Unfortunately it often takes something bad to happen in order for there to be a change for the better. Such is the case with the recent uptick in water safety training in big wave surfing. In March of 2011, underground Hawaiian charger Sion Milosky drowned while surfing Maverick’s in Northern California. The loss of such a well respected waterman sent shockwaves through the big wave surfing brotherhood, prompting his friends and fellow big wave pro surfers Danilo Couto and Kohl Christensen to hold a safety seminar at Kohl’s farmhouse on the North Shore that year. Their goal was to better educate the big wave community as a whole, in order to avoid such tragedies from happening in the future.
After the positive reception of their first safety summit, Kohl and Danilo asked Hawaii’s premiere big wave safety expert, Brian Keaulana, to help them turn the concept into a yearly event. Brian has a lifetime of ocean knowledge to call upon, having spent years as a professional Big Wave Surfer, Lifeguard Captain, and Hollywood Stunt Coordinator. Brian’s father Buffalo was the first lifeguard on Oahu’s West Shore, and was a big wave surf pioneer credited with introducing the first visiting California surfers to big waves back in the 1950’s at Makaha. Buffalo is one of the last remaining 100% Hawaiians, and was an original crew member aboard the Hokuleia Voyages which have been monumental in perpetuating Hawaiian Culture throughout the world. Brian agreed but only under the condition that the summit and the knowledge shared would reach all surfers, not just big wave riders, and not just pro surfers. Brian’s mission is to make every lineup around the world a safer place to surf by educating everyone on what to do when things go wrong.
Earlier this week marked the 6th annual Big Wave Safety Summit at Turtle Bay. The event is now a 4-day course that involves both classroom lessons and simulated water exercises. An assortment of the world’s premiere big wave surfers are among the attendees, though everyone is invited to enroll. The founders have formed the Big Wave Risk Assessment Group or BWRAG, which has began to run similar events in Northern California, and is currently working to bring events to everywhere in the world where people surf.