calving glacier in Alaska. The experience, a little more than insane, was captured in a documentary entitled “The Glacier Project”. In November 2011, a Portuguese swell propelled him onto an almost 25-meter high wave at Nazaré. Two years later, even though the debate over his record was still raging, GMAC broke his own world record by surfing a 30-meter high wave, earning him a title as the surfer having wrestled “the highest wave ever surfed in the world.” In January 2016, McNamara suffered an enormous wipeout on a nearly 15-meter high wave at Mavericks in California.
Reputed for his surf exploits, GMAC is set to embark on a new three-year adventure. As the official international spokesman for the Portuguese Olympic team, McNamara will bring the Olympic torch to the 2020 games in Tokyo. There, for the first time in Olympic history, surfing will be included in the games alongside a wave of newly integrated sports that includes golf, karate, climbing, baseball, softball, 7-player rugby and skateboarding, all of which have been approved by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Inclusion of surfing in the Olympic games has been pushed back over five times between Sydney, Athens, London and Rio, bringing the wait time to over 20 years as the International Surfing Association considered allowing it a place in the games.
We met Garrett McNamara as he sets off on his Olympic adventure this year. At 50 years young, the surf legend is challenging himself once again, this time daring to unite an entire nation around a sport that has followed him his entire life.
From fearless kid to big wave rider
I recently released a memoire, “Hound of the Sea”, which chronicles quite a complicated story. I was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. As a young child, the police found me wandering a mile from the boarding school where I lived. Afterwards, my family moved to Cazedaro, California, where my mother founded a commune. Just a few years later, we hopped in a van with a fellow named Mad Bob and headed to British Honduras, with lots of adventure along the way. Eventually, when I turned 11, my mom announced we were moving to Hawaii. That set off a chain of events that has shaped the life I currently life, and for which I am oh so grateful! At 17, as a senior in high school, I had no clue what I was going to do with my life. I considered flunking out my last year so I could stay in school, but when I made money in the Triple Crown, I was automatically considered a “pro” surfer, so I rolled with it. The universe had answered my prayers, unbeknownst to me.
Pushing the boundaries
In the beginning, it was all about the rush. That rush of adrenaline. But more than the adrenaline, it’s been about giant waves. I’ve never had the desire to jump out of a plane or swim with sharks. It’s always been about connecting with nature and riding the biggest wall of water I could find. After surfing the waves created from a 300ft-calving glacier in Alaska, I can’t get a rush on ocean waves any more. I think I’ve reached my fear limit. It’s literally the only time I thought I might not make it home. Since “The Glacier Project”, I have learned that fear is something we manufacture in our mind. Fear only exists when we are thinking about what could possibly happen. If you stay in the present moment, fear cannot exist.
A new challenge
I’m embarking on a highly complex, 3-year adventure that will end with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It’s all about giving back and sharing the love of a sport that has changed my life, and is powerful enough to change entire countries. As the only internationally renowned surfer to speak fluent Japanese, my role and mission will consist of showcasing surfing and the athletes that will represent all participating countries in Tokyo. Our goal is also to seek out and reveal 4 new waves with magnitude on the same scale as Nazaré. That means we will be watching the weather forecast and studying seafloor maps in search of the next giant wave. We will also be searching for perfect, clean barrels.
The 2020 Olympics will be the first ever to include surfing as a medalled sport. It is the ultimate achievement. Fernando Aguerre, the President of the International Surfing Association (ISA), worked on it for over 20 years and his dream is now a reality. It’s an amazing example that everything is possible. Surfing is no longer just a hobby, it’s a professional sport recognized by mainstream society. After seeing what surfing has done for Portugal, I think it can totally rejuvenate the economy and the spirit of the people. From a professional standpoint, I’m proud of my relationship with Nazaré and what we created together, of giving new life to a small town.
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