Glacier surfing – they did it!

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Glacier surfing by McNamara and Mamala

A good month ago we posted that two of the l33t big wave riders – Garrett McNamara and Keali’i Mamala were packing their bags, filling them with thick sweaters and  heated wetsuits and were leaving for Alaska to surf big waves. But not just any big wave will do, they wanted to surf  the waves generated by big chunks of ice breaking of the glacier and hiting water. And when I say big chunks I mean cataclysmic collapse of the glacier. The result of all this ice falling into the sea is a tsunami wave. You should really read the original post about glacier surfing to get the idea what the hell were they thinking. Well, Garrett McNamara and Keali’i Mamala just got back from Alaska and they have the video below. They successfully surfed glacier-generated tsunami waves of up to 25 feet at Child’s Glacier on the Copper River, in South-Central Alaska.

Even though they are one of the best of the best of the best big wave tow-in teams and even thoguh they make riding 75ft waves look easy, they almost went home after a series of highly dangerous, unsuccessful attempts on day one. Anyway – the result looks like this:

400 ft ice faces

The setup for the surf was the following: Sheer ice faces of over 400 feet calved away from Child’s Glacier, crashing into the waters below and setting off left- and right-breaking waves that peeled across a pebble-bottom river bank for more than 300 yards, offering rides of up to one minute long. In order to catch them, the surfers would wait up to several hours in the icy water for a glacier to fall, then chase down the ensuing wave on their jet ski and attempt to ride with being injured or killed by ice and rock debris.

The Glacier Surfing Blah Blah

Garrett McNamara: “It was way more than I expected, I was almost going home the first day! After the scout, I guaranteed that we would ride a wave – any wave. After the first day, I just wanted to make it home alive. Not knowing where the glacier was going to fall, where the wave would emerge, or how big it would be. It was so different to anything we’ve experienced in our big-wave tow-surfing history. I spent most the time thinking about my family and wondering if I would survive to see them again. It was in a realm all its own. This has changed our outlook on big-wave surfing. In this case, we didn’t even need a huge wave to get a rush. It was the heaviest rush just sitting out there, dwarfed by this enormous glacier face, waiting for the whole thing to crash down in front of us and hoping we’d survive it when it did.”

The Biggest Glacier Wave?

Garrett rode a 15-foot face and Keali’i rode a 20- to 25-foot wave.

Is Glacier Surfing a New Sport?

“I wouldn’t recommend it for any one. I won’t be going back. This is not a new sport.” Garret explained. Their worst moment came when glacier wall separated from the rest of the glacier and fell flat on the surface of water. The result was a deafening eruption of water and ice that forced them to jet ski for their lives.


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