How the boys took on heaving Playa Zicatela
It’s got to be said that the athletes on the Big Wave Tour are made of stern stuff. Many speak au contraire however, with their inflatable safety vests, top skilled rescue teams, jet-ski assist and etc. that much of the bravado has been taken out of the sport and culture of big wave riding.
At the Puerto Escondido Challenge there were injured surfers competing and there were injured surfers watching. Greg Long was suffering from a knee injury and chose not to surf, instead adding his wealth of big wave knowledge to the webcast team.
While Greg was in the booth, two surfers with serious injury were out at the back, facing the twenty-foot sets, and charging as hard as they could. Jamie Mitchell was surfing with a fractured sternum, a complicated and extremely painful injury, but he had changed down a gear and was operating at pure ‘beast mode’ as he told the WSL afterwards.
Another surfer who was out there with an injury was Tom Lowe, the UK big wave surfer who has been making name in Nazaré and other locations. He had been hobbling around on crutches up until the day before the contest, and was unsure if he was going to even be starter. An injured ankle had seen him on crutches for two weeks prior to paddling out, but it was mind over matter for the young English surfer. “I knew I could just make it happen with will-power and mind, but the body is definitely hurting right now,” said Lowe of his performance through the pain level.
It’s called the ‘Warrior State,’ or ‘Beast Mode’ as Mitchell called it, and it’s a thing in professional surfing on all levels.
Remember Jordy Smith trying to surf Teahupo’o with a broken rib, and screaming through the pain while he rode waves, or a broken-wristed Mike Ho, surfing with a cast on at Pipe and dealing with his aching? It happens often. How many times has Kelly paddled out and battled intense discomfort to win a heat?
When the goal looms greater than the pain, that’s when beast mode kicks in.
To cap it off though, Mitchell nearly went and won the whole thing with his cracked sternum. You all know what a sternum is? Just in case you don’t, it’s the big bone that runs down the middle of your chest, and your ribs run off it. It’s not a nice place to have a fracture, and for a surfer lying on a board, it would be a constant point of pain.
Mitchel jumped into the lead and managed to hold on, but the Hawaiian Kai Lenny’s wave in the dying moments of the heat saw him sneak into the lead and ultimately the win.
Puerto Escondido is a great location for a big wave event. Some would argue that it’s not in the same league as Jaws and Nazaré, but it has other superlatives that make it a world class big wave venue. It’s accessible, it’s consistent and it is relatively straightforward to forecast a swell. It’s the one event on the Big Wave Tour that Big Wave Commissioner Mike Parsons can be sure to bank, year after year.
Talking about commissioners, whatever happened to the audacious return of The Condor? He suffered the same fate as defending champion Grant Baker, and wherever he paddled, the sets went elsewhere.