MULTIPLICITY: Greg Long Isn’t Backing Down From Anything

Big wave surfing legend Greg Long

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Welcome Greg! Tell us a bit about yourself—who is Greg Long, anyways?

 I was born and raised in a popular surf town called San Clemente down in Southern California. I am probably best recognized in the world of surfing for my passion and dedication to riding “big waves”. I had the tremendous privilege of being able to turn that passion into a career which provided the opportunity to travel and explore the world extensively for the last 18 years.

You had a pretty successful amateur surf career—how did that transition into big wave surfing? Was it always on your mind, or a slow buildup?

Since I was about 12 years old, I knew I loved riding bigger waves and at 15 years old I had a pivotal surfing experience which led me to know with full conviction that was the path I wanted to pursue.  Unfortunately, at that time, the only way to garner attention and sponsorship from the industry brands was through surfing in the amateur competitive series which I absolutely despised.  Hassling with 5 other kids, in a fifteen-minute heat, usually in really poor conditions was the exact opposite of everything I wanted to be doing with my surfing.

Nevertheless, I continued to compete as I knew it to seemingly be the only way to one day realize my goal of becoming a professional surfer.  When I was 18 I ended up winning the most prestigious national championship event that was held at my home break in San Clemente.  I was far from being the best surfer in my division but utilizing my local knowledge I was able to outsmart the field and win. Upon doing so, I was immediately earmarked for competitive stardom, and approached by a few brands who wanted to sponsor me.  After negotiating my first professional contract, I stopped surfing small wave competitions and dedicated all of my energy and travel budget to my real passion of big wave riding.

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You are well known for your paddle-in surf exploits. Can you explain why you would paddle into a wave instead of get towed in?

Paddling into a big wave is a far greater challenge both physically and mentally than using a jet-ski to tow-in to a wave.   I suppose it may be similar the experience of jumping in a helicopter and having them fly you to the top of a peak versus hiking up there under your own power.  There are of course situations when jumping in a heli, or using a ski are the only way to safely approach an objective and I have nothing against using them in those situations.  But I think most of us would agree, there is far greater sense of accomplishment and connection that is made both with your surroundings and oneself when you attempt these feats under your own power, and that is what I am looking for when I surf big waves.

Greg Long Getting Barrelled
On the inside looking out.

Rumor has it you once surfed a 90-foot wave at Cortez Bank, but nobody took a picture of it. Did it really happen?

The biggest waves I have ever seen in my life was during a very sketchy expedition we made to surf an underwater sea mount 100 miles off the coast of Southern California back in 2008.  On that day, the swell was enormous, and we were towing into the waves behind jet-skis as it was the only way to somewhat safely approach the situation.  Unfortunately, a lot our rides that day went undocumented because the support boat couldn’t get close enough to the lineup because it was so big, and the reef out there is extremely unpredictable.

“The last hour of before dark, we all towed into what were unquestionably the biggest waves of the day, and the consensus among the group was that one that I rode looked to have possibly have been the largest of them all.  I couldn’t put a size on it, other than it was the biggest of my life.”

Rogue waves, breaking into the channel are not uncommon.  Mike Parsons who was one of the four surfers on that trip that was photographed on a wave that was later officially measured 75 feet which he rode around 3pm In the afternoon.  The swell that day didn’t peak until about 8pm that night.  The last hour of before dark, we all towed into what were unquestionably the biggest waves of the day, and the consensus among the group was that one that I rode looked to have possibly have been the largest of them all.  I couldn’t put a size on it, other than it was the biggest of my life.

You’ve often talked about walking the fine line between the wave of a lifetime, and dying while big wave surfing. Why risk it? What does that do you for you personally?

Those are extremely good questions which I could talk about for hours and will likely be touching upon at Multiplicity so I won’t go into too much detail here.  I will say that the motivation behind my years pursuing big waves, what I was willing to risk, and what I was looking to achieve through it all has varied drastically through different stages of my life.  I have an extremely different outlook on it all now, compared to when I was fully immersed in the act.

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It’s one thing to surf big waves, but you also are one of the most well-known competitors in the Big Wave circuit. What sense of accomplishment does that give you?

Despite the success I have had, I have always had mixed emotions about competitive big wave surfing.  The same misgivings I felt about competition as a kid still hold true for me today.  The aggressive environment competition often times fosters is quite contradictory to many of the reasons why I fell in love with big waves in the first place.   Nevertheless, I did compete extensively over the last 18 years for a variety of reasons.   What I was seeking to accomplish within the world of competition, the value I put on the achievements, and ultimately how I feel about it all now as I look back, are a few ideas that I think I will also be sharing when I speak.

Greg Long surfing at Cortes Bank
The famed Cortes Bank is one of the most elusive waves in the world.

You’re also well known for your work in environmental advocacy. Can you give us some background on how that came to be, and some of the work you have done?

My father was a lifeguard and park ranger in my hometown of San Clemente and I grew up living in one of the State Parks.  As a child, I established a very formidable relationship with the outdoors as it is where I spent nearly all of my time.  Understanding that the ocean and natural environment, as much as it was there for me to recreate in, was also my responsibility to care for and protect was an idea both of my parents instilled in me from a very young age.   Through my years of travel, I was always actively working with different environmental advocacy groups helping to raise awareness for the health and fragility of our ocean and natural world.  In that time, I have collaborated on a myriad of initiatives in opposition of projects that posed threats to ecologically sensitive areas.  Those ranged from the construction of liquid natural gas terminals, toll roads, offshore oil drilling, to name just a few.  And most recently I have been focusing a lot of my energy to raise awareness and offer solutions to the global plastic pollution epidemic.

Have you always had a strong passion for the environment? Or was it something that arose as you travelled to amazing places and saw some of the problems that the earth faces today?

The seed, as I mentioned, was planted at a young age but my level of concern, compassion, and ultimately energy dedicated to do something most certainly escalated as a result of my international travels and personal maturity.  Especially visiting developing countries that have little or no environmental protect laws, or infrastructure to support excessive tourism, or the flagrant consumeristic behaviours which they are adopting from western “civilized” cultures.

With your environmental work taking some time away from surfing, are you still focused on surfing big waves? Competing? Where do your priorities lie now and how have they changed?

The majority of my time and energy these days is focused on environmental work where it used to be towards wave riding.   I had an amazing run of traveling, chasing swells, and competing and it most certainly served its purpose in my personal growth and evolution.  But now my priority is finding ways to utilize the tremendous fortune, opportunity and experiences I have had, and the platform created in the surfing world and beyond to give back and hopefully inspire others to see not just the value but necessity that we care for our natural world.

We are stoked to have you talk in a few weeks—can you give us a sneak peak of what we can expect to hear?

I am equally looking forward to it!  I skirted a few questions above as those were ideas I will likely be incorporating.  But If I were to distill it down to one sentence, I will be sharing a few of my most significant life altering experiences, and the things that I wish I could go back and tell my younger myself, that would have made my journey forward a hell of a lot easier both physically and especially mentally and emotionally than it was.