Through a blanket of fog, it was a vision of death. Darryl Virostko, the big-wave surfer known as Flea, was taking what witnesses described as the worst-looking wipeout they ever saw. It was a gloomy day at Maverick's last week, and a handful of riders were meeting the challenge of their lives.
The most-seasoned Maverick's surfers have seen some epic disasters in their time. Jay Moriarity, who met his death years later while free-diving, took a well-publicized wipeout in 1994, just four days before the drowning of Hawaiian superstar Mark Foo. A Santa Cruz surfer named Neil Matthies took a fall on a giant peak in 1998 and was held under so long that a second wave passed over him before he came to the surface - about 45 seconds later, more than 100 yards inside the spot of impact.
Flea's wipeout, though, entered an entirely new realm. That Tuesday, the waves were so big that paddle-surfing, the style featured in the upcoming Maverick's competition, was out of the question. This was strictly for tow-surfing - the act of being whipped into a wave at high speed, water-ski style, by a partner aboard a personal watercraft. Grant Washburn, the Maverick's standout who has meticulously chronicled every swell during the last 15 years, said some of the wave faces approached 80 feet in height.
"Probably the biggest day ever surfed at Maverick's," said Washburn. "A couple of other days are in the ballpark. But what really stood out was the performance level. Guys were turning, carving, snapping off the top, getting barreled like never before."
The same day marked the death of a surfer at Ghost Trees in Monterey.
Peter Davi, the 45-year-old Monterey surfer who died that same Tuesday at Ghost Trees, the notoriously dangerous spot near Pebble Beach. As much respect as Davi had earned through years of experience around the world, no one could fathom the idea of him trying to paddle-surf Ghost Trees - which had served up the biggest waves ever ridden there - instead of finding a tow partner.
Video of the day at Maverick's can be found at surfline and is some of the nuttiest stuff I have ever seen.