Strider Wasilewski, Dave Prodan, Leonardo Fioravanti, Anthony Walsh and Kyllian Guerin share their experiences
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 28 February, 2018 - Surfing is wonderful. It kicks us in the ass and gets us out of our comfort zone. We travel to far away places to score waves. We challenge ourselves at dangerous breaks. And sometimes in that process we have an experience that we think will be our last.
Travel and heavy surf often work in combination to scare the living shit out of us. Everyone at your local break has had some close call or another related to the pursuit of surfing, whether in the water or in traveling to find surf.
Most of us will never be stuck in a cave at Pipe or have to calm down a drugged-out local with a gun. But these things do happen. And these things make good stories. What follows is a sampling of “That One Time I Almost Died” experiences from people who shared their stories with us during the Quiksilver Pro France.
Strider Wasilewski, Pro surfer, character and WSL commentator: I was surfing in Tahiti at Teahupoo. I got towed into a really big wave by Manoa Drollet and the wave kinda turned on me and sucked a bunch of water off the reef.
Then it turned into, like, a death closeout and I ended up having no choice but to pull into the closeout barrel. So that became kind of like running as fast as you can into a brick wall, and then I was dragged along on the reef under water for about 300 yards just getting squashed. Then after that another ten footer hit me on the head right on dry reef. I was just standing there on the reef and I had to take it. That was probably the worst.
Dave Prodan, WSL Media Director: I guess one of the better stories is when a few of the judges and myself were at the RipCurl Pro Search in Puerto Rico in 2010. We went for a surf at Obo’s which is really kinda like the Waikiki of Puerto Rico. There’s beginners and hundreds of people all over the lineup. It’s right on the main highway, and we paddled out. I don’t think we even caught any waves, we were probably out there for 10 minutes and thought “it’s too crowded let’s try to find somewhere else to surf” and so we basically walked in, and as we came in there was sort of a sketchy looking guy that walked up to us and he was fumbling around in his pants for something and we just thought “it’s Puerto Rico” that’s all. I didn’t think too much about it and then we went up to the highway and we were putting the boards in our car and he started coming at us with a gun and I had the good fortune of being at the back of the van. I was the last person to load his board in the van and all the judges were sort of on the other side of the van, and he was saying “don’t surf here! don’t even surf here” and I said “it’s cool; we’re leaving.”
It was kinda weird cause it’a a popular spot and there’s like little kids out there and families and everything. It was a nice day. I heard one of the judges on the other side of the van kinda pipe up saying: “we don’t even want to surf here man.” And I’m going like “that’s not helping” because this guy was clearly on something. We kinda had this standoff for a bit and I was trying to calm him down and he didn’t really have an agenda so I just kinda put the trunk down and tried to walk around the other side of the car and jump in because everyone else had gotten in. Then he came around the front and was trying to get in the car with the gun.
Then out of nowhere, I’ll never forget this guy, came a kinda like portly saint in a lime green polo shirt. This guy just came up from behind him and grabbed him and just said to us “sorry!” He said it like if your brother had too many drinks at the bar, or just like “have a good day.” So we just bolted out of there, and yeah I don’t know, maybe time slows down for a lot of people when you’re in those moments. But that was one of the many experiences after ten years on tour.
Leonardo Fiorvanti, European rising star and Italy’s most famous surfer: Die? I don’t think I’ve ever thought I was going to die. But I guess last year in January when I fractured my back, that was my worst injury ever. It was pretty much my only major one and it took me out for about six months. It was scary because I went over the falls on a wave at Pipeline and just went straight into the reef. I sat down on the reef and I heard a “crack. Then just the gnarliest pain going from my toes all the way to my neck and it all just kinda went black. It was pretty scary for a moment but then luckily the jet ski came and saved me and they took me to the beach. Afterwards I went to the hospital and found out what it was (Leo broke his back). It was fine. I never thought I was going to die, but I was definitely scared. I was just thinking about when I was going to be able to surf again!
Anthony Walsh, Big-wave surfer and GoPro POV expert: So I’ve had a couple incidents where I thought I was going to die but for sure the worst was when I was surfing Pipeline. It was about six or seven years ago. I caught the first wave of the set and I went over the falls, which wasn’t too bad but then I got pushed down to the bottom. I didn’t hit hard but it pushed me into a cave and at that point I didn’t know where I was. I was trying to stay relaxed. I was like okay we train - I do and a lot of other guys do - for being in these situations like this where you just gotta relax and just not think about the fact that you’re in a cave and you’re underwater and there’s probably a wave behind this one and how long can you stay here, and wondering how you’re going to get out.
So I kind of just relaxed because it was pushing me up into the back of the cave and I was trying to slowly feel around and find where the exit was. I knew it must’ve been straight ahead but all I could feel all around me were rocks. And then the next wave came and jammed me up against the back of the cave. That’s two waves I’ve been under already, the wave I fell off on and the next wave and then the third wave, which ended up being a smaller wave, thank God, actually sucked me out of the cave and it pulled me out and flipped me onto the top of the cave. I hit my head on the rock but I was so relieved that I was not in the cave anymore because I could see now, and before it was just all black and bubbles and I couldn’t see. So after the third wave I could see the light and I could actually see, it was still white water and I knew I was out of the cave and it just relaxed me even more. I came up and I got a quick breath and then got the next one but luckily it was a smaller wave and I didn’t have a long hold down. But after that I went to the beach. I was just sitting there. It was a really good day at Pipeline and I just sat there just like “I just got to call it quits today and just come back tomorrow.”
Killian Guerin, French supergrom: I had an experience one time, it was a year ago I think, in the Mentawais, that really scared me. It was early in the morning, and there were, like, six-foot sets. I caught a few barrels. I was catching the smaller waves to get the barrels and I took off on this small one and got hit by the lip and then I hit the reef. Aghhh. I smashed my whole back. I came out of the water just screaming “help me, help me” because my back was hurting so bad and I turned around and the biggest set of the day came in! It was a ten-foot set, and I was at the end of the section where it’s the most shallow and I was like “No! No!” and I got smashed. I got four waves on the head, just getting smashed on the reef and I was like really scared but trying to stay focused. I came out of the water, spent the whole day sitting on my board on the beach just watching these perfect waves. I was really scared. I didn’t want to go out again because I still had that fresh, bad memory. My dad was just like “go, the waves are pumping! It’s the perfect time!” And I was like “are you sure?” And he was like “go, go!” So I went back out and I waited ten to twenty minutes and saw this big bomb just come in and I paddled for it and dropped in on the biggest wave of the day. And I was like super stoked and everything that had happened that morning was forgotten. I caught so many waves after that and had a great session.