Because female pro surfers are marketed like models it’s easy to forget they’re actually super gnarly athlete daredevils, chasing waves in waters that could kill them on a regular basis.
The more famous incidents, such as Bethany Hamilton’s shark attack, Keala Kennelly’s Tahitian reef face smash and Maya Gabeira’s battle with the sea monsters disguised as waves at Nazare last winter, which left her unconscious, of course make the news but every pro surfer you chat to has a story of a near miss.
But back to the pros, we rounded up some of the best death-cheating encounters to remind you that whatever the brands would have you believe these girls are super tough.
They inspire the hell out of us. How about you?
Nikki Van Dijk
Hitting the reef in my heat at Cloudbreak a couple of months ago was pretty traumatic.
When it all happened it was scary because I hit my face and all I could see was blood.
Once I got home and got plastic surgery and started healing up I really realised how amazing the human body is and how grateful I am to have such a healthy and fun life surfing and chasing my dream.
Everyone has their ups and downs it’s how you grow from scary experiences that push you higher
My near death experience happened out at Haleiwa, Hawaii. I was 16 years old and it was a 5-6 foot day with some 8 footers coming in as the swell started to increase.
At sunset the waves started to get bigger. I wasn’t too worried about getting pounded because the waves were so inconsistent. I sat deep and a little bit inside.
But then out of nowhere a huge 8 foot set swinging wide starts to break in. The wave broke right in front of me. It took me by surprise and I barely reacted in time to bail my board.
As I dove down all I remember is getting tossed from side to side, doing backflips getting dragged and sucked down. I started to swim back up and I was pretty out of breath.
As soon as I reached the surface another set breaks in front of me. It was like the first wave all over again. I felt like my body was going to give out, I had nothing but water to inhale.
I remember scratching to the surface and I finally made it up. The ocean was calm again and I was just laying on my board choking out water and on the verge of crying my eyes out.
One of the worst moments of my life!
It was a peaceful day in the ocean. The sun was out, the ocean was relatively calm and the waves were perfectly peeling onto the reef.
I was sitting out the back with only one guy slightly further out than me as I waited for the next set… suddenly there was a massive splash where he was.
Initially I thought he had jumped off his board for a swim but then I saw a huge grey thing, a set of gnarly looking teeth and a big tail splash down deep into the ocean.
Up popped the surfer, screaming and frantically attempting to paddle in. Being the youngest out there I was sent in first to call for help.
He ended up being okay, with a huge teeth mark in his calf. The shark mustn’t have liked his flavour and let him go after one little taste.
Today, I still jump at the sight of my own shadow in the ocean!
I’ve had a few close calls over the years. I’d say a couple of heavy moments would be over in Fiji, one just recently at the event and the other on my very first trip there.
The moment on my first trip to Cloudbreak was when I was surfing a solid swell out with my brother. I thought I had my bearings all set by the second day but no the wave had another thing in mind for me.
My brother took the first wave of the set and I went for the second wave and got swallowed up inside the barrel and absolutely blown to pieces. I landed really heavily on my side on the reef and washed along the razor sharp inside section.
I came up and luckily my brother had been washed down the reef too. He saw the blood pouring out of my arm and side and towed me out of the impact zone.
He was really worried for me but tried to cheer me up by saying, “I’m an electrician I’ve got this, I’ll strap you up with my electrical tape… Just don’t tell Dad!!"
I went to get patched up back at the island and was told I had a broken arm but luckily didn’t need stitches for my cuts. I was stoked to have my brother there to pull me to safety.
We were on a rad old sailboat, on one of my first trips ever to the Mentawiis, surfing Lances lefts. A big storm was coming in but we decided we would take the hard way back to safe port and have a bit more surf time.
That was not a good idea to say the least…by not taking the easy safe way back our engine sucked in a bunch of water as we were powering through the huge waves and wind, I thought we were going down for sure….
Luckily the captain was the best ever and we had luck on our side and we bailed the engine and made it to the safe dock up in time, but just barely.
It was an experience I will never forget and I’m happy we were lucky enough to come out the other side of. Needless to say when it comes to the ocean and being out at sea safety first always.
