Mark Visser gazed at the stars studying the night sky as his jet-ski sped across a roiling Hawaiian sea. It was 2.30am on January 20, 2011 and Visser was headed toward a reckoning that had taken four years of preparation and been a lifetime in the making.
When he arrived he’d be attempting something nobody had ever done before – surf Maui’s Pe’ahi, also known as Jaws and widely regarded as the world’s most treacherous break, at night. The reason it hadn’t been done before? Nobody thought it could be. But Visser was doing more than just trailblazing. There in the cold night headed toward a raging sea, he’d already turned a fear into a fantasy. In a way that was the easy part. Now he had to turn fantasy into reality. If he could do that, he reckoned, he would leave a lifetime of insecurity and self-doubt in his wake. He’d be free.
“In the pitch black it was probably the most intense ride out of my life,” says Visser, recalling the event, known as ‘Night Rider’, from a lounge chair on the deck of his house on the Sunshine Coast. “All the what-ifs that you’re trying to block out to stay in the moment come flooding back in.”
As Visser and his crew got in position the scene resembled a war zone – jet-skis to tow him into the wave’s path bobbed in the water, while two choppers hovered overhead. “I remember seeing one of the biggest sets, it had to be a 50 foot (15m) face and where I could see all the stars they literally just vanished because they were taken out by whitewater,” he says. “I was like, holy shit!”
Visser felt his body respond to the adrenaline. “My heart was pounding so hard I swear my eyeballs were pulsing with every beat,” he says. His first challenge was to match the speed of the wave. “At Jaws it’s like a wind funnel,” he says. “It just siphons in there. You have to be moving at least 50km/h to match the pace of the wave.”
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Visser’s board shuddered and bucked beneath him as he blindly hit chops and bumps in the surf. As the wave peaked and he began to plunge down its face he had just one thought: stay on your feet.
Video footage of Visser’s feat shows a glowing avatar-like gure blasting down a gigantic, fast-moving mound of water. Visser’s eyes had now adjusted so he could see “shadows within shadows” in the inky swell. He remembers hearing squealing “like a high- pitched fan” as his fins cut the water’s surface.
He caught the wave. Then he caught another. “There was a point where I felt like I was so present that I was gliding down a mountain,” he remembers. “I could actually see the stars and the moon and I could just go ‘wow, this is the dream that
I once saw’.”
Visser ended up catching 14 waves that night, each one pushing his childhood fears of the ocean further and further into submission. “From where I came from – being afraid of the water – Night Rider was the equivalent of climbing Mt Everest,” says Visser, snapping out of his reverie. “It was about setting me free as a person. I could finally accept myself.” Visser knows how that sounds. “The idea that I couldn’t accept myself until I achieved this is crazier than all the crazy shit I’ve ever done,” he says.
He’s right. But as his story shows, to achieve your version of the impossible, your dream, you have to be willing to tackle your deepest fears, open yourself up to pain and humiliation, forensically dissect your weaknesses and then work tirelessly to turn them into strengths. And you have to be crazy enough to dream in the first place.