Sports active: Surf wars

Modern surfing is a global affair, but 30 years ago a surfer wasn't worth his board wax if he couldn't mix it with the legends of Hawaii's Waimea Bay. So when old-school values clashed with a cocky new breed, says Andy Martin, it kick-started an epic rivalry

A 10-foot day at Sunset: western swell, clean and glassy, And only a dozen guys out. A well-formed set comes through, maybe slightly bigger than the norm. A few people look at it, but only one man paddles for the lead wave, confidently, with an air of calm authority. Muscular, with long hair and bushy beard, Ken Bradshaw could pass for Charlton Heston playing Moses and looks as if he could part the waters, not just ride them.

Just then another man races out of the pack - younger, smaller, lighter, Asian, more a Bruce Lee in shorts - goes streaking past Bradshaw on his inside and steals the wave right from under his nose. Bradshaw pulls back in amazement. Who is this guy dropping in on me? When the younger man paddles back out and sits up on his board, scanning the horizon for his next ride, Bradshaw goes over to him, grabs his board and flips it over. Beyond rage, coolly, methodically, he rips off each of the three fins. "Somebody needed to teach you a lesson," he mutters.

Mark Foo looks at Bradshaw open-mouthed. It is the winter of 1980. Thus begins the duel between Bradshaw and Foo, the Old Guard and the Young Gun, that will be dangerously played out over more than a decade on the legendary North Shore of Hawaii.

Bradshaw was born in Texas in 1953. His father - ex-Special Forces, disciplinarian, local mayor - had Ken's brilliant football career all mapped out. But in 1968, at the height of the summer of love and the revolt against the Vietnam war, Bradshaw and his board vamoosed. On the bus going south along the West Coast he stared out at all the perfect waves like a youthful kleptomaniac looking through the window at Harrods. But he soon outgrew California.

It wasn't until the late Fifties that Greg Noll and others broke the taboo at the great U-shaped bay of Waimea, on the North Shore of Oahu. The North Shore is to big waves what New York is to tall buildings. But for the next three decades Waimea Bay remained, beyond dispute, the Empire State and Coliseum of big-wave surfing, the ultimate arena.

When Bradshaw arrived there in the early Seventies, Eddie Aikau, native Hawaiian, Waimea lifeguard and guardian, smiled on Bradshaw and called him "Brother Brad". When Aikau disappeared at sea on a doomed rescue mission in 1978, Bradshaw was poised to take his place. He took Waimea by force. He bullied 20ft-plus monsters into submission. He was undisputed numero uno and a monster of machismo. He would bite chunks out of the boards of surfers who got in his way. A photograph showed him eating nails.

Foo was born in Singapore in 1958, the son of a Chinese mother and American father. Mark was aged 10 when his family spent a year in Hawaii and he fell in love with the waves. He threw terrible tantrums when they had to move back to the mainland. Based in Maryland, the kid talked his parents into driving him the three hours to the nearest East Coast beach every weekend.

He won a place at the University of Hawaii, where he dedicated himself full-time to the study of surfing. He tried his hand at the smaller waves of the new-born pro circuit, but he only really felt comfortable in big waves. The bigger they were, the cooler and more laser-like he became. "Every day I wake up I pray it's 20 feet," he said to me.

Foo was a karate kid among heavyweight pugilists. He didn't set out to do battle with 30ft waves, he danced with them: he finessed them. Foo scorned the older generation who ran surfing as a closed shop. And he had media presence: his own surfing column, a radio show, television broadcasts, appearances in feature films. He was the first on the North Shore to acquire a mobile phone, then a second, cracking real-estate deals and transmitting surf reports without ever leaving the beach. Bradshaw, who worked his way up as a bouncer and board-shaper, condemned his "lack of respect". Two-phones Foo was just a performer, a careerist, a glory-hunter. "No photos, no Foo."

