On December 21st, 2012, some of the world’s most accomplished big wave surfers took on a deep ocean beast known as Cortes Bank, about 100 miles offshore from San Diego, California. It only took one fall off the 40 ft+ face of the monstrous wave to send someone back to land in an emergency rescue mission. San Clemente’s Greg Long suffered a wipeout that almost took his life, miraculously surviving a 3-wave hold-down in huge swell. The Xcel and Billabong rider was foaming at the mouth and spitting up blood once attended to, air-flown via helicopter to the UCSD Medical Center and thankfully returned home after being released by his doctor to spend the holiday with his family.
“Thank you to the entire community of friends, family and well-wishers for your concern, your outpouring of love, support and prayers, following the serious wipeout I experienced while surfing at the Cortes Bank on Friday, December 21st.
“I am home, following a 24-hour stay in the UCSD Hospital in San Diego for precautionary observation as a result of the near drowning experience and blunt trauma injuries I suffered from the impact of a sequence of four large waves, and a three wave hold down. I had taken off on the second wave of a four-wave set and was forced to straighten out. After enduring an extremely violent and long hold down, I barely broke the surface and was attempting to grab a breath of air, when I received the full impact of the lip from the third and largest wave of the set. All of my breath was knocked out of me. I nearly lost consciousness at this point and was again driven deep and was subjected to a furious beating. I attempted to swim to the surface as the energy of the wave began to release me, but only made a few strokes before the next wave passed overhead, pushing me back down. As this beating started to subside, I began climbing my leash, hoping to break the surface before passing out. I made it to the tail of my board while it was still submerged in the turbulent and aerated water, at which point I blacked out from CO2 saturation and lack of oxygen.
“Three rescue skis operated by D.K. Walsh, Jon Walla and Frank Quiarte were tracking me following the initial wipeout. After a fourth and smaller white water had passed, I was quickly located, floating face down along side my surfboard by D.K. Walsh. D.K. abandoned his ski, jumping in the water in order to raise my head above the surface. Jon Walla arrived on his ski, and together they pulled me onto the rescue sled. I began regaining consciousness during the ride back to the support boat we were operating from. Several other rescuers assisted getting me onboard at which point I began vomiting the small amount of water I had aspirated and a large amount of blood, which I later learned was from a combination of the blunt force trauma of impact and the rupturing of capillaries due to extreme breath holding. I was stabilized onboard the boat by the lifeguards and paramedics who were part of our safety team, and a Coast Guard helicopter was summoned to transport me back to San Diego.
“Having trained for extreme breath holding, at no point did I allow myself to panic or lose confidence that I was going to survive this incident. I do, however, fully acknowledge that I did exceed my limits of endurance, and that there will always be elements of risk and danger that are beyond my control while surfing waves of any size. Because of those elements of risk, I have always insisted on working with individuals that share my focus on training and preparation. Humbly, I express my deepest gratitude to the team of rescuers and fellow surfers who’s training and precise response contributed to saving my life.”
Cortes Bank is recognized as being capable of producing some of the tallest surfable waves in the world. Photo: “Paddle Cortes Bank” Surfer video
We wish Greg Long a smooth recovery and happy holiday with his family.
Watch as The Surf Channel goes behind-the-scenes of the making of “Sine Qua Non: The Psychology of Big Wave Surfing” staring Greg Long, presented by The Inertia:
Cortes Bank is a shallow seamount – a barely submerged island in the North Pacific Ocean. It is about 100 miles (166 kilometers) west of Point Loma San Diego, and about 50 miles (82 kilometers) south-west of San Clemente Island. It is considered the outermost feature in California’s Channel Islands chain. At various times during geologic history, the Bank has been an island – depending on sea level rise and fall. The last time it was a substantial island was around 10,000 years ago during the last ice age. It is quite possible that this island was visited by the first human inhabitants of the Channel Islands – most notably San Clemente Island, whose seafaring residents would have been able to see “Cortes Island” from high elevations on clear days.
The shallower reaches of the Bank comprise about 15–18 miles of sandstone and basalt and they rise from the ocean floor from 1000 fathoms – or just over a mile in depth. The Bank has been described as a series of mountaintops, but really it is more of the shape of a wave-scoured mesa – with a few hard, basaltic high spots along its length. The shallowest peak, the Bishop Rock – rises to between 3 and 6 feet (1–2 m) from the surface, depending on the tides. On very low tides, the rock can be visible in the trough of passing waves. Other shoal spots besides the Bishop Rock also spawn giant waves. These shoals range in depth from 30 to 100 feet and are a hazard to shipping. Nine Fathom spot is about 4.5 miles (7 kilometers) northwest of Bishop Rock and also rises to about 54 feet (18 m) below the surface. Both are noted scuba diving locations featuring clear water, vast kelp forests and abundant sea life. The Bishop Rock also creates a renowned big-wave surfing spot recognized as being capable of producing some of the tallest surfable waves in the world.
Resources: Cortes Bank Facebook Page
Want to learn more about how Cortes Bank works? Click here.