11/08/2012 03:53 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Psychology of Big Wave Surfing

A few months ago, I decided that I wanted to launch a documentary film series through The Inertia that would tell the best stories in surfing. Period. Where the emphasis is on storytelling, and surfing serves as a gorgeous backdrop for compelling themes that all humans -- not just us lucky ones who spend an inordinate amount of time hunting bumps of energy in the ocean -- can relate to. Anyone with a pulse and a beating heart should find these stories compelling, and I believe there are plenty of them to go around in the world of surfing.

Without giving away too much on our plans for the year (Hint: one piece involves a bald man that has dominated competitive surfing for multiple decades), one name kept popping up. And it kept popping up on horrifically giant waves. Most recently in the feature film Chasing Mavericks starring Gerard Butler about the life of Jay Moriarity. The name? Greg Long.

Greg has always struck me as a particularly interesting character in the world of professional surfing, which is a realization that comes about four sentences into any conversation with him. By sentence four, you immediately understand that he'd blend in as effortlessly in a law school classroom debate as he does in the lineup at Mavericks. That's something special. Especially given the nature of his life's passion: finding and surfing the biggest waves on our planet. One might not suspect those two concepts can coexist: the articulate and thoughtful ambassador heaving his being over the ledge of a 70-foot face in the middle of the ocean? The consequences of a misstep, fatal.

Now, there's a story. Aside from the fact that he's won nearly every big wave accolade in existence (The Eddie, The Maverick's Surf Contest, The Red Bull Big Wave Africa event, and nearly every Billabong XXL category) Greg Long is a perfect candidate to articulate the ambitions, fears, and psychology associated with being a big-wave surfer.

"Without which [there is] nothing."

That's what Sine Qua Non, the title of the episode dedicated to Greg Long and the psychology of big-wave surfing means, and over the course of the last month - during interviews with Greg, and the folks who have witnessed and supported his ascent in the world of big-wave surfing, it's a phrase that has become increasingly poignant.

Greg admits that dedicating his life to surfing big waves can be a selfish pursuit. His loved ones feel a gut-wrenching anxiety every time a purple blob bursts upon swell charts. For whatever reason, those blobs tend to appear during family holidays, so it's a difficult lifestyle to say the least. And it's one where the stakes couldn't be higher.

But it's an absolutely essential ingredient in Greg's being. The intensity with which he describes his missions, the careful planning and precautions he takes leading up to big-wave sessions, and the relentless passion he communicates for pushing the boundaries of what is humanly possible are self evident.

He can't live without it.

During interviews for this film, we talked a lot about death, the fear of death, and the prospect of one's life ending while surfing. And I have to say that I've never met a family so comfortable with discussing the concept of death as the Longs. Steve Long, Greg's dad, told us that just being here, living this life is a miracle, and there's no reason to think that the other side won't be even more amazing. So during our time here, we might as well live to the absolute fullest. Push human boundaries as far as we can.

Spending time with Greg and those close to him certainly made me reconsider how I live. I've made a few small changes here and there, and I'm thinking about making some bigger ones. They're all for the better. I'm hoping that this film makes you consider what it is you can't live without. And, hopefully it provides an inkling of justification to pursue that burning passion with reckless abandon.

Download the full film, SIne Qua Non: The Psychology of Big Wave Surfing for a limited time on The Inertia.

Sine Qua Non: The Psychology of Big Wave Surfing with Greg Long from The Inertia on Vimeo.