[This article originally appeared in SURFER Magazine Volume 58, Number 8]
For most workaday surfers, injuries in the water are rare. Sure, we occasional collide with our boards, fins, a chunk of reef or a stranger (mostly the latter if you surf Trestles). But throughout our surf lives, most of us receive relatively few injuries in the lineup, and fewer still that have any lasting effects. Pro surfers, on the other hand, are paid to push themselves as hard as humanly possible in the water, which leads to moments of brilliance above the lip if you're a world-class freesurfer, or inside a cavernous tube if you're an unhinged big-wave rider. It also typically leads to a laundry list of injuries.
Take Dane Reynolds for example: Reynolds is known for sending himself skyward on the most daunting sections, and contorting into all sorts of unnatural positions while blasting his tail through the lip and swinging it toward the beach. And while that's all made for some extremely captivating surf footage, it's also sent him to the hospital more than a few times. "I think the worst was maybe a high ankle sprain I got in my early '20s," says Reynolds. "'I'd never stretched or been in a gym or even thought about physical therapy, so it took forever to heal just 'cause I wasn't educated on the work that goes into fixing that stuff."
Santa Barbara native and World Tour competitor Lakey Peterson has had her fair share of injuries over the past five years: stitches after hitting the reef in Hawaii, more stitches after getting hit by a bailed board at Snapper, and reoccurring bouts of painful lower back spasms likely caused by the repetitive motion of surfing. But the worst was a broken ankle she sustained in 2016 while running practice heats with her coach Mike Parsons in Ventura. “I got a left, did a turn and then a gigantic backwash came out of nowhere and pushed my board back up into my foot,” remembers Peterson of the injury that kept her dry-docked for more than six months. “It was similar to what happened to Kelly’s foot at J-Bay. The board pushed up and left my ankle with nowhere to go, so it just twisted and broke the lower part of my fibula.”
According to World Tour competitor Sebastian Zietz, the amount of injuries the average pro surfer sustains is minimal in comparison to, say, what football or baseball players deal with. "But when surfers do get injured, it can be pretty serious because you're in the ocean," says Zietz. "Sometimes you can't get a breath before the next wave or you're far away from help." The worst for Zietz came in 2009, when he went for an alley oop at a secret spot in Hawaii, landed awkwardly on the lip and sprained his left ankle. "The spot was down a long trail, so Dylan Goodale had to piggy-back me all the way back to the trailhead," Zietz remembers. "It was pretty classic."
As one of the world's most fearless big-wave surfers, Mark Healey has subjected his bones, muscles and cartilage to absurd amounts of abuse—on purpose. He's done the same as a stuntman in Hollywood, but considers that a far less dangerous pursuit than big-wave riding. "Stunt work is a bit more controlled at least. I've hurt myself more in big waves for sure," he says. "Most of my injuries have happened at Jaws, Pipe, and Teahupoo. I've lost a lot of skin at those places."