With more than 350,000 sets of eyes locked on his bright orange shirt, Greg Long started down a 35-foot wave on his now-signature blue surf board.
The 24-year-old had been waiting patiently in the 50-degree water for a monster wave during the finals of last week’s internationally renowned Mavericks Surf Contest in Half Moon Bay. He was hard to miss in his orange jersey as he lay on his 9½-foot bright blue piece of foam and fiberglass, a board he would use to hang a perfect 10 on the surfing world.
When he saw that magical wave brewing — the one he had been waiting for during the lull of the 40-minute finals heat — he “had all the time in the world” to decide how to ambush it.
“About 15 seconds,” the San Clemente native said nonchalantly. “That was a pivotal moment. I’m sitting dead last at that point.”
He attacked it superbly enough to earn a perfect score to win his first Mavericks crown.
Now, the surfing champ faces another wave: media publicity.
Long has been darting about recently giving interviews about his win — a victory that was especially sweet because of the personal adversity he overcameto capture it.
A year ago, Long’s sponsor, Ocean Pacific, was bought out by Wal-Mart. The department-store chain cut ties with Long, leaving him with no regular source of income after six years on the professional circuit.
He now lives with his parents and gets by on his earnings purses. Still, before the finals heat, he asked his five co-finalists to split the $57,000 total first through sixth place prize purse. His fellow surfers agreed, leaving Long with just $9,500 for his victory. First place would have been $30,000.
“Financially, it’s been a very trying year,” he said in San Francisco on Thursday. “But winning there would mean more to anybody than $30,000. That’s not what the spirit of the event is about.”
Long had already failed to win the contest in four previous attempts. In 2008, he found himself going toe-to-toe with men he idolized as a kid, like defending champion Grant “Twiggy” Baker, who finished second.
The contest lasted just six hours but it was enough time for that image of the orange surfer on his 15-pound blue board to be plastered across the Internet, television stations and print media.
“The attention that this event gets is bigger than just surfing,” he said. “I’ve been riding that blue board all winter long up here with the orange jersey. It kind of stands out a bit.”
Now Long does, too.