body on a wave rider who yelled ‘raise your hand.’ I was so out of it I didn’t even know to raise my arm. He grabbed me and pulled me onto the sled. He took me to one of the photo boats nearby where I rested. It took me about an hour and half to recover. Then I grabbed my backup board and went back in and got another dozen rides or so, and one more wipeout.

“This was just one of a number of memorable experiences, all part of the learning process.”


Dan and many of the other extreme wave surfers belong to the nonprofit Association of Professional Towsurfers. I spoke with Eric Akiskalian, a cofounder and current president of the association, about what it took to excel in this dangerous and demanding sport. He told me how surfing emerged as a new sport when surfers began pursuing ever-larger waves, using such personal watercraft as the Yamaha High Output that has a 160-horsepower engine, can carry one to three riders, and can travel at speeds up to 60 miles per hour. He remarked that the main qualities are training and physical conditioning, adding that the ability to read the waves and anticipate their behavior is very important, but always expect the unexpected.

Akiskalian grew up in Santa Barbara, California, and has been surfing abroad for more than 35 years. (In addition to cofounding the towsurfers association, he created an extreme surf web site, I asked Eric to give me some background on towsurfing and how it got started.

“With the inherent dangers involved and the ever-growing interest in extreme sports, tow-in surfing has become one of the most exciting competitive water sports in the world. It didn’t happen overnight; it began as an experiment by Laird Hamilton and some other Hawaiian surfers, including Buzzy Kerbox and Derrick Doerner. They were the first to take an inflatable Zodiac raft with a 40-horsepower motor out to a spot called Phantom’s on the north shore of Oahu in the early 1990s.”

Their approach was simply to check it out, according to Eric. “They didn’t even tow that day. They just went out in the boat, looked around,

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