Surfing A 7-Story Wave

U.S. President Barack Obama, right, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, left, of Singapore chat during their bilateral meeting at Istana in Singapore, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2009. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

One hundred miles off the Southern California coast, Mother Nature produces the mother lode of all surf.

Sixty to 100 foot waves are created around an underwater island called Cortes Bank. The wave is created off the tip of the island when strong currents collide with land. The waves have been conquered by surfers only once. Peter Mell was one of them.

"It was the most dangerous surf we've ever had but it was magic," he told CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes.

The magic is captured on film, in the new surf documentary called "Step Into Liquid."

"I am just racing down the side of a mountain. Your heart is beating fast, a lot of adrenaline, you're just reacting," Mell said.

Mell is one of a handful of elite surfers in the world who make their living riding down the face of these behemoth waves at speeds of about 60 miles an hour.

"If I know there is going to be big waves the next day I can't sleep, I just want it to be bigger and bigger," he said.

Most people enjoy one or two foot waves at the beach but a true big wave surfer is looking for at least 35 feet or more. Sound crazy? It is! Unless you are one of the best conditioned athletes in the world. But even then finding a big wave in conditions that aren't deadly isn't easy.

"It's like trying to forecast a needle in a haystack," said Sean Collins.

Surfers rely on the big wave forecaster. Collins has been monitoring wind speeds, underwater topography and currents at Cortes Bank for ten years -- until finally the conditions were perfect.

"Nerve racking. It was a lot of pressure," he said.

The topic's a natural for director Dana Brown. His father launched the surfing revolution with the classic surf movie "The Endless Summer" in 1964. "Step Into Liquid" features the biggest wave of the year -- the height of a seven-story building. Even though the surfer who caught that wave earned $60,000 and national attention, Brown says that's not what it's about:

"They will do it alone, it doesn't matter if anyone saw it or knows about it -- they know about it," said Brown.

So rare is it that Cortes Bank is surfable, that not once since they made the movie has anyone been back to try.
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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