Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Ken Bradshaw started surfing at the age of 13 at Surfside Beach, Texas. Searching for better waves than those found in the Lone Star state, Ken moved to California in 1969 and by 1972 was ready to attempt the big waves of Hawaii's Sunset Beach. Ken mastered big-wave surfing on Oahu's North Shore, not only at Sunset, but also at the legendary Waimea Bay. Through the late 1970s and early 1980s, he gained nicknames like Ken Kong, The Shaw of Sunset, and Planet Crusher. His first of many big victories in professional surfing was the ABC's Wide World of Sports Duke Kahanamoku Surfing Classic in December, 1982.
On January 28, 1998, Ken rode the biggest wave ever surfed -- a colossal 85-footer -- on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, at an outer reef known as Outside Log Cabins. He also rode another 20 waves between 40 and 65 feet to solidify this date as a historic one in surfing. In December, 2001, NATURE Online spoke to Ken about big-wave surfing, including his record-breaking ride.
Most people would see a 25-foot wave and run in the other direction. What is it about surfers that make them want to ride big waves?
Well, not all surfers are big-wave surfers. Those who are have a certain passion and a deep desire to challenge themselves by surfing waves of that magnitude.
January 28th, 1998 was an important day in the history of surfing. Can you share with us what that was like?
That day represents the culmination of 25 years of desire and observation. For three years prior to 1998, we had been experiencing increasingly large swells. So over a period of time, we kept learning how to surf better on bigger waves and by 1998, we were ready for the challenge of a 40-foot wave. On Super Bowl Sunday -- the Sunday before Wednesday, January 28th -- we got really big 35-foot waves. We still had not seen a 40-footer, but knew that the swell would come. Then something happened that's only happened 10 times or so since I've been in Hawaii, and that is that Waimea Beach closed out -- that is to say, waves spanning the half-mile wide beach started breaking all at once, which means that they're just massive.
In the show you talk a little about your relationship with the ocean. What is it about the water that's so gratifying?
The ocean represents balance in my life. I get frustrated with the daily struggle of my "real life" out of the water, and being in the water in the surfer world is the antidote to that.