Grateful to Have Survived

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And grateful to be alive were the main emotions after an afternoon surf session at the infamous Mexican Pipeline in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico. I’d just arrived from Los Angeles on a red eye flight and was excited to catch the tail end of an XXL swell which had brought 30 ft waves just days before. I’d seen the video footage and hoped for good conditions upon arrival.

I’d just released my album ‘Lost Realm’ and had spent the time after training for more big surf. It was my 5th trip to Puerto and I’d payed some serious dues on previous adventures there.

I started surfing 20 years ago, around the same time I started playing guitar and leading my first rock band. So these 2 pursuits always kind of went hand-in-hand. The difference was that music became my career, while surfing stayed more of an intense hobby. But in recent years, I’ve had my sights on professional surfing too, which has something to do with why paddling out that day in 15- 20 ft surf was not something new to me. But the beating I took that day was next- level.. and that brings me back to the story..

I’d decided not to wear an impact vest that day (essentially a life vest which some surfers in waves of consequence) and I was aware of the cost that a mistake could have on a big day at Puerto. My goals were to paddle out without getting too thrashed, wait as long as I needed to for a good wave, and avoid getting caught inside and taking a 20 ft wave on the head.

I was succeeding at these goals for the first hour. The conditions were bumpy, with lots of rip current and wind, and you could feel the churning, furious power of the water surrounding you. I was careful to watch for the biggest waves on the horizon and NOT be too far in front of them to paddle over them safely. After a half hour I got a good wave, held on by the seat of my pants, and managed not to fall, in spite of the bumps in the wave’s surface. I surfed it into the next rip current and planned to go in to the beach. But the ocean had other plans, giving me no such opportunity. I quickly changed plans too and scrambled to make it back out there behind the breaking waves, paddling furiously to get safely out of the impact zone.

I was aware that the plot had thickened. It was not going to be easy to get back to the beach. I thought of making the half hour paddle into the harbor where the boats and calm water are, but decided to take the more risky option: keep avoiding getting caught in the impact zone and wait patiently for another wave which would take me to the beach. About another half an hour passed and I saw the wave I wanted. I spun around from a sitting position on the board into a full-speed- ahead frenzy of paddling. I picked up speed to keep pace with the building mass of water behind me that I NEEDED to catch.

There’s a saying amongst big wave surfers, which is: “Never take the first wave of the set.” This is because if you blow it by wiping out or not catching the wave, you put yourself right in the impact zone for the next wave, and the next wave, and the next.. and however many more the ocean decides are coming. And that’s the worst, most dangerous place to be in waves of consequence.

 So I caught that wave, which looked so good. But it was the first wave of the set. And the wind seemed to keep me stuck at the top and I wiped out. I didn’t even get pummeled, which should have been an early indication that a serious beating from the next wave was coming. But I optimistically gathered my board, turned around to paddle back out…. and THERE IT WAS… a massive second wave, maybe 25 feet tall. And worst of all, was the realization that it was going to land right on me. Time just slows down in those situations, and all focus goes to getting the board away from you and getting that one good breath. Sure enough the wave broke right in front of me, as I tried to dive as deep under it as I could. The feeling is a cross between being in a giant washing machine and a firsthand observer of the cosmic dissolution. After about 10 seconds under there getting thrashed, I knew I had to get to the surface before the next wave broke. So I took 6 or 7 huge breast strokes and burst the surface, got a gasping breath and had about 3 seconds to prepare and breathe again for the next wave. Despite it being a few feet smaller, the next wave was even more powerful. It hit me and blasted me backwards so hard and fast. It felt like getting hit by a lightning bolt. Every bone in my body seemed to crack all at once. I had to stay calm. I knew that was the only thing to focus on. But again the awareness reached me that I needed to get to the surface before the next wave came. So I swam upwards, feeling that in spite of all the cardio and conditioning, I didn’t have that much more energy to keep taking waves like these on the head. I came up and there was another wave, but my board (attached by the leash to my leg) had actually succeeded in pulling me ever so slightly out of the impact zone. I was panting and winded and knew that the ordeal was not done. I tried to get on my board and let the wave blast me in but instead it blasted the board out from under me and gave me another beating. I wondered and pleaded “How many more of these can I take?” So I came up for air again, grabbed the board and re- attempted my previous maneuver, and thank God… it worked. I rode all the way to the beach on my stomach, set my feet on the sand and knew that I’d never come so close to drowning.

I walked up the beach and noticed I wasn’t completely gassed. I’d heard stories of countless people at Puerto having similar experiences and getting to the beach and collapsing, completely drained and exhausted. And I compared my own ordeal to those and thought that maybe I hadn’t almost drowned after all.. I’d just gotten really, really rattled and taken the beating of my life. Either way, I knew it was as close as I ever wanted to be to drowning. And I resolved to undertake new training to increase my breath capacity. I need to learn from my mistakes. I knew this experience would be a landmark that exposed some of my limitations and force me to improve my game, but it also gave me confidence to surf on even bigger days. The following day I surfed one of the most fun sessions of the summer!

So when you hear the narrated intro to Lost Realm or my verses in The Bridge, you know the music has its roots in life experience outside of just the music. It’s meant to inspire you to look at your limitations in a new light, as gates to your manifesting your desires. It’s about channeling the wondrous mystery of life in order to claim for yourself the manifest and indestructible gift of the inner power.

Surfing and music are two things that involve improvisation to a magnificent extent. So does life. 

Here’s another track that celebrates life, nature and the journey. It’s called ISLAND MUSICAL.. 

And yes, that photo at the top of the page is of me surfing at Puerto Escondido 🙂


  • Monika Aggarwal says:

    Incredible picture at the top of the post. And as someone who has never surfed, you described the nuances of your experience well. Looking forward to listening to lost realm again and keeping this story in mind 💪🏽💪🏽💪🏽

  • Monika Aggarwal says:

    *As someone who has never surfed, *I* must say that you described the nuances of your experience well.

  • Tealy ballard says:

    If you look at the picture looks like JESUS face and a cross on the top so I think GOD HAD YOU COVERED EVEN BEFORE YOU WENT IN ❤️🙏🏼😘we serve a awesome GOD

    • Andrew Longaker says:

      Yes! Now that you mention it I looked again and I can see it. And I totally agree.. many times I’ve been in terrifying situations out there, and every time, I’m constantly reminded of that power, which is beyond the ordinary.. And that’s an important theme in my music too that you’ll hear 🙂

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