An eyewitness said in “Riding Giants” that Noll paddled out against a backdrop of a “huge, massive, black wall” of water. “He stands up and he’s this little speck on this gigantic wall and you’re saying, ‘Oh, my God, he looks like this tiny cartoon figure.’ He gets into his stance — ‘Grrr, I’m going!’ — and he drops down, drops down, drops down and he gets to the bottom of the wave and it’s starting to come over the top of him and he kind of steps off the rail. There was nowhere to go. That was it.”
He had wiped out at the bottom of a wave that he said was 10 feet higher than any he had ever surfed.
“I was under the wave and all I could see was a tiny patch of sunlight,” he told The Honolulu Star-Advertiser afterward, and he had to swim a mile against swift currents to return to shore.
Fred Hemmings, another big-wave surfer who was there that day, told the newspaper, “If it had been anyone else in that situation, he would have died.”
At that point, Jed Noll said in a telephone interview, he “stopped his pursuit of riding the biggest wave ever every winter. But he didn’t stop surfing.”
Several days after, when Noll was back at Waimea Bay, he saved a Navy seaman from drowning. “If he hadn’t brought him in, the guy would have drowned,” a friend, Henry Prece, told The Star-Advertiser.
“He had a number of rescues over the years,” his son said.
Greg Lawhead was born on Feb. 11, 1937, in San Diego and moved about 120 miles north to Manhattan Beach, Calif., when he was about 3 after his mother, Grace Zalabak, a homemaker, divorced his father, Robert. When she married Ash Noll, a chemical engineer, Greg took his stepfather’s surname.