Remembering Mark Foo
The anniversary of losing legend Mark Foo is December 23, 1994. He left us long before the introduction of inflatable life-saving devices and jet ski support. Inflatable vests were developed after near-death experiences. Before surfers partnered with skilled jet ski rescue drivers, a surfer in distress was on his own. These safety precautions were introduced after many near-drowning experiences.
Mark's death also led to a discovery that can save others. Fellow legendary surfer Brock Little studied videos of Mark's ride and said, "He hit something". Brock was correct. Mark fell after the underside of his surfboard nose, impacted the wave in a very steep drop. Note the nose rocker in the photo above, it is extreme by today's standards. Mark's surfboard is typical of boards from that era, with a characteristic high nose rocker and flat bottom underside. The design works when the underside does not contact water at high speed. Impact at high speed can stop or push a surfboard backward, launching the rider. Nose rocker has diminishing returns. It keeps the board from diving underwater, however; too much nose rocker exposes a flat underside to high impact and an abrupt catapulting stop.
Note the shaded red area in the diagram below. This section is exposed to high impact with speed. We have all pearled. Surfboards, in some pearls, don't submerge underwater. The board still abruptly stops and catapults us. This is caused by water's resistance to fast moving objects or hydrodynamic resistance. Things falling into water from great heights, with speed, briefly stop on the surface before decelerating and submerging. When you jump into water from a very high perch, landing flat, your body absorbs impact. This hurts and may cause injury. Alternatively, water cushions a jump from a lower level by parting water and pushing aside. A flat bottom surfboard maximizes hydrodynamic resistance or upward support. This force applied to the rocker bend may stop movement in free fall on both small and large waves.
The Science of Hydrodynamic Resistance
Three phases of movement through water, Displacement, Transition and Planning, generate different dynamics. Speed generates planning, while transition (moderate speed) and slower movement generates displacement. Slower moving vessels move in water, by moving water. Although vessels may float on the surface, their submerged bottoms push water out of its way. The vessel simultaneously takes the place of water it displaces thus, the initial phase is called Displacement. Water pushed by the vessel, creates a resistance and limits speed. Top speed is restricted to the power and thrust it produces.
Water needs time to move out of the way. Speed generates different fluid dynamics. A speedboat or surfboard moves too fast to permit water to move out of its way. Water resists parting or moving out from under speeding objects. Gradual acceleration through resistance is known as Transition. When water cannot move out of the way fast enough due to speed of the surfboard or speed boat, it is planning. At planning speed, some water is pushed creating wakes, but; most of the water remains under the vessel creating support known as lift. Lift allows speeding vessels to ride or plane on water's surface in the Planning phase. Flotation no longer is the force supporting it. Speed creates support or hydrodynamic lift, under speeding surfboards. Speed allows reduction of surfboard size and volume, which increases performance.
When a surfer free falls into a wave, he goes from the Planning Phase to the Displacement Phase without the ability to transition. This may cause a wipeout. A weighted landing on the tail or a rail grab high impact may force transition. Water is parted by force created by weight and speed. Alternatively lowering nose rocker or combining high nose rocker with a round or Veed bow may allow recovery from a shallow nose poke or pearl dive. Lower rocker and a round or Veed bow helps the surfer transition to planning by pushing water aside out of his intended path.
Nose rocker creates a bend in the surfboard bottom. At high speed, sudden abrupt impact on the bend can launch a skilled surfer. This bend creates bow on the underside similar to boats. The boat bow absorbs impact with water in rough seas. A boat bow parts water blazing a path through chop and turbulence. A Veed bow cuts through water while a flatter bow butts it. This is amplified by speed and colder water temperature. Therefore, from Brock's observation: Mark clipped the wave's face. The contact disrupted his balance, causing him to fall. A surfboard sticks in a shallow dive if its bow is flat and rocker bend is high.
With a Final Breath
Mark Foo loved the ocean and surfing lifestyle. His quotes expressed his love and commitment: "Surfing and Martial Arts are really similar. If you're into it, it's a way of living, a lifestyle. You live it; you don't just do it. My life is surfing." Surfing was Mark’s life as well as his career. He produced a TV series dedicated to surfing called H3O, his acronym for heavy water. Ironically, heavy water may have attributed to his demise. Science can prove that cold water is denser, heavier, and thicker than warm. A surfboard does not move through cold water as easily as warm. This difference is not significant at low speed, however; at high speed, the temperature may be a factor. Coldwater also affects the human body by restricting movement, making breathing difficult and slowing circulation. Thus, cold water is more dangerous than warm Hawaiian water.
Mark arrived in San Francisco, from Honolulu on the same day of his accident. He went directly to a very dangerous surfing spot known as Mavericks. The waves were beautiful, not exceptionally large, but deceptively inviting. Videos show Mark smiling as he entered the water, not knowing the dangers that lay ahead. He caught a warm-up wave and the nose underside or bow of his surfboard stuck. Mark successfully rode out of a shallow nose poke and intended to heed its warning by changing boards. When he disappeared from the lineup, companions assumed he went in to change boards. Mark did not make it to the beach as the bow stuck again on his next wave, this time with a harder impact. The board abruptly decelerated and launched Mark in the air, with his final breath.
Mark once said, "The life I've had has been good enough that I can die happily. Surfing's done that; surfing's given me that. So, I can accept dying while I'm surfing." No one really knows how Mark drowned. There is speculation that he hit the bottom, but; it is not known when he hit. A bottom collision may have occurred after drowning or possibly led to drowning. An autopsy revealed some plaque buildup in his arteries. Blood circulation is restricted in cold temperatures by constricting veins. Our sympathetic nervous protects us, conserving warm blood for organs. When veins constrict with an interior plaque build-up, blocked circulation may cause a loss of consciousness or a cardiac arrest. Common dangers can become deadly in cold water.
Mike Parsons, a fellow big wave surfer, caught the wave immediately after Mark’s and wiped out. Mike says he bumped into another surfer while violently churning in the cold icy water. He later realized that he collided with Mark. This confirms that Mark was held under for at least two waves. He was possibly still alive at their encounter. Mark did not surface, true to another quote that became his epithet, "If you want the ultimate thrill, you've got to be willing to pay the ultimate price." The truth is, using Mark's experience we may avoid paying the ultimate price.