Montserrat - Nature Adventures

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They tinkered with equipment. They refined their techniques. Working in teams of two—a driver and a rider—they figured out how to rescue each other in behemoth surf. As the stakes got higher and the margin for error got slimmer, a kind of natural selection occurred. Riders who’d glimpsed their own mortality a little too closely drifted to the sidelines. At the other end of that spectrum was Hamilton. Watching him, you got the feeling that no wave was out of reach. The more intimidating the conditions, the more he seemed to thrive in them.

Any surfer who fell at Jaws wasn’t getting out of there alone. There was a brief window, maybe a fifteen-second interval between waves, in which a driver had to sight his partner’s head in the churning foam, dart in on the Jet Ski, grab him, and get out before the next wave came hurtling down. ) It soon became clear that not everyone was up to the task. People froze on the sidelines, or pretended to be very busy elsewhere while their partners floundered in the impact zone. “There were the guys who would come get you and the guys who wouldn’t come get you,” Hamilton said.

Unpleasant, perhaps, but not especially dramatic—until three o’clock in the afternoon, when an eighty-five-foot wave came careening over the horizon and walloped the rig at forty-five miles per hour. While the Draupner sustained only moderate damage, the proof was there. This wasn’t a case of laser malfunction or too many aquavit toasts the night before. It was the first confirmed measurement of a freak wave, more than twice as tall and steep as its neighbors, a teetering maniac ripping across the North Sea.

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