Mark Foo drowned 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. Nose rocker creates a bend in the surfboard bottom. At high speed, an 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: A surfboard sticks in a shallow dive if its bow is flat and rocker bend is high. 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 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 stick or push a surfboard backward.
With a Final Breath
Mark Foo loved the ocean and the 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 friends 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. In warmer conditions plaque may be dangerous but; not an immediate deadly issue. Blood circulation is restricted in cold temperatures by constricting veins. Our sympathetic nervous protects us, conserving 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 experienced a two-wave hold down, and was likely 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. Nose rocker has diminishing returns, too much exposes a flat underside to abrupt impact and stopping. High nose rocker combined with a round or Veed bow may recover from a poke or pearl dive.