January 18 1985: in the afternoon, the Bay jacks up from 15 to 25 feet and keeps on getting bigger. A perfect opportunity to settle old scores. Bradshaw is out, all alone. He gets caught inside by a 30-footer, loses his board, and he has to swim for it. He stays close to the rocks at the east end and makes a dash for shore, but the rip steers him towards Coffin Corner at the west end. He swims out to the lineup and around and tries again and fails again. Now he is on his third circuit of the bay, already an epic of sheer endurance and grit. Nearing exhaustion, he hugs the rocks once more and puts his head down and makes a last desperate lunge for shore. Which is when Foo, Alec Cooke and James Jones paddle out.

Cooke and Jones have to be rescued by helicopter. The bay has become unrideable. But Foo waves the chopper away. A wave twice the size of the other sets closes out across the whole bay. Foo dives under it. When he comes up, there is another huge set bearing down on him. He doesn't have the breath to sit this one out underwater, so he turns round and paddles as if his life depended on it. The wave comes up under him and he takes off, but as he leaps to his feet the wave turns concave, like the sting of a scorpion, and hollows out. Foo goes over the ledge anyway. Suddenly he is flying like an angel.

"The Unridden Realm": that was Foo's attention-grabbing headline. After surviving the heaviest laundering of his career, he wrote up his 35ft wave as a "date with destiny". "To die surfing a monster wave," Foo said to me, in a premonition of his own death, "that would be the ultimate way to go." Bradshaw was caustic. "Foo didn't actually ride the damn thing," he snorted. It was just falling with style. Plus hype.

The 1986 Quiksilver In Memory Of Eddie Aikau contest, held only in 20ft- plus conditions at Waimea, was the scene of their next shoot-out. Aikau was a former lifeguard and big-wave icon, who had died at sea on a rescue in 1978. In the end victory - and a cheque for $50,000 - was formally awarded to Clyde Aikau, brother of Eddie. But the next edition of Surfer splashed Foo over the front cover with the caption, "How to win at Waimea".

Meanwhile, Bradshaw had set his sights on higher things. When he paddled out at the bay he would keep on going, towards outer reef breaks like Outside Alligators and Outside Log Cabins, with even bigger waves on offer. Foo followed. But he wanted to use a boat to get out there or a helicopter, whereas Bradshaw, a purist, insisted on paddling. The two men still differed in style, but the early Nineties saw a kind of rapprochement.

In 1994, just before Christmas, they fly to San Francisco. Bradshaw has been surfing newly discovered Mavericks in northern California, cold and grey, and has persuaded Foo to come along too on the strength of a rumoured giant swell. On the flight, the old rivals agree to join forces and buy a jet ski and become a "tow-in" team, aiming at waves far beyond the size attainable by paddling.

Foo takes off on a wave between 15 and 18 feet. The mesmerising footage of his last moments at Mavericks shows him falling, being dragged up inside the wave, looped over, and then flung down and stomped on. Bradshaw spots the fragments of Foo's board in the photographers' boat. Two hours later Foo is found dangling upside down in the water, still leashed to a remnant of his broken board. Mavericks hits the big time.

When I heard the news, I couldn't believe it. I thought he was immortal, I said, on the phone to Hawaii. "He is immortal," Michael Willis, Foo's shaper, replied. "Foo blows Elvis and James Dean clean away." Now Foo is preserved in a state of youthful celluloid perfection, forever 36. His death was like a tombstone that marked the end of the classical phase of big-wave surfing. Waimea continues to serve up big days, but now it is seen as too crowded, almost too small.

On 28 January 1998 at Outside Log Cabins, Ken Bradshaw towed into a wave estimated at over 70 feet that many reckon to be the biggest ever ridden. After 30 winters on the North Shore, he is still living close to Sunset, still waiting for an all-erasing swell. Something like an apocalypse.

Andy Martin's new column, `Surf spot', starts in Sports active next week

Suggested Topics
News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
News
i100
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Early Years Teachers Required

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Early Years Teachers ...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

Qualified Early Years Teachers Required

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualifed Early Years ...

Do you want to work in Education?

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energetic gradu...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little