Last year in Hawaii I had a heavy wipeout at Rock Piles.
I had been surfing for a few hours having an absolute blast when I then came to realise that time had flown by and I was going to be late for a meeting. I then tried to catch the next set in, pressuring the situation.
When I caught the wave I didn’t see that the boil was right under me so I caught my edge and was pulled and smacked over the falls and thrown so deep to where my ears were popping. When I get in a situation like that I pretend I’m on a rollercoaster and think of happy things.
But when I came up my wipeout it wasn’t over.
I only had a quarter of my board and more waves coming so I had to focus on my breathing and being in the moment. After taking another two waves on the head I finally made out it into the channel.
As I looked to the inside of the lineup I saw the waves that I had been surfing closing out on the shallow jagged reef so I decided instead of putting myself in another sticky situation to take the long route so I swam around the lineup over to the inside of Logs.
I ended up having to swim for about 30 minutes but it definitely prevented me from possibly being injured.
Lee Ann Curren
I don’t think I’ve been anywhere near death while surfing, but I might have cried a little that one time trying to go in from a surf in Bali.
We were surfing at a sort of secret spot with two friends, and another friend was filming us from the top of the cliff.
It was very high tide and the waves were hitting the cliff pretty hard, and there was no other choice than to go in between sets and climb on very sharp rocks with one hand, holding the board with the other. I kind of miscalculated the moment I tried to go in.
Just as I reached the rocks and stood there I saw a big set coming, so I tried to scramble up as fast as I could and got a few cuts on my climbing hand, and just before I reached the top (6/8 feet high), that set wave came crashing on the cliff face and I fell on my back, thank god I was wearing boardshorts and a shirt, so the damage was just a few cuts on my legs and feet, and a few dings on my board.
I didn’t know what to do so I sat there and cried a bit, and then one of my friends helped me up and took my board.
Saddest part of the story is that the filmer guy didn’t even get the shot, a good laugh and a million views on youtube could have made me feel a lot better.
I had been living and working in Hossegor when I took a nasty bail at La Graviere last summer.
The waves were a decent size and I had enjoyed two hours of bliss with a morning off teaching surf lessons before the onshore wind picked up. I was about to head in as the shorebreak started to get pretty heavy as the tide pushed, when I caught a set wave.
There was a guy in front of me where I went up to do a turn and I knew if I didn’t bail I would hit him so I ditched my board and went with the lip like a ton of bricks.
I landed awkwardly at the bottom of the wave on the side of my neck. As soon as I hit I got electrical impulses running through my arms and legs.
Next thing I know, I’m lying on a spinal board getting helicoptered off to Bayonne Hospital. I had bruised my spinal cord and damaged a nerve in my neck.
I spent 12 weeks in a neck brace and I’m only just getting back into the water now with continual daily rehab. I was so incredibly lucky and I’m thankful everyday as I took a lot for granted before.
The day I was supposed to be leaving for the 2000 Women’s World Longboard Championships in Costa Rica, I got into a car accident that made the news initially as a fatality.
My roommate and I were in the process of moving so my SUV was packed to the roof. We were on the freeway during a very hot California day and I had just put on seatbelt when I saw a large black piece of something fly up past my windshield (I’d later find out it was my shredded tyre). At that moment, the car lifted and became weightless.
It flipped 5 times,slid up a dirt embankment to the right of the freeway, tore through a chain link fence, severed a cement light pole in three and landed in the middle of an intersection on a road that paralleled the freeway.
My left arm had been out of the window while we slid sideways on my side of the car, so from my fingertips to my elbow I had one giant road-rash laden with asphalt and dirt; all the windows that weren’t open were shattered and particles of it were embedded in our bare arms, legs, chests and heads.
The SUV was a twisted, collapsed bolus of metal around us. The first words we heard were, “Oh my God, they’re alive!"
We were rushed to the hospital after I nearly passed out and we were treated immediately. I had a minor concussion, a very raw left arm and asphalt and glass that required cleaning and stitches everywhere.
STOKED to be years away from that event. I was freaked out when driving for quite a while after it