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Getting psyched and conquering fear with pro surfer Reef McIntosh

Reef McIntosh (right) and Kelly Slater share a wave at Waimea Bay during the Quiksilver in memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational. Photo: Brian Bielmann
Reef McIntosh, right, and Kelly Slater share a wave at Waimea Bay during the Quiksilver in memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational. Photo by Brian Bielmann

Whether it's at the Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau surf contest at Hawaii’s Waimea Bay or the annual contests that are held at Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu, professional surfer Reef McIntosh competes in some of the biggest waves the ocean can muster. And just like the rest of us mere mortals, Reef has to battle against nerves and fear before paddling out into waves that time and time again have proven to be deadly. But how does he do it? GrindTV caught up with Reef just after he bowed out of competition during the Volcom Pipe Pro to find out …

In the weeks leading up to a big contest like the Eddie or Pipe Masters, what do you do to prepare?
I always just try to live as clean as possible. I watch what I eat and drink, and just try to always be ready because you never know when it's going to be big and a contest like the Eddie will get the green light to run. You always gotta be at the top of your game for that one day.

What about the day of the event? What's your process for getting psyched up?
I get psyched just to be involved in a contest like the Pipe Masters or the Eddie Aikau Invitational. The energy from the spectators and other people in the event—that hypes me up. But you don't want to get too pumped up and create stress or anxiety. I just try to empty my mind, go out there, and do my thing.

Reef McIntosh on a wave at Backdoor Pipeline that earned him 'Wave of the Winter' honors in 2012. Photo: Brian Bielmann
Reef McIntosh on a wave at Backdoor Pipeline that earned him “Wave of the Winter” honors in 2012. Photo by Brian Bielmann

How do you put aside the fear and butterflies that naturally occur when confronted with surf on that scale?
Pipeline is like my backyard, so I'm super comfortable out there and don't really get nervous. But if you're in the Eddie, it's like you're in the middle of a stadium. There are people lining the entire bay, banging on garbage cans and screaming their lungs out, and you're like, “Oh my God, there's a 25-foot set coming … I gotta go!” I've only been in the Eddie once, and I hate to say it, but before my heat I had a beer, [did some business] in the bushes, took a cold shower, and ran out there. Some people are like, “You shouldn't be doing that!” but it definitely took the edge off.

Reef McIntosh hits the eject button at Pipeline while competing in the Volcom Pipe Pro. Photo courtesy Volcom.
Reef McIntosh hits the eject button at Pipeline while competing in the Volcom Pipe Pro. Photo courtesy of Volcom

World-class surfers have died surfing Pipeline and Waimea. How do you deal with your peers passing away in the surf?
There are some guys who are gung-ho, head down, and going on anything, but I like to be more calculated and make sure I'm in the right position to do some crazy things. Like, if I'm not in the right spot, I'm not gonna go. I hate to say that it's exciting, but that's why Pipeline is one of the most famous waves in the world—because it's killed people. It's life and death out there—we're in a gladiator pit. But at the end of the day, I just don't think about it, because when you do, things happen, you manifest it. I know the danger and I respect it, and she [Pipeline] knows that.

What's the reward from all of this and why do you do it?
The reward is the respect you get from surf world. Pipeline is like a stage, a platform, and if you can go out and perform, dance well, and put on a show for everyone, it's like, you're one of the guys, like Derek Ho or Gerry Lopez. Those guys names will go down in history—they have a legacy. Now I'm not saying that I have a legacy, but it would be nice to have one. I don't care about money or making it through heats, I just want to be well known for performing at Pipeline season after season. Same with when I surfed in the Eddie—win or lose I just wanted to put on a really good performance.

Hawaiian big wave surfer Reef McIntosh at Cloudbreak—one of the heaviest waves in the South Pacific. Photo: Brian Bielmann
Hawaiian big wave surfer Reef McIntosh at Cloudbreak—one of the heaviest waves in the South Pacific. Photo by Brian Bielmann

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