Here are 6 of surfing’s craziest near-death experiences

Recently the 2015 Big Wave Award Winner Aaron Gold suffered what he called a “lights out” moment after a wipeout at Cloudbreak in Fiji. The Hawaii-born surfer was found unconscious and it was only the resuscitation efforts of his fellow surfers Mark Healey and Greg Long that kept him alive. Gold has since made a full recovery, but it wasn’t the first time an elite surfer has been close to death. Here we look at some of surfing’s other famous near death experiences.

Evan Geisleman’s near drowning at Pipeline

Last December the Floridian nearly drowned at Pipeline after suffering a three-wave hold-down. Graphic video footage showed how pro bodyboarder Andre Botha found Geisleman and brought him to shore, where lifeguards and a group of Geiselman’s friends brought him back to consciousness.

He was rushed to hospital in critical condition, but made a full recovery. In fact, just last week he had the biggest victory of his career in Japan.

“After what happened at Pipe I’m so lucky to be surfing at all,” he told the WSL after the win. “So to win the biggest event of my career six months later is amazing.”

Mick Fanning walks away from a shark attack

Mick Fanning shark attack
Fanning’s encounter with a shark at the 2015 J-Bay Open sent shockwaves throughout the surfing world. Photo: Courtesy of the WSL
In one of the most dramatic, and watched, events in sporting history, Mick Fanning survived an attack by a great white shark while surfing in the final at Jeffreys Bay in South Africa last July.

“Those experiences shape your life,” Fanning told GrindTV recently. “While you need to move on, you also will never forget it. The most important thing though is that you learn to appreciate your life a whole lot more.”

Greg Long almost drowns at Cortez Bank

Greg Long at Cortes Bank, a big wave surf spot located 100 miles off the coast of San Diego, California. Photo: Pat Stacy
Greg Long at Cortes Bank, a big wave surf spot located 100 miles off the coast of San Diego, California. Photo: Courtesy of Pat Stacy
The 2015 Big Wave World Champion suffered blunt trauma injuries and nearly drowned after a three-wave hold down at the big wave spot located 100 miles off the coast of California in 2012.

He was found unconscious, floating face down in the water and had to be airlifted to the hospital.

“I’ve only now just overcome the mental issues that followed my near death at Cortez,” Long told GrindTV. “An incident like that can change your life forever, but you need time to process it and move on.”

Maya Gabeira at Nazare

After wiping out on the giant wave above at Nazare in Portugal and breaking her leg, the Brazilian was found floating on top of the water face down by her tow partner, Carlos Burle.

Once on the beach he performed CPR on Gabeira, and after regaining consciousness she was taken to hospital where she made a full recovery.

“We work all year to get ready for these moments and we know that the risk of losing our lives is imminent,” Burle said afterwards. “I’m happy she’s alive. It was awful to watch her not breathing.”

Michel Bourez held at gunpoint in Rio

Bourez has returned to Brazil every year since, and won the competition in 2014. Photo by WSL
Bourez has returned to Brazil every year since, and won the competition in 2014. Photo: Courtesy of WSL

After walking home from a Rio de Janeiro nightclub in 2011, Tahitian surfer Michel Bourez was held a gunpoint and bundled into a car. When the vehicle slowed down at a red light however, Bourez jumped out of the moving car and over a fence into a backyard.

His attackers chased after him, but were threatened by some dogs allowing Bourez to hide in a bush. After an hour he escaped and made his way on foot back to his hotel, severely shaken, but thankful to be alive.

Keala Kennelly headbutts Teahupoo reef

Keala posted this image on Facebook after her surgery.
Keala posted this image on Facebook after her surgery. Photo: Courtesy of Keala Kennelly via Facebook

Hawaiian big wave surfer Keala Kennelly was lucky to be alive after going head first into the coral reef at Teahupoo back in 2011. She somehow managed to stay conscious and was picked up by the jet ski, and taken to the hospital.

There she underwent facial surgery and the gash from her hairline to her chin required more than 50 stitches.

“It wasn’t the biggest wave I had surfed at Teahupoo,” she said afterwards, “but it was the closest I’ve come to dying. I’m just stoked to be alive.”

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