Aaron Gold Describes His Rescue At Cloudbreak

"And then it was straight lights-out, like a switch was flipped"

Photo: Pompermayer
A wipeout last week at Cloudbreak left Gold, shown here at Jaws earlier this winter, in the hands of quick-thinking rescue personnel. Photo: Pompermayer

Last Sunday, news broke of Aaron Gold‘s brush with death at Cloudbreak after an early morning wipeout left him floating face-down in the water, unconscious and coughing up blood. Gold has since returned to Hawaii, where we recently called him to talk about the incident, the emergency effort from his friends, and how his health could affect his 2016 professional campaign.

Minus a doctor’s professional jargon, how are you feeling physically?

I’m feeling pretty good, but my lungs aren’t 100 percent. I’m trying not to do anything super strenuous; I just don’t have the stamina right now. I’ve taken in water in the past, but obviously not to the same level [as he experienced at Cloudbreak]. It takes a couple of weeks to heal up the damage there and get full energy back.

Can you walk us through what happened during the accident?

The wave I went on doubled up, and you could tell that I was in a good spot—it was an easy roll that would turn into a nice wave, but it lurched as I took off. I went from thinking I was in perfect to knowing I would need to airdrop this thing and stick it or I would need to bail out. Basically, in that decision, I decided that I wasn’t going to stick it because of how I was over my board, so it was better for me to get away just a little bit. I caught a little bit of whiplash on my neck when I hit the water, and then I went down and I was underwater from that point. When I was under, I was cycling and ducking to make sure I didn’t bounce on the bottom. I didn’t, but I was down there for a long time. I finally knew that I had to get up and I started climbing my leash. I was maybe two or three feet below the surface, and my board was sort of coming to me at the same time. I thought, Okay, I’m almost there. Sure enough, I got to the board and was holding on, and the next wave came over and washed over me. At that point, I still didn’t feel like I was critical or anything. I had started to re-breathe just a little bit. And then it was straight lights-out. It was crazy. I felt like a switch was turned off at that time.

When I came to, I knew exactly where I was. I knew that my friends were working on me and what they were doing. I didn’t know how much time had passed. But it was lights-on. I really feel like God shut me off for that time and it was supposed to happen so that we can learn from it and grow.

How so?

It’s really nuts in how there were so many people who were tied to the scenario in different ways. An example of that was the online media. Some of my family found out [about the accident] on the internet before anyone at the scene told them. It’s a sad thing, because for us, I feel like those outlets should contact my family first and make sure they know. I understand it, though. It’s within this crazy moment of news and everything. But if there’s going to be another time that this happens to this [big-wave] community, it’s easy to link up with each other. I was fortunate that Billy [Kemper] was there, who texted my wife, and I was able to call from the beach later on and tell her first. Had she found out through he media, it would have been nuts. Knowing how to handle a situation like that when it happens, making sure that every little dynamic of it is handled appropriately, is important for everybody. All of the boys who were there to rescue me — I can’t thank them enough.

Photo: Aeder
Gold, on his January Jaws bomb seen ’round the world. Photo: Aeder

Did anything about the moment of consequence remind you of your Jaws wave?

No, it was such a different scenario. This one wasn’t on a mental, huge wave, which is what was crazy about it. I surfed waves like that all winter at home, by myself, if not in heavier conditions. It wasn’t like I was pushing it on a 50-footer. But there’s no doubt in my mind that it was supposed to happen that way. Life is fragile. When it’s your time, it’s your time. You have to be thankful for everyone around you, your family and your friends. The menial things in our lives often get in the way. And even with us as surfers, everyone has little riffs with other people. But this put into perspective that, whether it was me or someone else, we all want to see our friends come back to their families. Those little things are petty and don’t have value. You really see that when something like this happens.

What will the next steps in the recovery be like?

I actually felt good enough to go surf after the accident. I was sitting there in the boat watching Restaurants and it looked so fun. Right now, it’s just about getting back to 100-percent physical health. I was actually starting to train and feel really good beforehand, which nine times out of ten I don’t get to do because I’m scrambling with kids or family. Mentally, though, I feel amazing. It’s interesting to be on this side of it, because I’ve been on the saving side a few times before when I helped rescue people, and the result is totally different. I feel like it’s way more emotional on that side. I somehow wasn’t meant to have a crazy, emotional reaction this time. If my lungs felt good and it was bombing again tomorrow, I would be ready to go surf. We’ll see if one of the Big Wave World Tour events goes while I’m still in recovery. I might just step back from the season and let someone else have a shot if I can’t commit fully.

For a near-death experience, it sounds like you had full confidence in the hands that cared for you on the boat.

The guys who were rescuing me were the guys with whom I’ve put in the most time and the guys I respect most in surfing. I told them that I hope I never have to repay the favor, but they all know that it’s the same across the board. We all care about each other and we’d all be there for the same thing. It’s a testament to situations that have come along the way. You look back to Sion [Milosky] and his experience. We weren’t prepared at that time. Greg had his incident [at Cortes Bank] and they were prepared. I’ve had mine now – Different scenarios, but similar, too. You learn and you grow and make sure that everyone’s on the same page. You might be that person to save another’s life.