One day last May, the waves in Tahiti were more than 20 feet tall and just as deep, and to big-wave surfer and Long Beach resident Will Skudin, it looked as if there were giant holes in the ocean.
“Basically the ocean just folds over and it’s a giant barrel,” said Skudin, 28. “At that point, I try to tell myself to trust in my ability — if you hesitate for a fraction of a fraction of a second, you’re going to fall down. That day, 12 people went to the hospital.”
Those risks, and a couple of near-fatal wipeouts he has experienced, haven’t deterred him from his passion for seeking out some of the biggest waves in the world.
In Tahiti, Skudin, who has been surfing big waves professionally for a decade, rode some of the largest swells of the 2013 winter season on the Big Wave World Tour, an international competition showcasing the world’s top surfers as they compete in extreme conditions. Skudin eventually finished 16th in the season’s overall standings, but his performance in Tahiti earned him Eastern Surf Magazine’s Cover of the Year in June. “I had a good idea that I was going to get Cover of the Year — it was a really great wave in Tahiti,” he said.
In October, he tackled major swells in Ireland, clinching an entry for Billabong XXL’s Ride of the Year. “It was a week of these giant, cold monster waves, anywhere from 30 to 50 feet,” he recounted. “As scary as the ocean gets.”
But nothing prepared him for what came next: On Jan. 2, he learned that he had been named Eastern Surf Magazine’s 2013 Surfer of the Year, an honor bestowed on the sport’s biggest names, like 11-time Association of Surfing Professionals World Champion Kelly Slater a year earlier. Skudin is the first New Yorker to earn the coveted title.
“I was so stoked,” he said. “I showed my girlfriend, Jen, and it was one of those things — I had no idea I was being considered for Surfer of the Year.” Indeed, the news came as a surprise, since he has yet to win a big-wave contest. “Just to be on that list, next to guys like Kelly Slater, is truly amazing,” Skudin said, “and I’m very grateful for all the support I have from my sponsors as well as my friends and family.”
Representing the East Coast