When you’re playing in the ocean, things are bound to go wrong.
It’s unpredictable, and no matter how much time one spends in an unpredictable environment, it never become predictable. The best of the best still get blindsided by the ocean, but more often than not, it’s the ones that are in, very literally, over their heads. Here’s a list that incorporates both seasoned vets, total newcomers, waves, and one of man’s most annoyingly fun creations, the jet ski.
1. Raimana Van Bastolaer at Teahupo’o, May 2005
In May of 2005, a solid swell rolled through Teahupoo. Among the surfers that were there for it was Raimana Van Bastolaer and his accidental tow partner, Reef McIntosh. Just after the sun rose on that day, Raimana asked Reef to drive the jet ski out to the lineup. “I was like, ‘Sure, no problem!’ Anyone can drive a jet ski in a lagoon,” Reef told Grind TV. “So I drive it out to the lineup and there’s Brock Little towing Shane Dorian into a wave. Seeing those guys, Raimana got all excited, but his usual driver, Arsene, wasn’t there; he was late or something. So Raimana says to me, ‘Hey, put the tow rope on the back of the ski.’ I knew how to put the rope onto it, so I was like, ‘Sure!’ Then he jumps into the water and says, ‘Let’s go!’”
After a pretty good back and forth that consisted of Reef telling Raimana that he couldn’t do it and Raimana telling him that he could, Reef finally agreed. Soon after, he was feeling a little more comfortable–he’d put Raimana into a few good ones, and his confidence as a driver was climbing. Then, of course, everything went wrong.
“So there was, like, a chop on top of the wave; it was kind of stormy and crossed up, making these little waves on top of the waves,” Reef recounted to Grind. “So as I’m looking down at him I felt the wave pick the ski up, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m gliding on this thing with no control!’ People were saying that I should have turned and gassed it out the back, but I’d never been in that position before; I’d never really driven a jet ski in surf at all! So once I felt that the wave had me and the ski, I just ejected out the back to save myself, all the while praying that the ski would go over Raimana and not tumble down the face onto him.”
Luckily, that’s what happened, and the only real injury was to Reef’s pride. “After that I just had to deal with a bruised ego and a lot of embarrassment,” he remembered. Andy Irons was in the channel, and he was like, ‘You shouldn’t have been out there,’ and I was like, ‘I know!’ It was in Sports Illustrated, the “Letterman” show, “Good Morning America”; that shit was everywhere! I can look back on it now and laugh, and once I saw Raimana, I was like, ‘I told you I couldn’t f–kin’ drive!’”
2. Unknown couple at the Wedge, June 2016
A few days ago, the internet exploded when footage of a couple on a jetski found themselves in a the wrong place at a very, very wrong time: right in front of a warping Wedge monster. Although the driver tried to outrun it, the wave caught up to them and pushed them into dangerous territory, smashing the ski on the rocks. Lifeguards and surfers rushed to get the pair to safety. “Apparently, they were just kind of lost or something,” said Captain Skeeter Leeper to the OC Register. “He just drove straight in.”
Luckily, neither person on the ski was harmed at all–but you can bet they were shaken up by the experience. “It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” said Newport lifeguard Rob Marienthal. “Everyone who saw it couldn’t believe their eyes. It was unbelievable.”
3. Joel Parkinson at Rio, May 2014
The Rio event is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting on the Tour schedule. Not because of the waves, though. It’s because of the incredible amount of strange things that go down there each year. This year, it was gunfights on the street. Last year, it was actual shit in the water (well, that’s kind of every year). The year before that, it was rumors of rampant favoritism from jet ski drivers hired to get surfers back to the lineup.
While none of the rumors have ever been substantiated, Surfing reported that “one surfer stated that his driver refused to find a way out the back, giving him no choice but to jump off and paddle out under his own volition. On top of that, there have been accusations that non-Brazilian surfers are often dropped off in vicious rips.” Then, of course, there’s current number one, Matt Wilkinson. If the rumors are true, his jet ski driver took it a step further, and actually said, “I’m going to kill you.”
None of this is to say that Parko was launched off the ski in Rio on purpose. It’s just to say that there are a lot of rumors that floated around that it was. Either way, it makes for damn good watching.
4. Jaws, March 2011
Every now and then, we find ourselves in a position that, by no fault of our own, is not one we want to be in. Such is the case with this ski driver, whose machine decided to stop working in the worst possible place.
“I was dropping down the wave and I saw that the guy was in trouble,” wrote Jason Polakow, the man on the windsurfer. “I was already committed on my line, so I just had to bottom turn around the ski and try and get out of the way.”
Luckily for everyone involved, he did get out of the way, and no one got hurt except the ski.
5. Peahi Challenge, December 2015
Everyone and their mothers remembers the Peahi Challenge. It was the greatest big wave event ever–and probably still is, if one doesn’t count the recent Red Bull Cape Fear Challenge. It was the first time the World Surf League had a real contest at one of the world’s greatest waves, and Mother Nature put on her dancing shoes and started drinking early.
By the time the horn blew on the first heat, she was in full on party mode, flashing strangers and dancing on tables. That meant, of course, not only some of the most memorable rides in Jaws history, but some of the most memorable wipeouts. Case in point: jet ski driver above who really didn’t want to dance with Mother Nature, but was dragged out to the dance floor, anyway.
6. Kelly Slater at Tahiti, August 2014
The 2014 Billabong Pro Tahiti was one of those events that people talked about for a long time. It held one of surfing’s greatest heats, JJF vs. Slater in the semis. Slater had two perfect tens and fourteen nine-point rides, and there were five more perfect tens from other competitors. Medina went on to win it, but the waves were the real players–Tahiti went nuts, and it was a show like none other.
Somewhere in the midst of all that, though, Kelly Slater fell on a wave early. The jet ski driver picked him up, spun around, and totally blew it. It was great for everyone watching, but not so much for either Slater or the driver. Thankfully, everyone came out ok, and it’s long-forgotten… until now.