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Surfing The Great Wall Of Water

Surfers are vying to win $60,000 by riding possibly the biggest waves in the world.

California surfer Mike Parsons rode a 60-foot wave on January 19th that not only may win him the prize, but it is already making surf history. He's among the first to surf this newly discovered spot, reports CBS News National Correspondent Hattie Kauffman.

The expedition to the Cortes Bank was sponsored by Surfing Magazine and Swell.com. And while the waves at the Cortes bank are some of the biggest and fastest in the world, surfers believe that under El Nino conditions, the waves may be close to one hundred feet.

Parsons left from San Diego Harbor on a fishing boat with fellow surfers John Wall, Brad Gerlach, Peter Mel and Ken "Skindog" Collins. After a 12-hour jaunt they reached the Cortes Bank. It's a 17-mile-long mountain range rising to three feet below the surface of the water, creating gigantic waves.

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"The amount of power and violence you feel, it's unbelievable. I mean, those waves could definitely rip a limb off. It could break your legs. Obviously, it could kill you," said Parsons.

The spot was actually documented in 1990, by Swell photo editor Larry Flame Moore (who had heard about the monster waves from surfing aficionados). Two attempts were made to ride the waves, in 1990 and 1995, but the January 19th undertaking was the first serious assault.

Catching the 60-foot waves was the pinnacle of surfing achievement for Parsons.

"It's just that exhilarating feeling of riding the moment, those couple of seconds where you're kind of right in the jaws of that wave, and you just make it. That's the feeling we're going back and looking for. We're kind of addicted to it," he explains.

What is the significance of finding the Cortes Bank?

"To find what may well be the biggest rideable wave in the world, and find it right off shore in southern California, is a bit like looking behind Mt. Baldy and finding a mountain bigger than Mt. Everest," said surf photographer Bill Sharp. "It's a monumental discovery."

Parsons and others used special boards for these waves. He had to be towed into position. The whole operation was perilous.

Parsons recalled one incident that day when he was caught in the turbulence. "I got to the bottom and it [a wave] landed just right behind me and blew me forward off my board -- my feet got ripped out of my straps, my gloves got ripped off my hands underwater. I was probably 20 or 30 feet deep within a second."

Although he lives for the thrill of surfing, Parsons never loses respect for the power of the sea.

"I've lost three very good friends. They've drowned surfing big waves. In fact, one of them right in my arms," said Parsons. "So it's very real and it's something we take very seriously."

Still, after chasing the perect wave for nearly 30 years, Parsons has found it.

"I've surfed in almost every country and that day was the highlight of my surfing life."

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