Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Big-Wave Charger Ben Wilkinson: "The New Black"

The "Big Ben" nickname is fitting. At six-foot-two and 250 pounds, he's a big guy. The waves he likes to ride are big: in the 15- to 25-foot range at one of the most terrifying waves in all the world, Maverick's. And as almost everyone I spoke to for my story for the premiere issue of Kelp Magazine will tell you, he's got a big heart.

Born in North Narrabeen, on the east coast of Australia, Big Ben Wilkinson came from modest beginnings, but was raised to be respectful and hard-working by his large-framed father and best friend, Mark. Ben tells a story about how when he was young he would accompany his dad to the beach when he went surfing, and his dad would draw a large square in the sand, indicating his son's boundaries while he was in the water. Ben says he never stepped foot outside those squares. "He respected me, so I always respected him," Ben told me.

When Mark was diagnosed with a debilitating disease, Ben willingly put his plans and his life on hold. His best friend was sick, so he needed to do what he could, from making his meals to paying his bills to taking him on a final trip to Tahiti.

After his father passed away, Ben, eventually, rediscovered his path in life. He's put his carpentry skills to use to pay the bills, but his passion is in riding the biggest possible waves using only the strength of his shoulders. He's starting to make a name for himself, evidenced in his recent selection as an alternate for the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau Big-Wave Invitational at Waimea Bay on the North Shore of Oahu, but riches and spoils have yet to come. His closest friends and his fellow competitors believe he has the talent and the ability to have a big future in big-wave surfing.

As I wrote in the story, once you meet and get to know Big Ben, you can't help but root for him.

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