Preparing for big winter surf with Reef McIntosh

Reef McIntosh (right) and Kelly Slater share a wave at Waimea Bay; photo by Brian Bielmann
Reef McIntosh (right) and Kelly Slater share a wave at Waimea Bay; photo by Brian Bielmann

With winter right around the corner and talk of an El Niño supercharging the surf in the north Pacific, it's a great time to start preparing for the big stuff. And who better to get ready for some bombs with than big-wave surfer Reef McIntosh? One of the few invitees to the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational, Reef cut his teeth on Kauai before making the hop over to Oahu, where he's gained fame as one of the best in the game. Here, he shares some tips to help you prepare for what (hopefully) lies ahead …

What do you to prepare for the big stuff?
I surf the small stuff to prepare for the big stuff. You can prepare as much as you want, but I've always found that surfing is the best preparation. It's great to keep your cardio up, do yoga, and all that stuff, but I'm not that disciplined and I find that stuff boring.

Reef McIntosh at Off The Wall on the North Shore of Oahu; photo by Brent Bielmann/Surfing magazine
Reef McIntosh at Off The Wall on the North Shore of Oahu; photo by Brent Bielmann/Surfing magazine

When the surf really comes up, what's going through your head and what's your routine?
Get up and eat some toast—but no coffee when it's big! When I drink coffee I tend to skitz out and make bad decisions. And I'm not one to paddle out in the dark—I like to watch it for about an hour. Drink water while I'm doing that, stretch, pace around the yard. I like to take a nice paddle out and get in tune with the ocean. I also like to catch a few warm-up waves, smaller ones, and get the feel for my big canoe-like board.

What gives you the confidence and courage to paddle into a really big wave?
Seeing other people do it. I get psyched to see a guy like Kohl Christensen or Dave Wassel get a good one. It gives you motivation—you definitely feed off the other guys out there. There's an underlying competitiveness out there—that's how it gets pushed to the next level.

A rabid San Diego Chargers fan, Reef McIntosh guns for the exit at Off The Wall; photo by Brian Bielmann
A rabid San Diego Chargers fan, Reef McIntosh guns for the exit at Off The Wall; photo by Brian Bielmann

How do you get past the fear that is naturally associates with big-wave surfing?
Either you eat sh*t or get a really good wave. If you eat it and don't die, you're like, “That wasn't too bad, and I didn't die.” That, or you get a bomb and you're like, “That was a bomb. I want a bigger one!” That said, if your inside is telling you, “No, it's too big,” you probably shouldn't go out. Like, the first time I surfed Mavericks, I was thinking, “F—k, I don't even belong out here.” I was lost and following people around kinda clueless. I got four waves, though.

Waimea Bay party wave with Reef McIntosh and friends; photo by Brian Bielmann
Waimea Bay party wave with Reef McIntosh and friends; photo by Brian Bielmann

What's the best bit of advice you've got for surfers who are looking to take it to the next level?
Take baby steps and slowly get comfortable in bigger surf. Start at somewhere like Sunset when it's big, then slowly work your way up. Hit a couple outer reefs when it's breaking but not huge. Then, when you're out on a really big day sit way wide in the channel and take it all in nice and slow. There's no rush at all.

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