Big waves are few and far between; much like the dedicated surfers with the skills to tackle them. They are usually plain to see due to their size and power, so it’s rare for a new big wave surf break to be discovered and ridden in 2022 - particularly in Europe, and particularly in plain sight of a popular stretch of surfing beach.
Tom Butler and tow partner Adam Griffiths prepare to ride the deadly Stones Reef some 2 miles off St Ives. © Big Wave Productions Ltd. 2022
That’s exactly what happened this past winter though, when UK surfers Tom Butler and C-Skins team rider Adam “Bearman” Griffiths scoped out and surfed a spot called The Stones, with a BBC documentary crew in tow. This perilous big wave spot, that breaks over and around several pinnacles of reef that break the surface of the sea off the north Cornish coast, had been sniffed around by pioneering surfers several decades ago but deemed un-rideable until the advent of tow-surfing using jetskis changed the landscape of the sport. Adam is a part-time small boat fisherman, as well as being one of the UK’s best and well-rounded surfers, and he had scoped out the potential of The Stones during a fishing trip and sent a teasing photo to his tow partner Tom. Tom is one of the UK’s best known big wave surfers, having dedicated the last few years to chasing the biggest waves around the planet, both under his own paddle power and being towed in behind a ski. He was a runner up in the 2019 WSL Big Wave Awards, has been invited to surf in the Nazaré Challenge multiple times, in recent years splitting his time between Portugal and Ireland in search of record breaking waves. The pair are regulars at The Cribbar when it breaks, and this past winter they dedicated their spare time to pioneering a new break. With several potential spots on their radar, and a BBC documentary crew from the appropriately named Big Wave Productions shadowing Tom as he prepared to tackle an unknown break, the stars eventually aligned on February 27th.
We caught up with Adam to find out more about the day he spent driving the ski, towing one of his best friends into massive waves at a break that few ever considered surfable.
Tom Butler and his best friend and tow partner, Adam Griffiths. © Big Wave Productions Ltd. 2022
How did you come to discover The Stones – were you out looking for a new spot, or did you stumble across it by accident?
It’s been on the radar for a while and I’d seen a few photos of it from a distance over the years, but we were never sure if it was actually surfable.
Did you get a chance to ride a few waves off camera, or were you purely towing Tom in on that day?
We only had a small window of tide to surf The Stones, and we had a lot of safety crew to get out there in the morning which took time. It’s a pretty spooky wave with a huge rock in front of where the waves break, so I was happy to just check it out and hopefully I’ll get a few out there on the next mission.
Did you want to surf it? Or do you get similar enjoyment from whipping one of your friends in to those sorts of waves and getting a front row seat?
To be honest I wasn’t massively disappointed that I didn’t surf that day. The show was about Butler and I was stoked to be able to whip him into a few bombs and share the stoke with him from the ski. We had been practicing over winter on the jet-ski, and I got my fair share of waves off camera.
You guys were keeping tabs on several potential spots over the winter – will you be doing the same thing this coming winter and looking to break new ground elsewhere around the Cornish coast?
We have had our eye on a few spots, but it’s such a small window and most break on the same conditions. There’s a right barrel that I’m keen to score over this winter coming if the conditions come together.
How does riding big waves fit in with the rest of your surfing career and life around the ocean? What boxes does it tick for you?
I like riding big-ish waves, but I know where my limit is. I’m not interested in surfing monsters at Nazaré, but I’m keen to hunt out a few Cornish slabs and bigger waves. I love being in the ocean, whether it’s surfing small longboard waves, trying to get barrels, riding big waves or being out on the boat fishing. When you’re in the sea it’s never a bay day at the office.
You can watch the full half hour documentary now, on BBCiplayer.