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Head Banger

Surviving a Tahitian punch through the skull.

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It was 2008 at Teahupo’o. I surfed all morning and into the afternoon. The waves were just flawless. At one point I thought that I should probably go in. But I told myself I would be fine. It was pumping and I didn’t know when I’d see waves like that again. 

A thick, double-up set wave came in and someone else started paddling for it, so I didn’t put myself in a good position to go. That person suddenly stopped, so I spun and went. But I was too late and went straight over the falls. 

It felt like I jumped off a building. I landed on my butt and then on my head, slamming into the reef. I blacked out and drifted, unconsciously, into the lagoon. I felt a cool air blow across my eyes and that was when I woke up. My shoulder hurt and I could feel holes in my head. 

I knew something bad had happened but I told myself to keep it together. I started to paddle back up the reef, trying not to panic. A ski picked me up and took me back to the boat, where I laid down and started crying. 

I cracked my scapula in three places and punched a giant hole in my head. It was one of those times I should’ve known when to call it a day. It obviously wasn’t my time to die, but I was in really bad shape. It took me a year to get over that one. There’s still a lot of fear I have to put to bed when I go back to Tahiti.

Feature image: photograph by Pete Frieden.