With the Mavericks Invitational and Nelscott Reef Surf Contest now in the history books, and the world record for both tow and paddle waves being seriously challenged, the 2013 winter big wave season still pushes on and shows no sign of slowing down. Look no further than another round of northwest swell on tap later this week to see what I mean. The big-wave movement has truly gone global, not just exclusive to Hawaii and California anymore. And with each passing swell, with each new champion crowned and world record up for grabs, a new crop of hellmen (and woman) wax up their rhino chasers and wait in the wings for their chance at glory.
But unlike their shortboard brethren, a much sexier and accessible option which produces literally hundreds of new prospects every year, there's not a very long line behind the big-wave surfing rookie table. It's usually a short list and even fewer that really standout or aspire to continue. But just below the radar station at Pillar Point a new blip has appeared on the Maverick's screen. Santa Barbara's Matt Becker, just 18 years old, has already made a mark paddling into some of the biggest waves the Northern California big-wave spot has to offer.
Inspired by his dad and uncle, (no connection to Becker Surfboards) Becker has been surfing most of his life. At 14 he took the waterman route, becoming an avid stand-up paddler and paddleboard racer. In a short time he's already considered one of the sport's elite and has traveled the globe competing in most of the major events against the world's best. Last year 17-year-old Becker competed in the grueling 26-mile Quiksilver Molokai to Oahu Paddle Race held in the Ka'iwi channel, the same channel where the legendary Eddie Aikau was lost at sea back in 1978. In 2012 Becker was also named to the U.S. team for stand-up paddle surfing and competed in the ISA's inaugural event held in Peru.
Due to a crazy travel schedule Becker is home schooled now by his parents Mark and Martha Becker. Martha, a registered nurse, and Mark a commercial fisherman and lifetime surfer, travel with their son as much as possible. And aside from being in the ocean since birth, dad credits Becker's love of surfing early on by watching most of famed filmmaker Bruce Brown's movies and seeing how truly stoked the early surfers really were. As it turned out, Matt's mom was the late Pat Brown's (Bruce's wife) chemotherapy nurse, administering her cancer treatments. Brown had transferred all his movies on to VHS and Pat had handed over a few copies to Martha to give to Matt. He watched them over and over until they were basically worn out.
Surf media continued to have a profound effect on Matt. A couple of years ago his mom bought him a copy of Doug Acton's book "Inside Mavericks," a chronicle of the big-wave surf scene in Half Moon Bay. Little did she know it would light a spark inside her son. He has since read it cover to cover at least 15 times.
Observing any new big-wave spot is crucial for your survival and there are plenty of movies, photos and life and death testimonials to study up on Maverick's. He's already ridden some big waves in Hawaii, but the Northern California break has been the real test. With the Jaws paddle movement front and center these last few seasons he's been frothing at the chance to paddle Peahi as well, but Maverick's is closer to his Santa Barbara home and a more affordable/formidable substitute.
Matt showed up on one of the first swells of the year at Maverick's, paddled out and just kind of watched from the channel. He didn't just come book-smart either, when he decided to first paddle out at Maverick's he came with a plan: he would have the right board from his friend Joe Bark, and a wealth of advice and knowledge from Jamie Mitchell and long-time Maverick's SUPer and friend Hailey Fiske.
"Matt has really stepped up his game this year," explained Mitchell, a 10-time Molokai to Oahu champion. "He has really got focused and has tried to be on every swell at Maverick's this winter. He's a talented kid and can paddle fast, so I believe he will be in the lineup for a long time to come."
By the next few swells he would be ready to charge the bowl. Back in September he came up with Duke Brouwer, Surftech's team manager. Brouwer and a few others had headed out to the lineup on a boat and invited Matt along, but true to form, he chose to make the long paddle from the beach instead.
"I'm stoked to watch him hold his own with some of the Maverick's veterans this season," said Brouwer. "I wasn't sure what to expect. But I was pleasantly shocked. He may be young and inexperienced in big waves, but he's extremely confident in his ability. He shows no hesitation out there."
Even the most experienced waterman will tell you that kind of confidence can get you in big trouble in waves of consequence, veteran or rookie. Matt's picked up a few pointers from some of the Maverick's journeyman like Zach Wormhoudt, Mike Gerhardt and a few others. Just the smallest bits of advice on where to sit, where not to sit, who to paddle around who not to paddle around can improve your experience out there ten fold. With his youth and exuberance over-flowing, staying humble is key.
In an online interview when he was 16 he was asked who his favorite athletes were. He responded, "Rusty and Greg Long, because they charge huge waves and don't talk and brag about it". Good advice for any a hungry young surfer.
Matt's already surfed Iceland, survived a couple of commercial salmon seasons in Alaska, paddled the Molokai to Oahu, and is about to put his first successful Maverick's season under his belt -- a pretty stacked resume for a waterman at any age. Taking it all in stride and sucking it all up like a giant new sponge he continues to charge hard.
"There's a strong camaraderie in the paddling community similar to the big-wave brotherhood," says Matt's dad Mark. "Matt has found something very similar like that at Maverick's, people who love the open-ocean and big water."