Saturday, 26 March 2011

Sion Milosky

Sion Milosky, who died while surfing off California on March 16 aged 35, was one of the surfing world’s most respected big-wave riders. 

Sion Milosky
In January 2010 Milosky rode one of the biggest waves ever paddled into by hand, at the so-called Banzai Pipeline on the North Shore of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. It was estimated at 35ft by Hawaiian and general oceanographic measurement standards, which are based on the “back” of the wave. To surfers in the mainland United States, Britain and most of the rest of the world — who measure their waves face-on — it would have been at least twice that height.
Others have ridden bigger waves in the last few years, but only after being towed by jet ski to get them up to pace with the wave before it broke. The Texan Ken Bradshaw, who was towed into place by a jet ski off Hawaii on January 28 1998, claims the record of riding the biggest wave – at least 85ft by American measurements.
Native Polynesians in Hawaii are known to have surfed mighty waves on carved-out tree trunks long before cameras existed or records kept. But Milosky’s big wave is now reckoned to be the biggest ever paddled into manually, along with another huge wave ridden side-by-side by his American friends Mark Healey and Shane Dorian at Waimea Bay on Oahu a few days later, also in January last year.
Milosky was already highly respected by his fellow surfers as what is known as an “underground charger” – a longboarder who “charged” the biggest waves for pleasure but avoided the international attention, sponsorship and money that the sport can bring.
All that began to change when the renowned surf photographer Daniel Russo captured him paddling into and then “charging” what surfers call a “widow-maker” at the Banzai Pipeline. Milosky’s name was made. “Sick” was the adjective most used to describe his ride – the highest of compliments from surfers.
Photographs of him against the backdrop of enormous waves began to appear regularly in American surfing magazines, and soon the sponsors began to take notice. The surf and beachwear companies Volcom and Vans decided to back him.
Sion Milosky was born in 1975 in the small town of Kalaheo, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. He was the son of a Californian hippie who had moved to Hawaii around 1970 to seek the islands’ aloha spirit as the American “flower power” dream faded. Sion, nicknamed “Bam Bam”, began on a boogie board on nearby Poipu Beach at the age of three and by the time he attended Waimea High School was an expert surfer.
Thereafter he worked as a dishwasher, cook, pizza delivery boy, carpenter, fisherman, boat and car repairman, waiter and bartender before setting up his own business – welding wrought-iron gates for the driveways of Hawaiian homes. After marrying a local girl, Suzi Olaes, and having two daughters, he moved from Kauai to Oahu two years ago to be closer to the big surf on the North Shore, notably the Banzai Pipeline.
At the time of his death Milosky — a “goofy-footer” (that is, he stood on the board with right foot forward) — was visiting friends in California, where he wanted to surf the notorious Maverick’s break at Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco, which has killed or maimed surfers in the past.
On the evening of March 16, he decided to round off his session by barrelling across a big wave on his bespoke 10’ 5’’ board. According to his close friend Nathan Fletcher, he caught the wave “with a big smile on his face” — but the wave’s lip pummelled him into the ocean and a following wave covered him like an avalanche.
Fletcher immediately commandeered a jet ski, and found Milosky’s body 20 minutes later, a mile from where he had disappeared. His lightweight life-vest had proved inadequate against the might of a “two-wave hold-down”.
A fellow surfer who saw Milosky’s body taken ashore said: “He looked perfect. They’d removed his wetsuit, his eyes were closed, no apparent damage of any kind. Just a perfectly peaceful, healthy person. You felt like you could just jolt him back to life.”
Milosky, whose wife and children survive him, said in a recent interview: “It’s not about making a big drop. The ultimate aim is to get barrelled [to get in the hollow of the wave]. Powering into the biggest wave and the biggest barrel. That would be a nice feeling — for people to say, 'Hey, Sion, he caught some of the biggest waves ever ridden’.”

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