"Brain injuries are traumatic. A lot of things were off."
The Eddie Aikau-invitee Kohl Christenen, as famous for his off-the-grid lifestyle as his big-wave wrangling, has made a triumphant return to the Pipe arena, lacing a bomb set at the world’s most dangerous wave three years after suffering a brain injury that nearly ended his career.
On New Year’s Eve in 2019, Christensen, who is forty-five and stands six-five in heels, was belted by his surfboard while surfing twelve-to-fifteen-foot Pipe.
Fractured skull, a little bleeding on the brain, ear drum blown to the heavens.
Jamie O’Brien, the carrot-topped vlogger who grew up at Pipe and whose house is directly behind the famous Lopez mansion, saw the whole thing from his upstairs perch.
“He was on this second reef double-up roll-in and he was trimming and the wave before had some turbulence in front of it and he went over the turbulence and then he skipped out.”
Jamie didn’t think much of it.
“Kohl’s a great surfer, he knows what he’s doing. He’s the kinda guy you don’t see until it’s bigger than ten feet.”
Pretty standard sorta wipeout at a wave given to sudden flourishes of unpredictable violence more than most.
“And then he popped up, it took a while, and I was, like, something’s wrong. He was looking the wrong way and the lip of an eight-foot wave was landing on him. His board was sideways and he was right behind the board. From my point of view it looked the lip launched the board straight into his head and knocked him out. I’m not sure if he broke his eardrum first and that was why he was out of it.”
Dressed in baggy sweat shorts, Jamie tightened up the legs, grabbed an eight-foot soft-top and ran down the beach. He thought, ‘Ok, I need to act right now.’
A life or death moment.
“I saw his board tombstoning right when I got to the beach. The jetski was already on him, Makua Rothman was already swimming out. It was super gnarly. I knew there was nothing I could do. He was in good hands. It was lucky help was there faster than I was. I was trying my best.”
At the hozzy, Kohl had his head sawed open, and brain tweaked back into biz.
It was enough to give Kohl pause about whether or not he wanted to keep chasing big waves.
Until Pipe lit up last week.
“I didn’t know if I would ever surf again,” Kohl posted on his IG account @deepeatersurf , alongside a sequence of an epic Pipe cave. “Brain injuries are traumatic. A lot of things were off. I still remember my first wave months into recovery, a simple slide over crystal clear water on a longboard. That sweet flying sensation conjuring memories of my first surf’s as a youth. I can do this again… Now, surfing more and happier than ever, except… somewhere back there, haunting and challenging me has been Pipeline… I’ve been a few times since without connecting. Minutes into my first session back I witnessed Mikey Redd’s accident. Dejavú all over again.
“Do I really need to be back out here? Two beautiful daughters and a loving wife. Does that glorious glide through her aquatic cavern outweigh the risk?
“I can’t answer that, but something pulled me out there this last swell. As I waited a backlight silhouette 20 yards away waved to me. I instinctually returned the wave without knowing who it was but as he turned, the sun lit his face. Andrew Logreco the life guard that saved me nearly three years prior. He waved again and as he did the swell line stretched out towards where I was sitting. A gift from both him , the Ocean and of course Pipeline. I can’t put in words the emotions.
“And of course, as I kicked out of the wave, donning Biff’s old helmet my buddy Daniel Russowas there to capture the moment. Giddyup…”