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Frank Solomon: The Big Wave Surfer

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franksolomon
Big Wave Surfer

South African big wave surfer, Frank Solomon, tells us why he surfs potentially deadly breaks and how he’s inspiring the next generation to love and protect the ocean

'I realised the bigger and bigger the waves get, the less people that are out there.'

I’ve always been interested in bigger waves. I grew up lifesaving in a seaside suburb of Cape Town called Llandudno from when I was five or six years old. My dad was the coach, so I was always at the beach. At about ten years old I started surfing. When the waves were really big the guys used to give me twenty bucks to go out and catch waves when no one else would!

Growing up I’ve always just felt comfortable being out there by myself and I particularly loved the big waves. Part of the reason for that is simply that it’s more crowded when there are smaller waves and I realised the bigger and bigger the waves get, the less people that are out there. So, I didn’t just decide one day that I would be a big wave surfer, it was more of a natural progression.

'For most people it would be really scary to be out in waves like that, but I find it really beautiful.'

Part of the lure of big wave surfing is that it’s such a challenge. Not just riding them, but finding them too. The waves are only really big a couple of times a year, so it’s about reading the charts, checking the conditions and being ready. It’s not as if you can train for an event or a race that’s going to be on a set time and day, with big wave surfing you just never know when it’s going to be big, so you have to always be on top of it for when that day comes. People always ask what it’s like to surf big waves, but it’s quite hard to describe what it’s like out there. I suppose for most people it would be really scary to be out in waves like that, but I find it really beautiful. It’s the most present I ever feel. I’m not thinking about social media or what’s going on in the world or anything, I’m just completely focused and present in that moment. There are these huge walls of water breaking right next to me and it’s so loud that the crack of the waves is deafening, and my adrenaline goes to such another level that I can’t even relate it to anything else. It really is a very surreal experience, almost like a form of meditation because I can’t afford to think about any other thing, I just have to be there in the moment and it’s really quite amazing.

'Dealing with that mental challenge of wiping out and knowing it’s going to inevitably happen is a huge part of big wave surfing.'

But it’s not all blissful moments. I’ve had some horrible wipeouts over the years. One in particular was at a big wave surf spot in Hout Bay, called Dungeons, I was tow surfing on a day with 40-50ft faces and I let go of the tow rope a little too early. The wave caught up with me and I went ‘over the falls’ and got dumped straight down. I had a life jacket on, and I just remember just doing about five or six strokes up, opening my eyes and everything was still completely black. Nowhere near the surface, I thought I was going to black out for sure. I eventually managed to get up and take a sip of air before the next wave went over.

Those experiences are also hard to describe to other people as though it’s terrifying, it’s also part of the allure because it’s such a rush and afterwards I can’t believe that I survived. I think about what happened for a long time. That’s actually one of the challenges too. Some surfers have a big wipeout, and you never see them again and there are others who are fine with it and you’ll see them out there taking on big waves for years to come. Dealing with that mental challenge of wiping out and knowing it’s going to inevitably happen is a huge part of big wave surfing.

'Big wave surfing has given me confidence I use in everyday life.'

Big wave surfing has given me confidence I use in everyday life. It’s a quiet kind of confidence that I’m capable of this amazing thing not many people can do. That translates into dealing with everyday situations and people. And if I am faced with stress I know I can go and do this thing that few people in the world can do, which gives me the confidence to back myself in any situation. It’s kind of hard to explain but big wave surfing gives me an everyday comnfidence that is very important.

It also comes with a sense of calm and presence. When I’m in that moment with a 50-60ft wave breaking in front of me, I realise just how much time I spend worrying about stupid things. All of which go out the window for those brief seconds.

'I wanted the kids of the local communities to be able to come down to the beach and surf.'

I run an NGO called The Sentinel Ocean Alliance. I guess that also came from the confidence big wave surfing gives me in everyday life. It started after I saw this horrible video of this kid walking down from Hangberg township, close to where The Sentinel mountain is with Dungeons behind it. He got stuck in the crossfire of this riot and was hit in face with rubber bullets. It was disturbing as that ocean and that beach taught me everything I know about the ocean, it taught me about surfing and gave me all these opportunities.

I wanted the kids of the local communities to be able to come down to the beach and surf and do lifesaving and have the same opportunities I had growing up. I didn't really know what I was doing at first, but I now have five amazing people working for me and every week 400 kids come through the program and learn how to surf. We also have the Parley Ocean School where we teach kids about the environment, the ocean and why they need protecting.

'You can’t really love or care for something if you don’t know it.'

You can’t really love or care for something if you don’t know it and a lot of these kids don’t know about the ocean and don’t have a relationship with it. They have never been able to go surfing and have never even been swimming in it so with our ‘Turning the Tides’ swimming program and the Parley Ocean School we’ve slowly introduced the kids from the townships to the ocean. We teach them to really care about it and love it and we hope they take that with them throughout their lives.

Discover more about Frank by following him on Insta and checking out his website. You can also learn more about the amazing work of the Sentinel Ocean Alliance and Parley Ocean School.