Greg Bertish

By | September 24, 2015

Greg Bertish is the brother of Chris Bertish, who won the 2010 Mavericks Big Wave Challege in Half Moon Bay California. He is a stalwart of the South African big wave scene himself and has a epic story of his own. He is most well know as the Owner of the epic True Blue Travel, the first surf travel company in Africa, as well as founder of the crucial Shark Spotters program.

However most people do not know that at the age of 31 he went through open heart surgery after his heart was infected by an un-diagnosable tropical bacteria, which destroyed your aortic valve and caused his heart swell to 30% larger than it’s normal size. (Read Greg’s full story here).

11 years later he is fitter than ever and spends his time surfing big waves and.

After an epic feat to overcome the near death experience involving his heart his now teaches people how to learn from his experience as a public speaker.

Greg says that the process knocked him harder than he thought possible. He found himself asking Why me? Will I live? Will I surf again?

He says 3 things helped him survive and eventually to thrive.

  1. The power of positive thought!
  2. Having a fit and healthy lifestyle.
  3. Great family and friends.

Greg think that these elements far more powerful than any drug that doctors could administer.

Positive thought played a massive role in his recovery. After he had his “why me” moment and time to feel sorry for himself. He stepped back, re looked at his life, set new goals and took positive powerful steps to making them happen one small step at a time. Small wins you know!

Before his big operation he had a “Hearty Party” with all his friends and family so that he went in feeling all the love tiere was for him in the world, and used that to see him through.

Once Greg was in recovery, he found very little literature and support for his heart condition. So in 2002, 4 months after his first operation he set up to assist people who are facing life threatening operations or diagnosis, as well as their families.

He works with The Heart and Stroke Foundation to assist people online from all over the world, as well as through motivational speaking and group and private sessions, hear in South Africa.

In 2006 he had to go in for a second operation because of further complications from the bacteria. This didn’t hold him back though. Greg went on to become a nominee for the Raw Courage Big Wave Awards in 2009 for the biggest/meanest wave ridden that year, among other achievements.

The bacteria that was attacking Greg’s heart was un-culturable, un-named and doctors did not know how to kill it! After the first operation, it lay dormant in his body for 5 years until it reared it’s ugly head again. Greg knew he had beaten it once and now set his mind on doing it again. It was a long fight, and he spent nearly 11 weeks in hospital during and after the operation, within a 6 month period. This was because, after the second operation, the bacteria came back again for a third time. He was forced to spend 8 weeks, in hospital, on drips 24/7, being pumped full of the strongest anti-biotics known to man.

Greg’s love for surfing was one of the things that helped see him through his experience. Greg was about 4 years old when he rode his first wave. He thinks it was probably on a bodyboard. He first stood up on a surfboard in 1978 on one of the all time great surf boards – the white polyurethane boards with 3 red fins! It was in the Langebaan Lagoon area at a secret spot called Lientjies Klip.

Greg moved into big wave surfing when he was in his late teens and started surfing Outer Kom on his 6’4 “big wave boards”.

These days Greg spends a lot of time with his family and young children, but still trys to get as much surfing in as possible.

In 2003 in Greg’s first session back at Dungeons he had a serious wipe out. He hesitated at the last moment and went over the falls. His board connected his chin and he was knocked out. He was rescued by his brother Chris Bertish as well as the Red Bull safety crew of Ross Lindsey and Pierre Du Plessis. He was under for a while as 2 or 3 waves smashed over him and his board tomb stoned 20 feet above him. Greg was pulled up unconscious and half full of water. After being semi resuscitated on the rescue boat, he rode from the harbor in an ambulance and spent the night in the hospital. He had to be treated for secondary drowning. He was checked out the next day with a bad headache and a wry smile.

If you are thinking of starting out in Big Wave surfing Greg suggesting trying Outer Kom or the Crayfish Factory. Build up from 6ft to 8 ft to 10ft and then more. The correct equipment and leashes are critical. Once you are surfing at Dungeons or Sunsets you need to be on anything over 9ft and have a very long leash.

Death is definitely a concern when big wave surfing and it is a reality you have to deal with. Greg is on blood offers to thin his blood for his mechanical heart valve. So he bleeds easily. A cut or blow to the head is a major risk for him. He wears a helmet now as a head wound could be fatal. Greg rides big and heavy waves still, but only to a point, He rides them safe and with lots of respect and wisdom.

Greg uses a variety of surf craft. From a 5.11 Spider Bomb, a twin fin Armstrong fish, 7.2 DVG semi gun, 10 ft Pierre De Villiers Rhino Chaser, a kite board, a tow board and his Coreban SUPs from 7.10 for surf to 14 ft for downwinders.

Surfing is a massive part of his life. His businesses are based around it, his brothers and wife, Tracy, surf and he hopes his two little boys will enjoy the stoke in a few years.

He needs to get his fix a few times a week.

There is a bit of a love-hate relationship between a lot of the SUP and surf crowd in Cape Town but Greg thinks that SUP is a new sport with massive potential and a vast array of opportunity to ride / paddle / surf and have fun in any conditions. He thinks it is misunderstood. He compares it to when windsurfing, kiting or tow surfing started. There were who dislike it or do not believe in it. These sports finally found their place in the oceans and waves, and so to will SUP. Greg loves it because it keeps him fit when while doing down winders, and riding waves for 300 meters at a time, for 10 km. Greg loves SUP in the surf as well as he can SUP in his baggies in 8 degree water, and he can ride the outer reefs while no one else is surfing.

As we do, Greg thinks Cape Town is hard to beat, almost impossible actually as there is nothing like it. However he enjoys different paces like the snowy mountains of the Andies or the Tyrol or G-Land in Indo, Margaret River in Oz, Blue Bush in the Mentawais.

Greg’s favorite surf spots the left at Sunset Reef Cape Town, Flame balls in Madagascar and Skeleton Bay in the desert.

Talking about the desert… check out Greg surfing in the African desert – August 2012

Greg is also the founder of the Shark Spotters and has noticed a definite increase in shask sittings in and around CT. He sees four reasons for it.

  • More people in the water.
  • People are better-informed and equipped to see sharks from the shore.
  • Less fish and more sharks due to them being protected
  • Shark cage diving and the familiarizing of people and sharks and their behavioral changes due to this.

As with most of us, we know the risks of surfing in our waters and we choose to put ourselves in those situations and locations. So it won’t keep Greg out of the water.