Steve Dwyer had a simple message for his 15-year-old son Colin on the teen's first paddle-out to Mavericks: "Sit here," he said, pointing to the relative safety of the channel. "Don't be there," he added, nodding toward the spot where giant walls of water detonate on the reef as if preloaded with TNT.
Friday morning, in Heat 2 of the Mavericks Invitational, a 23-year-old Colin, the contest's youngest invitee, will be sitting "there" amid his heroes and mentors, processing the mental notes passed down from Dad and others over the ensuing years.
"I've never seen Colin do something stupid out there," said Steve, 53, a schoolteacher from Pacifica who was an original Mavericks competitor in the mid-1990s.
"I like to think I surf wisely out there," said Colin, who sneaked into the event for the first time last year as an alternate on a smallish day by Mavericks standards.
Generational wisdom will come in handy Friday in what is expected to be extreme, white-knuckle Mavericks conditions. It might be a day where sensibility not only keeps one safe, but in contention.
"Days like this, it's not the craziest guy who wins it," said longtime Mavericks surfer and competitor Grant Washburn. "It doesn't matter how mentally tough you are if you take the full physical toll of that wave.
"Colin is really smart how he plays the game."
Steve Dwyer learned his version of the ultimate parental lesson the hard way: Stop pushing your son into the ocean and maybe he'll take to surfing. The genetics were already in place.
Dwyer had grown up surfing on the East Coast but was drawn west immediately after high school by the allure of the California lifestyle -- most specifically its abundant riches of perfectly peeling reef and point breaks.
After a stint in Carpinteria, he made his way north, got a degree from UC Berkeley, married his wife Ila and settled into the small coastal town of Pacifica. There he fell into the daily rhythms of a high school English teacher, entertaining the needs of his inner surf nomad as time allowed.
It was about 1991 when he caught wind of a giant wave being ridden just 10 minutes down the coast from his house. A Surfer magazine article headlined "Cold Sweat" had provided the bone-chilling details.
"The first time I saw it, I knew I had to surf it," he said. "It was like our own Waimea Bay."
Like all who have gotten hooked on Mavericks' raw power, Dwyer had decisions to make. How important was this to him? How much was he willing to sacrifice?
Ultimately he chose the path he was already on, with a teaching career launched and a toddler in tow. He didn't let his perspective on big-wave surfing get swayed by a growing number of self-styled pros trying to make a name for themselves as big-wave mercenaries. Legendary Hawaiian Mark Foo was one of the first globe-trotting, big-wave hunters. In 1994, he paid the ultimate price his first time surfing Mavericks, even though it wasn't considered a big day.
"That was a pretty big recalibration point for me," said Dwyer, who was in the water next to Foo when he turned and dropped into the wave that would be his last.
It affirmed Dwyer's belief that a good day at Mavericks is a safe day at Mavericks. And it led him to teach young Colin a healthy respect for the wave and its surroundings.
"Early on, when I was 17 or so, I did some things wrong and paid the price," Colin said. "It takes years to learn how to surf Mavericks -- and a lot of times you learn the hard way."
Colin has largely followed the blueprint of his dad: surf for fun, as a passion, but don't plan on it paying the bills or supporting a family. (Colin also has a younger sister.) That's why he's close to finishing a psychology degree at San Francisco State, pondering a career as a paramedic or firefighter.
"I've had a job since I was 16," Colin said. "I've always worked and used that to support my lifestyle."
But that doesn't mean he'll be any less of a big-wave surfing competitor Friday when he pulls a bright contest jersey over his wet suit and inflatable safety vest (used by most surfers on the most extreme days), hops off his father's 12-foot skiff in the channel and into the water for his 8:30 a.m. heat.
He'll simply be tapping into the same good instincts he utilized Tuesday when Mavericks awoke larger and angrier than it has in years -- and several experienced veterans took severe beatings.
Dwyer was sitting next to San Francisco's Alex Martins when the largest, squarest, thickest wave of the day rose up. Martins didn't hesitate, turning and scraping for it, moments later surely wishing he hadn't. The Brazil native fell headfirst partly down the wave's face, then skipped like a stone, countless tons of water following closely behind. Martins was held down for two waves and reportedly lost consciousness before emerging white in the face and stricken with emotion.
Steve Dwyer raced in on his boat to see if he could assist in rescuing Martins, then watched the aftermath. "He was talking about his family and god," he said.
Some 50 yards out in the impact zone, Colin Dwyer looked back at the scene and held a good thought for his big-wave brother.
"It's part of the deal, for sure," he said. "We're a tight-knit group and we all care about each other. When your friend's life is in danger, you definitely drop the whole 'We're just here to surf' thing."
Colin Dwyer, like his dad, is here to surf. But he also has other considerations in his life. That is why when he hears his father's words of contest advice stream through his head Friday, he'll probably be listening closely. Like always.
"You take the waves you would normally take," Steve Dwyer said. "Not the ones that could end your day, or your season, or God knows how much more."
Follow Mark Conley ¿at Twitter.com/MarkConley.