Even if you can’t remember every exact detail, you probably have at least a few memories of learning how to swim or surf. Will Skudin doesn’t recall either. The New York-based professional surfer grew up like a tadpole on Long Beach, New York, part of a legendary family of swimmers, lifeguards, and champion surfers. “We didn’t just go to the beach in the summer like most families,” says Skudin. “We went all year round. Every birthday and event happened on the beach.”
And Will got good. Growing up as his parents did, he was a competitive swimmer and junior lifeguard by the time he was a tween. It was around that time that he met the famous waterman Laird Hamilton on a beach in New York and the allure of big wave surfing caught him. “That was it,” says Skudin. “I became obsessed.” He saved up enough money busing tables to earn a trip to Peru with his parents at 15. The next year he earned his way to Mavericks, the iconic surf break in Northern California. Chasing big waves eventually became his profession, and he hasn’t stopped exploring the planet in search of them ever since.
Fast-forward to today and after years of honing his craft, Skudin, now 34, is a consistent top-ten finisher on the Big Wave World Tour, the first-ever New Yorker to earn a spot on the circuit. And while getting paid to travel the globe to surf big waves is an unquestionably cool job, it’s also really hard. The sport requires constant physical training, an entire support team, and lots of patience. “It wasn’t an overnight thing,” says Skudin. “I was silently at every big swell for 15 years, earning respect from my peers, learning how to be safe, building confidence.”
Big waves by their nature are fickle, and they require the perfect combination of conditions even to form in the first place. In a typical year, most competitors on the circuit surf big waves just 20 days. Skudin, who these days chases waves only in the Northern Hemisphere, averages about 15 big-wave days a year; sometimes he gets just nine. “The thrill of it is unmatched. Sometimes I pretend that I want to retire. But let’s be honest, that’s not going to happen.”
The flexibility in his schedule allows him to return to Long Beach every summer to help run the surf camp he started with his brother Cliff 13 years ago. Cliff runs the show, Will spearheads marketing and sponsorship, and Beth (mom) and Woody (also a brother) help teach. The first year, nine kids signed on. This past summer the Skudin Surf team taught 8,000. And thanks to the nonprofit Surf For All that Cliff started a few years ago, many of those new surfers are those with special needs and disabilities. “All summer long, every day, I witness so many uplifting moments,” Skudin says. “And not just for the athletes, but for the coaches and volunteers, too. I still love big-wave surfing, but I like to say that the waves that the Surf For All kids catch are the only waves that really matter.”
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