D.O.B: November 27th 1982
When the swell forecast predicts waves over 40 feet, that's when Australian Mark Matthews starts getting excited. The 26 year old surfer will drop everything to get to big surf. He prefers his waves thick, slabby, hollow, think Teahupoo, but even scarier and is constantly redefining the limits of waves humans can physically ride.
When Mark was just a kid, he was terrified of big waves. "I remember being 12 or 13 and if the surf was big, my mum would have to come rescue Me." said Mark whose entire family surfs.
Just two years ago, Mark caught the wave of the day at the 2007 Monster Energy Pro at Pipeline, Hawaii, earning him global recognition. "I was sitting in the line-up and Pipe was maxing out that day. I only caught one wave and it was terrible, so I was feeling rather embarrassed. Finally a wave came, and I paddles as deep as I could and barely made it out of the barrel."
Those who witnessed it say it was one of the best tube waves ever ridden at Pipeline. The drop was so steep, the lip so thick; no one thought he would make it out. Just as it looked like he had disappeared into the caverns of the ocean wall, a massive shot of frothy white water ejected Mark back onto the face and he was still standing. The ride not only earned him a perfect score of 10 and the notorious "Makita Wave of the Day" award, but the wave gained him recognition at one of the most legendary surfing sports in the world.
Since then, Mark has been unstoppable in his quest for bigger waves. A few months ago, Mark collected $20,000 for winning the "Biggest Wave Ridden" at the 2009 Oakley Surfing Life Big Wave Awards, solidifying his place as a permanent fixture amongst bit wave riding giants. That particular wave was estimated at 14 meters (that's about a 45 foot face) at Cow Bombie, in Western Australia last September.
Mark comes from Maroubra, a small working class coastal town east of Sydney, known for the infamous group of surfers called "The Bra Boys." A documentary about the group was released in 2007 and features a scene from Mark's 21st birthday party where the group had a run-in with police officers celebrating their Christmas party at the same venue. Surfers from Maroubra stick closely together, and Mark has a tight group of friends, including guys like Koby Abberton, who constantly charges big waves.
"When I was 16, I moved next to Koby and started tagging along with him wherever he surfed. He was constantly chasing big waves, so I just started getting a feel for them."
Today, Mark rearranges his entire life if he knows a swell is approaching. "I usually have three days to prepare before I spot a swell so I run around to get jet-skis, a photographer, equipment and other surfers to come along. Its chaos, but it's the best feeling when I actually get to ride a big wave.
Mark's family is highly educated and they all surf together whenever they get the chance. His dad is a surgeon, his mum runs a yoga retreat in New York and his sister teachers in China. "I'm probably the dumbest of the lot," he said laughing. But don't be fooled, being able to forecast waves, organising a crew of surfers in a few hours, and being mentally prepared to ride mountains of white water that reach over 40 feet high, requires someone who is mentally rock-solid.
It's in the water where Mark feels most comfortable, there all his senses come alive and where he feels the most challenged. On land, Mark says, "Everything else I do is real cruisey and mellow."
When waves are flat or between injuries (unfortunately they come with the territory), Mark plays Piano, the guitar, or picks up a new instrument to pass the time until he can surf again. He makes a conscious effort to keep his energy positive, especially in the weeks before a big swell.
"Emotions waste energy so I spend a lot of time focusing my thoughts in a positive direction" said Mark, noting that he was recently recruited to share his mentally tough approach to conquer impossible waves with some of the biggest surf companies in the world.
Mark could easily compete on the entire Qualifying Series or do corporate coaching forever, but in the end, his relentless determination and endless quest to ride bigger waves keeps him on a linear path. "I just want to find and surf the biggest barrels I can" he said, pausing "They scare the hells out of me, but that's what makes them so exciting."
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