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Gerard Butler near tragedy filming at Maverick’s


  • Pete Mel and Gerard Butler working on a paddling scene on Sunday at Maverick’s. A short while after this pic was taken, a three-wave wide set landed on their heads. Photo: Doug Acton

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Sunday afternoon was not giant Maverick’s by any means, but one wide set was big enough to put British actor Gerard Butler through a serious spin cycle, followed by a trip to Stanford Medical Center.Butler is playing Rick “Frosty” Hesson in the Hollywood production currently being filmed in and around Santa Cruz based on the life and times of Jay Moriarity.

Longtime Mav’s surfers Greg Long, Pete Mel and Zack Wormhoudt were escorting Butler inside near the rocks, working on some paddling shots, when a set missed the outer bowl and broke on their heads. “We paddled over one wave, and as soon as we came over the top and saw a set swing wide, we knew we were’t gonna make it,” Long explained. “We told Butler, ‘paddle for the channel, we’re all gonna have to bail on this one; take a couple deep breaths and relax.'”The four paddled towards the channel and bailed their boards as the first wave broke on their heads. A rescue ski attempted to grab Butler, but was unable to get to him before the second wave broke. “The second one broke his leash,” Long explained. “He was down for a really long time after that. I don’t know for sure if it was a two-wave hold-down, because I was looking for his board which he wasn’t attached to, but it was a long time.”

“We told Butler, ‘paddle for the channel, we’re all gonna have to bail on this one; take a couple deep breaths and relax.'”
–Greg Long

The third wave pushed Butler close to the rocks, but he was rescued by a ski before being swept through. “I give him the utmost credit,” Long continued. “He handled it with the extreme composure. He came up rattled as anyone would be, but coherent and communicating.”

Butler is admittedly a novice surfer, but has been heavily researching his role as Jay Morarity’s coach Frosty Hesson for months. “The amount of time researching and listening to us…he put that to use, and it helped him through more than his surf experience,” Long explained. Butler was taken to the hospital as a precaution but has recovered well.

“What happened the other day was true testament that you can never be 100 % comfortable at Maverick’s,” Long points out. “You had me, Zack Wormhoudt, Peter Mel, and Jeff Clark, combining all our ocean experience and knowledge. We’d all been in an area that we were working all morning; it was the one random rogue set — that was the only one of its kind during the day, and it just happened to be when we were there.”

Long also has a small acting part in the film — which has been taking over parts of Santa Cruz for months now. “They’re making every effort to create the most realistic depiction of big wave surfing,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to be involved. I was skeptical at the beginning, but it has the potential to change the sport of big-wave surfing.”

The film is meanwhile just waiting for the North Pacific to kick back into gear — and Twiggy Baker is psyching himself up to replicate Jay’s famous wipeout. “I think if you sit off the end bowl and it’s really windy, you could just stand up and wheelie your board,” he said.

We asked Surfline’s Sean Collins about the swell. “This was a very tricky swell, and we noticed on Saturday with Surfline’s LOLA Validation tools that the waves would come in larger than what was being forecast by the models due to a short period of increased wind speeds in the original storm,” he explained. “In the graphic comparing the model output with the actual buoy reported energy 24 hours away on Saturday (see slideshow #5), we can see at least a few more feet of wave height in the longer periods between 15-22 seconds that are circled.

“A difference of 4-5 feet in deepwater swell height at 16-22 seconds can result in an additional 10-15 feet or more in breaking wave height. The timing of this extra peak energy on the buoys also coincided with the arrival of the rogue sets at Mavericks on Sunday that caught Butler, and a few local buoys even reported a few larger waves in deep water offshore with maximum heights of 15 feet during that same period of time (could equal 30-foot+ faces). Fortunately everyone is OK. [Also to be clear, Surfline is not forecasting or consulting for the movie.]”