"It’s incredible what the mind and spirit can do when you know you’re fucked."
One week back, as big-wave daddies shucked responsibilities to chase and wrangle a wild Teahupoo swell, British surfer Tom Lowe very nearly never saw his soon-to-be-born kid after he was pitched on the takeoff, busting six ribs and puncturing a lung in the collision with the notorious reef.
How bad was it?
Jamie Mitchell, an Australian big-wave surfer who ain’t scared of a few catastrophic wipeouts himself, see here, and here, here, and yeah here, asked the twenty-nine-year-old Brit what it’s like to feel the fist of God on your head.
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“I went and sat on the shoulder to wait for my wave,” says Tom. “One of the bigger waves of the day popped up, the channel went all blue. By no means do I have much experience out there, but I turned and went late. I jumped [from the lip], but I wouldn’t even say it was an awkward jump. I’ve jumped like that a million times. When I hit the water, I put my hands over my head, and was ready to get sucked over. I was on autopilot. I’ve done that a million times in a million waves.
“But as soon as I went up and over, I knew I was gonna hit [the reef]. It hit so hard on my side, that I knew it was gonna be bad. When I came up, I couldn’t breathe. I had this big cut going on. My shoulder, elbow, ribs…I was all broke up. I couldn’t shout or wave. My shoulder was broken, too. All I could do was use my other arm to keep my head above water.
“In my mind, I was like ‘I will make it; I will make it to the beach. I need medical help.’ It was the most pain I’ve ever felt. It’s incredible what the mind and spirit can do when you know you’re fucked.
“This was the heaviest situation I’ve ever been in by far. I’ve never nearly died like that, not to that level. This was as real as it’s ever been.”
Shortly after Lowe’s hospitalisation it was revealed his travel insurance policy didn’t cover his medical costs and Tahitian authorities subsequently wouldn’t let him leave French Polynesia until all his bills, totalling fifty gees, were paid.
Lowe, who earns one thousand dollars a month at Vans and hence broke as hell after slinging ten gees at chasing this swell, was stuck until friends and fans, although not his multi-billion dollar sponsor Vans, raised the required cash to get him out.