Ride the Biggest Waves
Big wave surfer Mark Foo was born on this day in 1958 in Singapore.
The self-described "living legend of surfing," Mark Foo was probably the most adept promoter of surfing during the 1980s and early 1990s. His credo: ride the biggest waves, and make sure people see you doing it. He would routinely alert the sport's best known photographers of his plans -- where he would be surfing, what they could expect to see -- and soon he was the best known surfer in the world, appearing in magazines and on TV surfing giant Hawaiian waves, particularly around the surfing mecca of Waimea Bay. In doing so, Foo also changed the style of big wave surfing, moving the sport away from the straight-line, no-nonsense fashion which was its hallmark since the 1950s toward flashy, dazzling maneuvers, leaving an indelible mark on younger surfers. Foo took big risks for the sake of publicity: in 1985 at Waimea, after several other surfers began getting into trouble amid unrelenting 30-foot waves, Foo waived off a helicopter rescue to surf, for an instant, a 50-foot wave -- long enough to have his picture taken, looking as though he were about to be consumed by a whale -- before his board broke in half.
On December 1994, reports of 50 and 60-foot waves hitting the craggy unfamiliar coast at Maverick's near San Francisco drew Foo and his rival Ken Bradshaw to California. Upon arriving, they were disappointed to find merely average waves, but they set out to surf nonetheless. With a 100 onlookers on the beach, Foo stole a routine 15-foot wave from Bradshaw, only to fall almost immediately as the wave's course shifted unpredictably. After an hour, people began to notice that Foo had not surfaced. Surfer Mike Parsons, who had himself nearly drowned at about the same time, spotted Foo's body floating near the surface while riding one of the media boats. Foo was pulled from the water, but all attempts to revive him failed. It was surmised that Foo was knocked unconscious by his board and that his leash caught on some rocks near the bottom of the surf.
Although Foo had often said that dying in a 50-foot wave would be a "glamorous" way to go, no one ever suspected he would die on a routine wipeout in California, albeit amid dangerous rock hazards. He was the first big-wave surfer to die riding since 1943. 700 people attended Foo's memorial service at Waimea, where 150 men and women paddled their surfboards into the bay and released Foo's ashes.