Chasing Purple Blobs: South Bay Big Wave Surfer Scotty Bredesen
“Surfing big waves isn’t only about the actual act of catching big waves. It’s about making the decisions to drop everything and being at the right place at the right time.” — Scotty Bredesen
by Eddie Solt
The buoys were banging. It was the first big swell of the season. Ocean Beach, just south of San Francisco cradles swells. With no natural barriers the break welcomes any ocean action, from ripples to mountains.
Surfline.com called December 16, 2013 “Macking Monday.”
“That day was my first time surfing giant Ocean Beach. It’s a heavy paddle out, like six to eight football fields out,” Scotty Bredesen said.
“There are different zones you have to paddle through to get to the outside. I just squeaked by and scored an epic session.”
Now when the buoys are banging, Bredesen can often be found making a cannonball run up the 5 with his Joe Bark guns piled in his vintage Chevy Suburban, sans surf stickers for discreteness.
“Surfing big waves isn’t only about the actual act of catching big waves. It’s about making the decisions to drop everything and be there at the right time,” he said.
The Palos Verdes native comes from a South Bay surfing family. His dad Chris was a Los Angeles County Lifeguard and in the ‘60s a member of the Greg Noll Surf Team. Today he is a member the Haggerty’s Surf Club and the Hap Jacobs Surf Team. Scotty’s older brother, Chris Jr., was seen all through the pages of the now defunct Longboard Magazine during the zines heyday, 15 years ago, performing his progressive longboarding style. Chris Jr. is also a lifeguard and member of the Jacob’s Surf team.
Every summer growing up the Bredesens vacationed on Maui with the Meistrell family, owners of Body Glove and Dive N’ Surf.
“I learned to surf at Ka’anapali Point when I was five, after doing the whole boogie board shorebreak thing,” Bredesen said.
In high school, Bredesen was on the Peninsula High Surf Team, which dominated the South Bay until 2005 when the hill’s top surfers migrated to the newly opened Palos Verdes High. Bredesen was an anchor for the longboard team for four years and in his senior year won the All Star title.
“Scotty was a pudgy, little short kid,” recalled longboarder Shawn O’Brien, who was a judge during Bredesen’s high school years. “After he won the all star meet, the judges threw him upside down in a trashcan.”
But he traces his big wave obsession back to when he was nine years old and became a Los Angeles County Junior Lifeguard. “JG’s laid the foundation for my life,” Bredesen said. “It’s the reason I became a LA County Lifeguard.”
Bredesen, now 29, has been a recurrent lifeguard for 10 years.
“Becoming a lifeguard shaped me into being a complete waterman,” he said. “I grew up looking up to my dad and Uncle Wally Millican. I see myself emulating Lifeguard Captain Tom Seth when I’m older, having a loving family and being in shape. LA County Lifeguard Chief Terry Yamamoto inspires me”
Four years ago Bredesen was visiting a friend up in Cen-Cal. The surf report forecasted an epic swell, perfect for lighting up the region’s secret reefs. Bredesen borrowed Joe Bark’s back-up gun and paddled out in hammering, triple overhead surf.
“I got caught inside and was thrown into full survival mode,” he said. “I never had been so sketched out in my life. That’s when I was hooked, especially after talking about the waves afterwards, over a few beers.
The quest for big waves became the focus Bredesen’s life: lifeguarding in the summer and “chasing the dream” of the heavies in the winter.
“I remember when Scotty came up to me very serious, and said ‘Jamie, I want to do this,’” Jamie Meistrell recalled. “I’ve known him since we we’re in diapers. It was from there I saw him transform.”
Another person Bredesen talked to was fellow Palos Verdes surfer Joe Bark. Bredesen grew up with a family quiver of Bark surfboards and paddleboards.
“Your surfboard is the last thing you want to worry about in big surf,” Bredesen said. “Joe’s one of the best shapers and glasser in the world. I always see his boards at the top big wave breaks.”
“He’s always believed in me and had my back,” Bredesen added. “He’s showed me a new love for the ocean.”
With Bark and other sponsors, including Body Glove, Zico coconut water, and Freestyle watches (he was in the Freestyle Watch ad in the “big” June 2014 issue of Surfer Magazine), he feels that he now has to put himself out there.
“The easy part is catching waves. Performing comes natural,” he said. “The anxiety is going somewhere expected but unexpected at the sametime and putting yourself in the spot to catch that bomb.”
Over the last four years, Bredesen has been chasing bomboras up and down the California coast, as well as in Mexico.
Bredesen took his worst thrashing two winters ago at Todos Santos, 13 miles off Ensenada. The big, right hand point break was maxing out at 30-plus foot.
“I took a set wave on the head and was swallowed into deep water and feeling the pressure on my ears,” Bredesen said. “Then I was dragged inside, into the rocks that are the size of Volkswagens, while being held under almost the entire way. I was gasping for air in the foam.”
When the rescue ski picked him up he had a bloody nose and a snapped gun.
While recovering on the boat, he questioned what he was doing here.
The answer, he decided was “Chasing big waves, big dreams, experiencing the adventure. It makes you grow, not just as a surfer, but as a person.”
He waxed up his full on, 10-foot-6 Bark rhino chaser, a board he had yet to even paddle and jumped off the boat. Then he made the same mistake that had gotten him in trouble earlier in the day. He went for a small wave, got caught inside and took the next set on the head.
But this time, he was able to get back out to the lineup.
“Here I was with a few of my idols and for a moment I reflected, ‘Wow.’ Then I looked up and saw a set on the horizon. I was in the right spot.”
“Dropping in I could hear the hoots and hollers from my fellow surfers and the boat crews,” he said. “I felt redeemed. I didn’t give up and it paid off.”
Puerto Escondido is another barreling Mexican break that Bredesen has established himself, at a price.
“The wave has to choose you.” he said. “You have to be at the right spot at the right time and hope the wave you’re pulling into doesn’t close out.”
Last May, on his fifth trip to Puerto, Bredesen found himself in a lineup of international surf stars.
“Sharing a line-up with surfers whom I respect is mind blowing,” he said. “The local, Puerto community is especially deserving of respect. Marcial Monreal, Oscar Moncada and Coco Nogales are two of the local surfers I look up to.”
Bredesen mistimed his paddle out and was thrashed by a double overhead, pitching lip.
“It felt like a cement truck was pouring down on me while I was pinned to the ocean floor,” he said.
On his second attempt to paddle out, he barely pushed through to the outside.
“Once I got my bearings straight, a set wave came to me and I found my rhythm,” he said. “You have to catch that one right wave to get the rhythm going.”
A freak left peaked 20 yards south and coming straight at him.
“My eye lit up. I dropped into a bomb,” he said.
He was swallowed up by the 20 foot, closing tube, slide slipping at one point and grabbing a rail while going for broke.
“When I was spit out, I realized I had just caught the barrel of my life,” he said.
Besides becoming a full time LA County Lifeguard and an all around waterman with a life centered around the ocean, Bredesen’s other current goal is to get a bomb at Mavericks, California’s most fabled big wave spot. Qualifying for the World Surf League Big Wave Tour is another fantasy that plays in his head, but it’s not what motivates him.
“There are 1,000s of surfers better than me. I’m not even in the ballpark with some of the big wave surfers,” he said. “Chasing purple blobs is about growing and the adventure. Besides the obvious growth as a surfer — trying to pull in deeper and catch bigger waves — you grow as a person. When you come back from a trip, you’re not the same person you were when you left.” B