On 8th November 2017 on a massive day at Nazare, Portugal, Andrew Cotton surfed a wave that would dramatically change his life for the next few months. The wave was in the 50 to 60 feet range and conditions were epic but tricky in a strong North East wind.
Andrew had seen some waves during the day which had opened right up to create massive barrels going left from the peak. He describes what happened in his own words “I knew before I took the wave that I wanted it to be as critical as possible. Knowing that there was the chance of getting a huge barrel I was confident to fade (head into a big bottom turn) a little more than usual so I could come right up under the lip of this wave. However, the line that I had chosen started to close down when the lip crumbled in front of me as I looked up. I knew that I couldn’t make the safe section towards the top of the wave so decided to bail and take the pounding. This is the price you pay in big wave surfing where we are constantly pushing the limits of what’s possible. It’s happened before and will happen again”.
Andrew decided the best thing to do was to jump off of his board to save his legs getting crushed. He landed on his bottom just as the massive lip of the wave hit the water on top of him. This had the unusual effect of bouncing him 40 feet through the air to land squarely on his back. Unfortunately at this point Andrew had no idea that he was travelling in air and couldn’t brace himself for the impact. It was this impact which broke his L2 vertebrae.
A very tricky rescue was performed by fellow big wave surfer Hugo Vau and Andrew was stabilized on the beach by Nazare Lifeguards before being rushed to hospital where the break was confirmed by Xray.
Andrew was flown back to the UK after a few days where Red Bull have been looking after him and progressing his rehabilitation. Andrew is now back to a light training schedule and should surf again this summer, with a return to big waves autumn 2018.
All big wave surfers suffer injuries during their career. It’s how you deal with this and move on that is important. Luckily, Andrew is extremely positive and this attitude is accelerating his recovery.