How to Catch a Monster Wave: The Psychology of Big Wave Surfing

The Inertia, multimedia site about surfing, kicks off a new documentary series with an in-depth exploration of big wave surfing. Sine Qua Non is a portrait of champion Greg Long, who has spent years chasing storms around the planet to catch the ocean's tallest breaks. 

Drawing from roughly 30 hours of interviews with Long, his parents, and the surfers and photographers who've worked with him, the film reveals the calculated risk and passion that go into the sport. "You look at a [surf photo in a] magazine, you look at 1/2,000 of a second of a moment of what happened on a lifelong pursuit to get there," Todd Glaser, a staff photographer at Surfer Magazine, explains. What isn't captured in the shot is a surfer's dedication to physical training, grueling travel, and studying the weather patterns that create the waves of a lifetime. 

The film was produced by Zach Weisberg, the editor and founder of The Inertia, and directed by Richard Yelland, including footage from Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards. Weisberg, writing about the making of the film, describes his goals for the series:

I wanted to launch a documentary film series that tells the best stories in surfing. Period. Where the emphasis is on storytelling, and surfing serves as a gorgeous backdrop for compelling themes that all humans – not just us lucky ones who spend an inordinate amount of time hunting bumps of energy in the ocean – can relate to. Anyone with a pulse and a beating heart should find these stories compelling, and I believe there are plenty of them to go around in the world of surfing.

Sine Qua Non runs long but the stories are epic indeed. The team recounts an incredibly daring (or just plain stupid) mission to surf Cortes Bank, 100 miles from dry land, in the small window between two storms. Long also describes a near-death experience at the hazardous surf spot Maverick's that brings home just how close to the edge the sport can get. "It can easily be seen as selfish (and a lot of people do): 'Why are you going out there risking your life for your own personal satisfaction?' You've got people who care about you. Some people have family," Long concedes. "Surfing big waves just becomes part of your heart and soul and who you are."  

For more from The Inertia, visit

Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.

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