Up, up and Abad
by Morgan Sliff
At five years old, Alex Abad found himself in the seat of a top-down jeep donning aviator goggles, winding south along the Baja coast. He and his dad, Alex Sr., pulled into San Miguel. The time had come for Alex to learn to surf. His father gave him a push, and young Alex stood up on his first wave and rode it all the way in.
That first wave turned out to be more than beginner’s luck. Abad became very good at surfing, very quickly.
Abad and Eddie Lester connected over surfing in the third-grade grade. The two would become a force as co-captains of El Segundo High School’s surf team. Mira Costa and Peninsula had long dominated the local high school surf league. El Segundo was historically at the bottom. But in 2004 Abad and Lester led the team to victory over Peninsula and a championship match with Mira Costa. They lost lose by two points, as a result of a questionable interference call. Their reign proved to be the best in El Segundo’s history.
Though predominantly a shortboarder, Abad and Lester competed in every division. “Our team would have tons of slots open in bodyboarding and longboarding, so I and Eddie would enter every division possible.”
Abad frequently won not just shortboarding heats, but also bodyboarding heats.
And the competition was the way it should be – all in good fun.
“Alex and Eddie motivated and not just to be competitive, but to have an amazing time doing it,” said Abad’s dad Alex Sr. “They weren’t trying to win a world title — it was just about having fun, and inspiring the rest of their team.”
Abad, following another of his father’s passions, became fascinated with planes at a young age. By the time he was 8, he was proficient in adult simulation flights. He piloted his first actual plane at age 14, and in high school, he’d fly his friends across to Catalina. Now, at 31, he captains an 11- to 18-passenger twin-engine Gulfstream jet to Mexico, Hawaii, and other surf-centric locales. Before every flight, he scouts the surf reports to determine which boards to bring along.
His co-pilot, Jordan, is also a surfer. The pair surf together often and devise quick surf stops, sometimes darting from the plane to the beach before checking in to a hotel.
His father speaks in awe of his son’s ability to be good at whatever he devotes himself to, including motocross — a sport that earned him a coveted spot with Red Bull before he became a full-time pilot.
His athleticism and diverse skills made Abad an unusual star for Red Bull.
“He was Red Bull’s poster child for everything for a while,” Alex Sr. said. “He drove a sidecar for them, and he flew planes and raced motocross. Then, they found out he could surf. And not just surf, but surf huge waves.”
Alex’s big wave experiences led him to get certified for Personal Watercraft Rescue. PWC drivers are responsible for towing surfers into large waves and getting them out of harm’s way when they fall.
tao berman in 2012
On March 6, 2012, Abad and Lester hit the tarmac in Portland at 2 a.m. Their Red Bull assignment was to tow professional kayaker Tao Berman into the biggest wave ever surfed in a kayak.
“The waves weren’t supposed to be very good,” Abad recalled. “But Nelscott Reef is fickle. It was hot and offshore. It was insane,” Abad said.
Conditions were so good, and it was so big that Nelscott Reef, was Surfline’s “Where You Should Have Been” feature. That day, Abad towed Tao down 30- to 45-foot faces.
At the end of the session, Berman announced he knew no new challenge could rival what he had done that day, and he was retiring from professional kayaking. Abad and Lester spent the rest of the day surfing, a session that would be the one of the most memorable in their lives. “It was incredible being in a spot where we could surf waves of such severe consequence,” Lester recalled. “We had such a blast.”
Abad’s first surfboard was a mid-length ET, designed for tuning in to the South Bay’s capricious conditions. Though he stopped competing after high school, he still surfs religiously with a flock near the El Segundo jetty, where he developed his skills in his younger years. He rides Chemistry Surfboards, and this month took off on a 10-day surfing trip to the Mentawai Islands. He hadn’t been on an actual surf trip in years, except for sessions he could work in while flying. With conditions calling for an 8-12 foot swell, his excitement was palpable.
“Surfing is number one, but swim fins, stand up paddling, bodyboarding — I think it’s all great as long as you’re having a good time,” he said.
“Remember to just have as much fun as you can. Have fun with your buddies — that’s what’s important.”