Death at Waimea

On December 7, 1941, a California surfer named Don James set the autotimer on his camera and took a photo of himself and two friends standing with their boards in front of a rented bungalow at Topanga Beach, near Malibu. “Sixty bucks a month rent, split three ways,” James said more than fifty years later, looking at the image. “Right about then news came over the radio about Pearl Harbor, and suddenly everything changed. We all looked at each other, and we all knew we were going off to war.”


An even bigger set was approaching, and Brown, hoping to clear it, had to paddle away from Cross, who was now shouting for help. The first wave lumbered up to vertical, fifty feet from trough to crest, twice the size of anything Brown had ever faced. He didn’t have a chance.