Who is Strider Wasilewski?
Hailing from a small beach community famous for its parties, antics, and heavy localism, Strider Wasilewski is arguably the most successful professional surfer from the area. Being able to avoid the drug and alcohol scene, Strider cut his teeth learning to surf in Venice and Santa Monica. After being disillusioned from competition at a young age, he gave it all up, lost his sponsors and became a free surfer when being a free surfer was not a commonplace. Luckily after years of dedication, he signed to Quiksilver and became one of the best big wave free surf chargers the surfing world has seen. From Pipe, to heats at Teahupoo with Andy Irons, to becoming a WSL announcer, its a story for the ages.
“You gotta lie to yourself,” Strider Wasilewski says.
He maintained that lie until one day in 2003, when he faced Andy Irons and other pros in the early rounds of a world tour event at the Tahitian meat grinder known as Teahupo’o. One of the participants, a French local, scraped for an impossible wave — and his failure infected Wasilewski with a mortal truth.
“I could see the fear in his eyes,” Wasilewski says. “And he went and got sent over the falls. And he couldn’t see when he finally came up. He had been underwater for so long his oxygen was gone, and water was coming out of his nose. Nothing was working for him. He couldn’t paddle. He was flopping around, waving. I went to help him, and I was trippin’ on him: Fuck, that was so gnarly. And then I was sitting and a wave came right to me, and I started questioning myself at that moment.”
Until then, Wasilewski had never truly understood fear. But somehow, the French surfer’s fear became Wasilewski’s own.
“And I remember Andy seeing that questioning in my eye. And he took off on the wave, cut back and got the sickest pit. He won the heat. He had the edge from that moment on for the rest of our lives.”
That’s Wasilewski’s perception of it, anyway.
It turns out that, a year earlier, Irons had faced his own life-changing wave — at the same spot. In a video, Irons would describe dropping in on a “dredging” 15-footer that heaved over Teahupo’o’s notorious barbed-wire reef. Irons said that he’d been gripped by fear, unable to catch one wave during that session. He charged only to elbow out his competitive brother, Bruce, who was looking at the same monster. “I pulled back on five waves,” Irons said, “and my balls were just up in my stomach. … I’m scared. I can’t do it.”
He made the wave, though, and he made it look easy. Eight years after the experience, in 2010, Irons would die in a Texas hotel room of a heart attack, likely brought on by all the drugs in his system, including Alprazolam, Zolpidem, methadone, cocaine and methamphetamine.
That could have been Wasilewski’s path. Maybe it should have been.
Check out the full article at LA Weekly
Photo cred: Danny Liao