For several years after Kerby Brown learned about “the wave” — a monstrous mountain of water that broke on a reef miles off the southwest coast of Australia — he dreamed of surfing it. When he finally did, it picked him up, threw him down, pounded him into the reef, dislocated his arm and darned near killed him.
Naturally, he can’t wait to do it again.
“I definitely will,” the 25-year-old professional surfer promised TODAY’s Meredith Vieira during an interview Tuesday from Sydney, Australia.
Brown had gone one-on-one with the 40-foot wave back in August, but had just recently gone public with his adventure.
Brown lives in Western Australia and had heard about the wave from fishermen. He and his brother, Courtney, had ridden out on Jet Skis to check it out, and once they saw it, they knew they had to test themselves against it. But conditions had to be just right for the dangerous expedition, and that happens only a few times a year.
So they filed away the location in their memory banks, keeping it a secret from others, and waited for their time. “It’s off the bottom of Australia,” he told TODAY. “A lot of people want to find it, but we’re not telling where it is.”
“It’s always been in the back of our minds,” Brown told Vieira. “It was a bit of anticipation until the time we actually got to ride it.”
The problem was waiting for those perfect conditions. Whenever they went out, either the water was too rough or it was too windy or both.
In August, he, Courtney and two photographers went out again. They waited for a long time, watching the fearsome wave breaking on the reef until just before dark, when things finally calmed down enough for Brown to decide to take it on.
It wasn’t a decision he made lightly. They were utterly alone, a 40-minute Jet Ski ride from shore, and the wave was roaring along at 30 mph.
“It was really difficult,” Brown said of the decision. “Just the mind frame of pulling up on the Jet Ski and looking at it and actually seeing it unloading onto the reef and then actually saying to ourselves, ‘Well, let’s go out there and let’s actually ride this’ — it was a big step; a big decision.”
He got on his board and held onto a rope as his brother towed him at a frightening clip to the wave.
“It’s probably the most exciting thing you could imagine, the most exciting thing I can imagine doing in life,” Brown told Vieira. “You’re going a ridiculously fast speed. It all happens really, really quickly. You let go of the rope and all of a sudden you’re flying down this mountain of water and this shallow bit of reef just under the water surface ... Everything’s so noisy and just exploding. It really happens fast.”
The wave breaks on the reef, which is just a foot or so under the surface. The reef then falls off in steps into water that is deep and black and cold.
The ride itself was enough to put the fear of Neptune into even a man who had been surfing since he was 8.
“It was pretty scary,” Brown admitted. At first, he rocketed along the wave, thinking he was going to pull it off.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to the end,” he reported. “All of a sudden it just sucked my board out. There was no way for my board to fit. It’s like too much power; just pulled it out from underneath me. I like, flopped into the basin and got sucked up into the lip and then thrown and did about 10 cartwheels.”
Tons of water pounded him into the coral reef. That’s when he thought his arm had been pulled off. But he had bigger problems than the possible loss of a limb. By the time the pounding was over, Brown opened his eyes and found himself deep beneath the surface in water so black he couldn’t tell where the surface was.
For a moment, he didn’t think he’d fight his way back to the surface before he ran out of air in his lungs. But just as he thought he had reached the limit, he broke the surface, gulped in air and decided that it had been the ride of a lifetime.
That’s when Vieira suggested that he certainly wouldn’t be trying anything like that again.
Brown just smiled and said he most definitely would. It’s what he lives for.