What they do is magical, these daring surfers who ride the Pipeline. The high must be addictive, because it causes them to risk injury and even death for the exhiliration of another ride. I can only imagine how soul-stirring it must be to stand on Oahu's north shore and watch them live and in action.
If knowing the big names makes one a fan, then this is what I am. There's Laird Hamilton, an inventor of tow-in surfing, which made riding the big waves possible; Taj Burrow, who grew up surfing in Australia; the Molloy brothers, who seek challenges in the chilly waters off the coast of their ancestral homeland, Ireland. The big-wave surfers are doing something that I will never do--never in a million years, as we say. But isn't it wonderful that they do it.
A sport attracts me as a fan if it offers the joy of seeing athletes performing at their beautiful best. This is why I am also drawn to figure skating and snowboarding. How can Shaun White fly so gloriously high and land catlike, safely on his feet? I am in awe.
Competition is hardly the point. In fact, I have trouble understanding the gratification that comes from rooting for a team. "Why don't you appreciate good playing, regardless of who is doing it?" I once asked a longtime New York Giants fan. The look I received implied that I was clueless, and maybe, when it comes to teams and winning or losing, I am. My loyalty belongs to the athletes who reach and soar.