30-Foot-Waves Meet Kayak: Red Bull Big Surf

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Tao Berman is revered as one of the world’s most innovative kayakers, constantly pushing the sport to new limits. He has barreled off 98-foot waterfalls and navigated 50-plus first river descents. Always looking for the next challenge, Berman recently stepped out of the rivers he’s accustomed to in order to take to the ocean and see if he could make big-wave surfing in a kayak a reality. But riding a wave on a kayak is a much different animal than riding it on a surfboard – in a kayak, you can’t bail out if things get ugly – you’re along for the ride no matter what.

To make that ride as smooth as possible, Berman spent almost three year practicing in the ocean and perfecting the shape of his precision kayak. To increase speed, the kayak is thinner, but is also 50% heavier than normal to stand up to the incredible power that comes with a 30-foot wave. To help absorb the bumpy ride, the boat has a convex “V” on the bottom of the hull, and the stern contains no sharp edges, to protect Berman if he gets torn out and thrown against the back of the boat.

After training in Los Angeles, Berman headed to Lincoln City, Oregon to experience some truly “big waves.” After watching the pros at the 2010 Nelscott Reef Big Wave Classic, Berman hit the waves himself and made significant headway. After more training, he returned to Nelscott in late February 2012 to go as big as possible. After succeeding in catching some massive waves – albeit taking a bit of a beating in the process - Berman triumphantly announced his retirement from professional kayaking.

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