To say Koa Smith was at the right place at the right time is perfectly accurate.
To say he got lucky — that's missing the point.
Perched precariously on his surfboard, the 23-year-old from Hawaii rode a wave off the coast of Namibia, on the western shore of Africa, for 120 straight seconds. He stayed upright for nearly a mile as he traveled through an unheard-of eight barrels — the hollow formed by the curve of the wave as it breaks over the rider's head.
Smith and videographer Chris Rogers filmed the entire ride using both a drone that hovered overhead, and a GoPro attached to a mouthpiece that Smith wore while he rode.
“I'd like to think that everything I've done my whole life led up to that moment,” Smith said of his ride over a one-of-a-kind wave last month, the likes of which has never been documented before.
Much as a meteorologist tracks storms several days before they hit, Smith and many world-class surfers have mastered the art of reading weather charts to predict when and where the greatest-sized ocean swells will hit. Smith is more than willing to drop everything in search of the perfect wave.
“He can be in one place one day, and you call him and he says, `I'm taking off for Africa tomorrow,’ “ says Smith's publicist, Ryan Runke.
The locale of his greatest triumph is called Skeleton Bay — a mystic stretch of beach fronting the South Atlantic on the western coast of Africa.
It's a two-day plane ride from Hawaii, followed by a car ride through the desert, culminating with a journey down a stretch of sandy, unmarked roads that lead to the ocean. The final stop is at a stretch of beach where a lucky handful of surfers share space with hundreds of aggressive seal colonies, thousands of jackals and, once in the water, the occasional great white shark.
“When you're out there, you're really out there, and you're kind of on your own,” Smith said. “But when you're out there, you're not thinking about it. You know you're sacrificing your life for this.”
That day on Skeleton Bay will live on, both in his mind and on the video, for a very long time.