Professional surfer Will Skudin says he never feels more alive than when he’s tempting death, chasing after the biggest waves in the world.
The 28-year-old Long Beach resident is living out a dream he’s had since he was 12 years old, and riding a wave of success that recently earned him the title of “Surfer of the Year” from Eastern Surf Magazine.
Skudin was in Hawaii, where he’s spent the past 12 winters surfing big swells, when he received a text on Jan. 2 from a friend congratulating him on winning the coveted honor. According to the magazine, Skudin is the first New Yorker to receive the title.
“I had no idea I was even being considered,” Skudin said Tuesday.
Upon hearing the news, Skudin said he called his parents and his uncle, Bill, the people who have supported him since he rode his first wave at age 6 and started chasing “Mavericks” off the coast of California at 16.
Then, he spent the rest of the day surfing with his girlfriend, Jen Hanono, 26, and his brother, Cliff, 31, who he also runs a surfing school with in Long Beach called Skudin Surf.
“I just let it soak in,” he said.
Skudin said he was surprised the magazine chose him, because he hasn’t won a big wave contest -- at least not yet. He finished 16th last year in the Big Wave World Tour, an international series of surfing competitions that features the top big wave riders from around the globe.
“I’m just starting to get my mojo flowing in big wave world,” he said
He’s looking ahead to two other BWWT contests -- SEATKA Pro Oregon and Dive N’ Surf at Todos Santos. The latter is set approximately 12 miles off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, near the small island of Todos Santos, which is considered home to some of the biggest waves on the planet. Reaching heights of up to 60 feet, they’ve been dubbed “Killers.”
The contests could take place anytime between now and March 31. Once conditions appear to be ripe, a date is set, and contestants are given only a few days notice to be there.
Skudin said he’s used to picking up and leaving when a big wave calls.
“Every single morning of every day, I check the conditions in two different oceans to see where I need to be in the world,” he said. “I can never commit to anything.”
Skudin nearly gave up on his dream, though. While surfing off the coast of Todos Santos on Jan. 5, 2007, he said he suffered his biggest wipeout when he was slammed by a nearly 70-foot wave. He was pulled under for more than a minute, he said, and started to lose feeling in his arms and legs before he surfaced and was rescued.
“I was seconds away from dying,” he added.
The experience left him questioning his future in big wave surfing, but after some soul-searching, he decided he wasn’t ready to quit.
“It takes a lifetime to get good at this sport,” he said. “This is just the beginning.”