On a day reminiscent of last January when Jacob Trette, a rookie big-wave surfer, nearly lost his life out at Maverick's, the infamous Northern California break, has sent yet another beginner to Stanford Medical Center. In this case it was the star of the Hollywood production about the life of Jay Moriarity, Gerard Butler.
On Sunday, the California buoy was reading 12 feet at 16 seconds, which would put Maverick's right at the point of breaking in the 10- to 12-foot range, but the swell direction was decent so there were a few bigger sets sneaking in. With Maverick's and the entire Northern Hemisphere big-wave season off to a slow start, surfers -- and Hollywood film crew -- were chomping at the bit to get a few days of surfing and filming in. Approximately two dozen people were in the lineup.
Butler and the film crew sat on the inside with Peter Mel, Zach Wormhoudt and Greg Long, who were assisting the production. Even on small days, the inside at Maverick's can push 10-feet-plus and really tear you up.
A few big outside sets had already come through, and between takes Mel, Long and Wormhoudt were passing the time by catching a few insiders. Photographer Doug Acton and myself were out most of the morning shoot serving as water patrol, but decided to go in as the swell began to drop. As we were cleaning our boats at the launch ramp, we heard the faint sounds of sirens in the distance. With crab season in full swing and the entire movie crew set up, there was already a lot of action at the ramp, but as the sirens got closer, they turned down the road and headed straight for us.
We don't ever like to see or hear ambulances when Maverick's is breaking. It never bodes well, and right now everyone is still a bit shell-shocked from the recent death of Sion Milosky and the near death of Trette last season.
One of the film crew's radios cracked -- they were "bringing Gerry (Butler) in." No sooner did I hear the transmission then a jet-ski and Zodiac turned the corner at the Half Moon Bay harbor mouth. They were coming in fast. I ran down to the dock, helped tie off the Zodiac and noticed Butler on board. He had that 100-yard stare that surfers get after a two-wave hold-down or near-death experience. After almost 20 years at Maverick's, I've seen a lot of it but it was good to see he was standing on his own two legs. He was carted away in the ambulance and raced off to Stanford Medical Center for observation.
Talking to Wormhoudt on the dock, he said they were all sitting on the inside when a large outside set came through, swung way to the south, caught them off-guard and mowed them all down. For Mel, Long and Wormhoudt it's all in a day's work (hence their being on the crew), but according to other eyewitnesses, Butler was held down for a solid two waves and took four or five more on the head before being washed through the rocks on the inside, where he was finally able to be plucked out.
Butler was brought to the hospital for observation, but a complete recovery is expected.