“The waves were breaking with 30-35 foot faces and from that day it was on.”
Santana’s “Samba Pa Ti” drifts through the speakers of Captain Jack’s sea vessel as dolphins ride and jump along the starboard side and chase the wake. Todos Santos Island in the forefront, behind us Ensenada.
“Ensenada is my favorite place in the world,” surfboard maker and big wave rider Gary Linden said as he helms the wheel. “I’ve been coming here for 40 years.”
Photo by Eddie Solt
While world class quality surf in and around Ensenada has been attracting surfers as early as the 1940s, the left off the south island at a spot now called “Thor’s Hammer,” named after WindanSea Director Thor Svenson, was first surfed by the WindanSea surf club in 1964.
Linden would be picked to join the WindanSea Club years later and gain skills and experiences that he would take into judging and organizing contests. In the distance on the north island, a right was breaking off a rocky point. The club only surfed the left while Leroy Grannis and Ron Stoner shot photos that would be featured in both Surfer and Surfing Magazine.
Photo by Eddie Solt
Linden’s first experiences in Baja were competing for his surf club, Las Olas, against the Baja Surf Club from Ensenada in 1964. In the late ‘60s and the ‘70s, he crossed the border in between his worldwide excursions and time abroad in South America, Hawaii, France, and Australia. (One of his stories includes being stuck in the Atlantic’s “Horse Latitudes” for two weeks living off rainwater caught in a sail on a barely floatable 30 foot boat.) Linden first surfed “Killers” at Todos Santos in 1984.
“I left with a group of guys from San Diego at midnight and got there around 5 a.m.,” he said, “It was high tide so we went fishing and came back at low tide to 2-4 foot waves.”
While the surf was perfect but not remotely ginormous like Linden hoped for, the natural beauty of the island, crystal clear waters, rugged shoreline, and ample animal life, started his love affair, one that would eventually lead him be known as “the ambassador of Todos Santos.”
Linden dropping into Waimea Dec ’09. Photo by Lorene Carpentier
But his second trip to the island was a different story.
“I went with a group of guys from Oceanside for three days and two nights and stayed at the lighthouse with the lighthouse keeper and his family,” he said. “The waves were breaking with 30-35 foot faces and from that day it was on.”
You can see the passion Linden has for “Killers” in discussion about the spot. It’s a genuine enthusiasm a surfer associated with a world class big wave spot possesses, as does Jeff Clark with “Maverick’s.” Only a few surfers have this relationship with a break.
“In the January/February months when we tend to get XXL swells, the big wave spots in North California like Mavericks and in Oregon close to where the swells are generated get the brunt of the storm systems,” Linden said. “Todos Santos get the same swells without the winds and storm system. By the time the swells traveled down the coast, it cleans up a bit.”
Linden dropping into Todos. Photo by H. Benedict
Linden is a world famous shaper noted for his big wave guns and work with wood. In the ‘80s, he was the number three surfboard manufacturer in the world. He has been at the same factory location for 43 years.
Another passion is competitive surfing.
“I’ve always want to contribute to surfing and there really weren’t any pro comps when I grew up,” he said. “I want it better for the next generation.”
With a willingness to work instilled by his parents, after being elected to join the WindanSea Surf Club’s “b” team at 15 years old found he could help out with the club’s organizing and judging of events. In the mid-70s, he began judging for the IPS, the first variation of the international world tour. In the 80s, he was an ASP judge and meet director for the California based Stubbies Pro Contest.
Linden at Nelscott Reef Photo Richard Hallman
“Contests are the means to showcase surfers as professional athletes,” he said. “Without them, surfing would just be a lifestyle — although there’s nothing wrong with that, contests give us a chance to make a living from what we love.”
From 1996 to 1998, Linden served as the President of the ASP. He began to focus and organize big wave events.
“It was time to have a big wave event to showcase the talents of big wave surfers,” he said. “Our first event was to be held at Todos Santos with WCT surfers.”
Because of a failed merger between backing organizations and an unratified contract, the event was at a standstill.
“In 1998, the ISA and Reef Brazil headed by Fernando Aguerre made the Todos Santos contest a world team event,” Linden said, “Carlos Burle won the Individual with Brazil winning the Team.”
In the first big wave contest held outside of Hawaii, conditions were offshore with waves averaging 25-35 feet. Occasionally a 60-foot face set would roll in which gave the event legendary status as Taylor Knox caught a 52 foot wave winning him the K2 $50,000 Big Wave Challenge. While catching the biggest wave in the contest, Knox lost in the semis to Burle.
“After catching the K2 winning wave, Taylor just couldn’t find that second wave,” Linden said. “From that contest we changed the scoring to not just be your best two waves, but also your top scoring wave doubled.”
In 2000, Linden was appointed to Director of the Red Bull Big Wave Africa contest in South Africa, a position he held for nine years.
“Before the event, no one really knew the potential of big waves in South Africa,” he said. “It opened ‘Dungeons’ to the world.”
In 2009, Linden founded the Big Wave World Tour, the first big wave surfing league that organizes the world’s best big wave riders to compete at the best big wave spots.
“All the best big wave riders before really didn’t have a complete platform to showcase their skills,” he said. “I want to create a career path for these surfers.”
The tour showcases the world’s top surfers and local standouts as they battle extreme conditions and each other for the top-ranking position and the season’s overall championship title. Tour organizers, led by Linden, closely monitor weather patterns for ideal conditions and surfers are given just 48 hours notice to arrive at sanctioned competition at extreme locations around the world.
“What really makes a big wave surfer is their ability to commit,” he said. “The common characteristic and mindset is commitment.”
In 2010, the BWWT included a stop at Todos Santos without an event title sponsor. Mark Healey won the event that was best described as very “grassroots.” The Todos Santos is back for 2013 with Southern California’s oldest standing Surf and Scuba shop, Dive N’ Surf, stepping in as the title sponsor.
“After reading “Fits like a Glove” [Dive N’ Surf founders Bill and Bob Meistrell’s bio], it was cool to see that they possessed the same values that were passed on to me by my parents,” Linden said. “I love what the did with the Maverick’s invitational and the fact Body Glove and Dive N’ Surf are one of the last and only continually ran businesses in the surf Industry.”
Photo by Eddie Solt
With the BWWT events only being held in waves over 30 feet, the waiting period started December 1st and is just standing by for the call from Linden.
“The sky’s the limit as we wait for everything to line up,” he said, “But the wait is almost over! It’s Todos time again. Get ready for some of the best big wave action in the World. Baja California is hosting, so come join the fiesta!”DZ