Hailing from a legendary surf family that traces its roots to the early pioneers of the sport, Nathan Fletcher is one of the most respected and talented big-wave surfers in the world. But even the best big-wave riders have wipeouts that make them question themselves and how their actions could affect family and friends. The account below was related to me by Nathan after I asked him about a golf-ball-sized lump on his head I had seen in some photos (which you can view in the gallery above) from his trip to Chile for Vans. When I initially sat down to speak with him, I meant to cover all the bases of the trip to Chile, which he was on for the filming of Vans’ “Get-N Classic Vol. 3.” However, when interviewing a guy like Nathan Fletcher—one of surfing’s most enigmatic figures—you just push record and hang on for the ride …
What happened to your head?
Oh man. I went through the rocks full-blast and head first. We never looked at the wave from the beach; we just looked at it from a panga from the outside so we didn’t know what it was doing on the inside. So from the back, it looked great. But after a bad wipeout, I pulled my vest [an inflatable safety vest] and got dragged like 50 yards in and toward the boulders that line the beach. When I finally came up, my board and I were like 15 feet from the rocks that stick up and out of the water like 20 feet—just huge boulders of all shapes and sizes. As I was trying to grab my board I turned around and saw a whitewash the size of a telephone pole. It was the worst-case scenario. I took my leash off just before the wave hit me and got pushed through the rocks—boom, boom, boom. I was getting smashed around in the rocks and the water would suck back. I’d get stuck in this eddy and couldn’t get my head up and out of the water. So for three waves, I was stuck in the rocks with my head underwater and just getting smashed.
At that point I was almost unconscious, blacking out, seeing the light, and all that sh*t. I was thinking about Sion [famous big-wave surfer who passed away while surfing Mavericks and whose body was found by Nathan], my chick being pregnant, and about Kohl and Russo on the boat and how traumatic and traumatizing it was for me to find Sion’s body. There was no way I could put those guys through something like that, and I was thinking, “I’m stronger than this. I just need to relax and surrender. Whatever happens, happens.” Then I just found myself on this rock that was sticking out of the water higher than the others, and I was alive. I had to lay there for 10 minutes and just regroup. By that time the other guys had paddled back to the boat and nobody knew where I was and thought I may have drowned. I finally stood up and waved to the other guys, but I couldn’t get out to them because I was too worked. They had to motor like two miles to the other side of the bay, and I had to walk to where they could come get me in the little panga. In the end I’d broken a few ribs, had that scratch on my forehead, and a scrape on my butt. When I was standing on the beach watching the waves slam into the rocks, I couldn’t believe what we had done. If we would have looked at the waves and the spot from that angle, we would have never surfed there.
Now that you’re a father, has that changed your approach to surfing big waves?
Yeah f—ckin’ hell it has. I didn’t surf for two months after the wipeout because my ribs were broken, Maya Gabeira almost passed away at Nazare, and when I did surf big waves again, Kirk Passmore died during that session. That same night Kirk passed away, my chick’s water broke and we had our baby. So am I more calculated? Obviously. I won’t be living any differently, but maybe following my heart and not the ego. When your heart and ego argue—that’s the battle, right? They don’t fit in the same room and are both stubborn f—kers.
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