That'll be the day Shawn Dollar dog paddles away from the sport of surfing (where there are not many dollars to be made);
Dollar, a 32-year-old regular at the famed Mavericks break near Half Moon Bay, is among the most accomplished athletes in Northern California. He has set two world records in the biggest-wave category. He lives comfortably in Santa Cruz with his wife and 2 1/2-year-old son, and is held in awe by young surfers who could only dream of cascading down a 60-foot wall of water.
And he has become, in essence, a prisoner of his talent.
Back on land - which is to say, most of the time - Dollar finds himself immersed in introspection, weighing the risk and thrill of his achievements against common sense. Jenn Dollar is deeply concerned about losing her man to the sea. Shawn would find it inconceivable to leave her and the child on their own.Well, not quite inconceivable when there's;
Cortes Bank, once an island and now submerged, lies 100 miles off the coast of San Diego. At the water's shallowest point, the underwater shoal is no more than 10 feet below the surface, a lurking hazard known to cause shipwrecks and other nautical disasters dating back centuries.
...."Just getting out there is a mission in itself," Dollar recalled. "It's an 8-10-hour trip in the midst of a huge swell. As soon as we got around San Clemente Island (a bit past the halfway point), we were in 20-foot seas. That's when it hit me just how nuts this was."
...."So I'm thinking, I'm not a professional surfer. I'm not under contract," said Dollar. "It doesn't matter. You're out there because you purely want to be. So you'd better be loving what you're doing."
Because you might die doing it;
...today's big-wave surfers sometimes find themselves held underwater for 40-50 seconds, helplessly pinned to the depths as a second wave passes over them - the ultimate test of both physical and mental prowess.
Necessity led to an invention;
... the flotation vest, attached to the wetsuit with a CO2 canister and air bag on the back. "You pull on a cord and it inflates the bag through compressed oxygen," said Dollar. "Within a couple of seconds, you're going to the surface."
If it works, that is. A number of surfers have been so mercilessly thrashed underwater, their pull-cords were rendered useless. That's why Dollar employs a backup-plan device, known as Spare Air, a compact oxygen canister used by scuba divers in out-of-air emergencies. "You activate it by blowing into a mouthpiece, and that's pretty much going to be your last breath if it doesn't work," he said. "Scary kind of commitment."Cowabunga.