A couple of years ago Koa Smith suffered a serious head injury after being driven head-first into the reef at Nias. Ever since he’s taken things a little more easily, Taking calculated risks, like packing bombs at Pipe, but doing so with his melon wrapped in the safe embrace of a Gath helmet.

That was until recently when the first big swell of the season came marching into the North Shore. Koa received a call from John John Florence, requesting his immediate presence at the outer reef wave of Phantoms where he was to provide water safety on a ski for the two-time world champ.

Even being in the lineup was a big step for Koa in terms of his head injury. And that’s how he planned on keeping it, happily observing from the sidelines. That was until John urged him to give it a shot. Koa’s rubber arm was twisted and he was soon on a board floating in the lineup.

In this clip, Koa recounts his experience, which includes confronting the biggest wall of water he’d ever seen, pulling into a bomb, and coughing up blood.