When the swell forecasts predict waves over 40 feet, that's when Australian Mark Matthews starts getting excited. The Australian surfer will drop everything to get to big surf. He prefers his waves thick, slabby, hollow – think Teahupoo, but even scarier – and is constantly redefining the limits of waves humans can physically ride.
When Mark was just a kid, he was terrified of big waves. "I remember being 12 or 13 and if the surf was big, my mum would have to come rescue me," said Mark whose entire family surfs.
Just two years ago, Mark caught the wave of the day at the 2007 Monster Energy Pro at Pipeline, Hawaii, earning him global recognition. "I was sitting in the lineup and Pipe was maxing out that day. I only caught one wave and it was terrible, so I was feeling rather embarrassed. Finally a wave came, and I paddled as deep as I could and barely made it out of the barrel."
Those who witnessed it say it was one of the best tube waves ever ridden at Pipeline. The drop was so steep, the lip so thick; no one thought he would make it out. Just as it looked like he had disappeared into the caverns of the ocean wall, a massive shot of frothy white water ejected Mark back onto the face and he was still standing. The ride not only earned him a perfect score of 10 and the notorious "Makita Wave of the Day" award, but the wave gained him recognition at one of the most legendary surfing spots in the world.
Since then, Mark has been unstoppable in his quest for bigger waves. A few months ago, Mark collected $20,000 for winning the "Biggest Wave Ridden" at the 2009 Oakley Surfing Life Big Wave Awards, solidifying his place as a permanent fixture amongst big wave riding giants. That particular wave was estimated at 14 meters (that's about a 45 foot face) at Cow Bombie, in Western Australia last September.
Mark comes from Maroubra, a small working class coastal town east of Sydney, known for the infamous group of surfers called "The Bra Boys." A documentary about the group was released in 2007 and features a scene from Mark's 21st birthday party where the group had a run-in with police officers celebrating their Christmas Party at the same venue. Surfers from Maroubra stick closely together, and Mark has a tight group of friends, including guys like Koby Abberton, who constantly charge big waves.
"When I was 16, I moved next to Koby and started tagging along with him wherever he surfed. He was constantly chasing big waves, so I just stated getting a feel for them."
Today, Mark rearranges his entire life if he knows a swell is approaching." I usually have three days to prepare before I spot a swell, so I run around to get jet-skis, a photographer, equipment and other surfers to come along. It's chaos, but it's the best feeling when I actually get to ride a big wave."
Mark's family is highly educated and they all surf together whenever they get the chance. His dad is a surgeon, his mom runs a yoga retreat in New York and his sister teaches in China. "I'm probably the dumbest of the lot," he said laughing. But don't be fooled, being able to forecast waves, organizing a crew of surfers in a few hours, and being mentally prepared to ride mountains of water that reach over 40 feet high, requires someone who is mentally rock-solid.
THE ULTIMATE WATER WARRIOR
It's in the water where Mark feels most comfortable, where all his senses come alive and where he feels the most challenged. On land, Mark says, "Everything else I do is real cruisey and mellow."
When waves are flat or between injuries (unfortunately they come with the territory), Mark plays piano, the guitar, or picks up a new instrument to pass the time until he can surf again. He makes a conscious effort to keep his energy positive, especially in the weeks before a big swell.
"Emotions waste energy so I spend a lot of time focusing my thoughts in a positive direction," said Mark, noting that he was recently recruited to share his mentally tough approach to conquer impossible waves with some of the biggest surf companies in the world.
Mark could easily compete on the entire Qualifying Series or do corporate coaching forever, but in the end, his relentless determination and endless quest to ride bigger waves keeps him on a linear path. "I just want to find and surf the biggest barrels I can," he said, pausing…"They scare the hell out of me, but that's what makes them so exciting."
O'Neill surfer Mark Mathews has scored one of the biggest and heaviest barrels ever ridden – in shark infested waters some 20km off the coast of Western Australia.
The 26 year old from Maroubra in Sydney waited about six hours in order to get this incredible 15 second ride.
"It had been really slow all day and I hadn't had any good ones," said Mark. "Then this mountain came roaring out from the horizon I got goose bumps all over as soon as I saw it. I looked up at Hippo (Ryan Hipwood) who was on the jet ski and he didn't even smile he just said "this thing's huge."
"There was so much water sucking off the reef. I just kept my eyes right in front of me and hoped the corner of the barrel wasn't about to lip me in the head."
Trying to describe the sensation, Mark said: "Big barrels like that feel like they are alive. They suck all the air inside. That's what surfers mean when they say they felt the wave take a breath."
"You feel like you're surrounded by the whole ocean. The air has nowhere left to go and just gets spat out into the channel, taking you with it. This is the feeling that keeps coming back over and over and over again."
"This one can be topped," said Mark. "It's the thrill of the chase that keeps me going."
Most embarrassing moment?
First day at a new co-ed schoolmy mate and I were at the back of the class he waited till it was really quiteto let one rip when all the girls turned around disgusted he quickly blamed iton me
"Your happiness depends on yourperception"
Chocolate of Vanilla?
Glass on fins or fin system? Why?
Fcs, travel variety
Favourite surf destination andwave?
Caroline islands p pass
Air reverse can hardly do em soit feels so good make one
What's in your travelling quiver?
Unbreakable 62 aloha
Status (married, single,whatever)?
Beautiful girlfriend Sarah
KidMac (wings and aquarius Queen)
Biggest influence in your life?
Mum and dad
What traits in the opposite sexare most attractive?
Tassie knocked unconsciousthought I broke my neck took 5 hours too get back to the hospital thought thewhole time I wouldn't be able too surf again ended up be all good though!!
Words to live by?
"The only time we suffer is when webelieve a thought that argues with what is. When the mind is perfectly clear,what is is what we want."