What makes us do things that are nuts? I have always had a penchant for a little danger and have been known to do reckless things from time to time. Somehow it is built in to all of us in some form or other. The desire for danger, drama and risk. For some of us the danger and excitement threshold is somewhat enhanced, indeed elevated to a degree beyond most of us mortals’ comprehension. It is one of these humans that I now want to introduce to you and one who now would like to call on your help, dear readers.
Jonny Leon is a charger of the ‘big wave’ persuasion who hails from Reading, landlocked within in the UK. At twenty five years of age, Jonny has self funded many trips to surf some of the world’s most challenging and difficult waves on the planet. His swell chased travel includes Wiamea and Teahupo’o, where he spent time waiting for the perfect conditions to chuck himself over the ledge of life changing, and frankly terrifying, waves.
Formerly working at Tesco's in the management program (a UK supermarket) to fund the costly travel and equipment necessities, Jonny now needs your help to be voted into the Nelscott Reef Big Wave Pro AM. The top three athletes are being invited along with the usual field, and Jonny has his name up there. Check out the link here and throw Jonny a vote.
The Nelscott Reef breaks about a mile off-shore from Canyon Park in Oregon USA. The water is cold and the wave itself looks intimidating to say the least. The comp itself has the full backing of the WSL (World Surf League) and has been on the big wave radar for the last 15 years.
We wanted to touch bases with Jonny and see if we could try and understand the mindset of what makes it more appealing than almost anything to do this big wave thing.
SB: Thanks for sparing the time Jonny, have you had much swell in the UK this year?
Jonny: I've had an interesting year this year, everything has changed for me. I quit my job in May at Tesco, and ended up going to Puerto for the month to chase a big swell. I sort of decided that I wanted to just be able to take work with me so I can surf big waves, so I ended up studying up, and now I'm doing a Masters in Dublin in Computer Science. I have had so much work to do to keep on top of it, because I've never studied computers before, but I managed to get a weekend out at Mullaghmore a few weeks back to dip my toes in a bit.
SB: So how does someone get into the big wave thing, was it something you realised straight off the bat or something you worked up to?
Jonny: I used to go to Indo every year from about 18, and used to have this strange relationship with the big days. I used to find them really nerve racking as they approached on the forecast, and I used to lose sleep the night before. I suppose I always knew that I would go, that's why it was scary, but in the grand scheme of things, I'm not sure how much I actually enjoyed it. They were always really short sessions, and as soon as I felt like I had caught a few good ones, I'd normally get scared and get out. I think things changed when I started riding slightly bigger boards. I started feeling really empowered, knowing that no matter how long I'm down for, if I've got a big enough board for it, as soon as I float up, I've got some chance at just paddling to safety quicker, and that was the thing that used to freak me out. I got my first gun in Hawaii which was a 9'8 and it changed everything.
SB: What sort of training do you have do to be more able to survive out there and get the wave of your life?
Jonny: I think the best training is just surfing, but I do apnea training, C02 and 02 tables so that I'll be alright. I think the other thing that's really important is just making the right decisions on the days. I'm not going to go for stupid waves that I'm obviously not going to make, because I've got anything to prove, and if I was having an off day or didn't feel up to it, I just wouldn't paddle out.
SB: Are there any other big wave surfers that you look up to or does it not work like that?
Jonny: I really look up to guys that do it for the love, most of which who don't really make any money out of it. The guys who have completely separated ego from big wave surfing. Trevor Sven Carlson is a legend, and guys like Toby Cunningham out in Nazare, who make incomes remotely to dedicate their lives to surfing.
SB: Have you had any help from sponsors to get where you are with surfboards or travel?
Jonny: I'm lucky Ive been getting some help with gear. Quatic Apparel gave me an inflation vest recently which changes everything - not that I'd go on waves that I don't feel I could handle now, just it's nice to be on a similar playing field as far as safety is concerned with other guys out there, I'll always be grateful for that. Diplock make me really good guns, that goes a long way, and I've got a clothing sponsor too, which is submariner which helps. I have no funding or support for travel or anything, I did try to slyly set up a go fund me page, presented as a joke, although I'm not sure it was one. My girlfriend donated me 5 Euros which I was stoked for, but unfortunately its not really taken off.
SB: What does your mum think of you paddling out when the conditions are Mach-ing?
Jonny: I'm sure she worries, like anyone would, but I think she probably trusts that I'd go about it the right way.
SB: How much does it mean to you if we could help and get more people to vote you in to the Nelscott Big Wave comp?
Jonny: I'd just be so grateful. I'm a definite underdog as there's some massive names on that list, but it would mean the world to have the opportunity.
SB: ,Why not get behind Jonny and help get him out into the shark infested, freezing, dark waters of the Nelscott reef where he might slide into the wave of his life. We only have this current week to vote so waste no time. It takes 3 seconds to vote and it costs you nothing apart from your time, here is the link again.
It does seem a strange set of skills and desires to acquire but it makes for good viewing. Massive amounts of luck to Jonny if he makes the amount of vote, we love a good underdog story and being able to support someone who is doing this for the right reasons, even if it does seem nuts.