Leonardo Fioravanti’s close call with The Pipeline’s brutal underside.
What’s a kid from Italy to do? Sitting with priority during his heat at the Volcom Pipe Pro, Leonardo Fioravanti didn’t think twice when a “decent sized” bomb started bending his way.
“I wasn’t in the best spot,” recalls Fioravanti.
“You really need to be either side of the peak to really get pitted and I was right under it, but…you’re out there with priority, a good wave comes…you gotta go.”
And go he did, freefalling into the pit with a faint hope his fins would grab. But the fins missed the mark and Leo was quickly picked up, sucked over and driven straight to the bottom where his downward descent was only broken by the notorious reef.
“I hit it and for a couple seconds I couldn’t feel anything,’’ he says.
“At first I was really panicked but I managed to calm myself down and floated to the surface, took my leg rope off and before I knew it, I was on the back of a jet ski, straight onto the beach and into an ambulance.”
Still concerned but slightly buoyed by his ability to move his hands and feet, Leo was taken to hospital and then forced to endure an overnight wait overnight to determine the extent of the injuries and if he was to face surgery.
“That was the worst part, just waiting for the doctor,” he says.
“It took forever, but it was the biggest sense of relief when he came in and said I wouldn’t need surgery.”
Despite learning he’d broken two vertebrae and tore numerous ligaments, Leo says he quickly realised an inch or two either way and he’d be facing a much bleaker future.
“The doctor told me how lucky I was,” he says.
“I could have been paralysed.”
With rest, Leo could be surfing again within three months.
Miles away, Leo’s coach and former Pipe Master, Jake Paterson endured an anxious wait to learn the extent of his understudy’s injuries.
“I watched the whole thing go down online and it made me feel sick,” Jake told Tracks.
“It was just horrifying to see his hand go up after the wipeout, but luckily the Hawaiian water patrol is the best in the world and they had him on the beach in a neck brace within minutes.”
Jake says recent changes to the format in which heats are held at Pipe have prevented many more similar incidents occurring.
“The best thing that has every happened at Pipe is the priority ruling which usually means you get to sit in the right take off spot and you don’t have to chance those crazy late take offs,’’ says Jake.
“But Leo’s wave was just one of those things, Pipe is super dangerous at the best of times, sometimes if you wanna dance you have to pay the band a little extra.”
Nor does Jake think he would have done anything different had he been in Leo’s position during the heat.
“When I was in heats at Pipe or Tahiti I would take way bigger chances and put myself in way more dangerous situations than I ever would free surfing,’’ he says.
“It’s part of competing, you care more about losing than your own safety. It sounds crazy, but that’s the way it is.”