The Worst Wipeout Ever?

Niccolo Porcella recounts his trip over the falls at massive Teahupoo

Niccolo Porcella might not have been a name you recognized in the big-wave scene prior to last week, so here’s a little back-story about the man. Porcella was born in Maui, grew up in Italy, then convinced his parents to move back to Maui so he could pursue a career as a professional kite surfer, all by the ripe young age of 12. The adrenaline junkie jumped from sport to sport, including cliff diving, acrobatics, and skydiving, until he eventually fell in love with tow surfing after whipping into Jaws for the first time at the age of 17.

Since that day, Porcella made it his goal to travel to Tahiti and surf its famed slab, Teahupoo. This past week his dream came true. And while his name was somewhat unknown prior to the Code Orange swell, one massive wipeout would lead to his name being littered across the Internet with headlines like, “Biggest Wipeout Ever,” “Heaviest Wipeout In Surfing History,” and “Man Escapes Death in Tahiti.” As interested as the rest of the world, we wanted to know what it felt like to be sucked over the falls during one of the biggest mutant swells to hammer Teahupoo. We caught up with Porcella to hear firsthand and let him know we were happy he made it out alive, to which he replied, he’s never felt better.

Tell me about the lineup at Teahupoo that morning.

We were out in the water by 7 a.m., but towing another spot about a mile up from Teahupoo. With the swell rising, we decided to head down to Teahupoo to pick off some bombs. It was a gorgeous day, sunny with absolutely no wind. At first there were only a couple of us towing. Once the swell really started pulsing, the guys showed up: Manoa Drollet, Matahi Drollet, Raimana, Didier Tin Hin, Coco Nogales, and a couple of other teams.

Towing in to the wave, what was going through your head?

When I was holding on to the rope there wasn’t much going through my head. I was fully committed, focused, and in the moment. As soon as I let go of the rope, I knew I was going a bit too slow. I didn’t see the three steps morphing up the wave and as soon as I got to the bottom of the wave my board came to a dead stop. My immediate thought was to engage my core, brace for the initial impact, relax, and put my mind into a meditative state.

Can you walk us through the beating that followed?

I smacked the water really hard but thought I had penetrated and was going to pop out the back. I took a stroke toward the surface, thinking “this is too good to be true,” then realized one hand was surrounded by water and the other surrounded by air. At this point, I realized I was getting sucked over. The beating that followed was the most violent thing I have ever felt in my life. It instantly tore apart my wetsuit and life vest. I hit the reef five times, got held under for a bit, popped up, and fought for a breath before the next wave landed on top of me. That second wave sent me straight into the reef on my back. Then there were two or three more before I finally washed into the lagoon.

How did you make it back to safety without any serious injuries?

I got picked up from Didier and Manoa. As I sat on the ski I immediately started spitting blood. I also had a horrible headache, but that didn’t last long (must’ve been the adrenaline). My neck and back were also really sore from whiplash and hitting the reef, but nothing too serious at all.

Following the wipeout and rescue, what kind of emotions were running through you?

At that moment, I had never felt more alive and happier in my life. I was more fired up than before so we waited 30 minutes until heading back out to catch another bomb, then continued to tow the rest of the day. I randomly woke up at 4:30 a.m. the next morning and began to cry, realizing the day I just had.

You’re still in Tahiti for another week or so, what are your plans for the rest of your stay?

We’re shooting for Liftoff, a reality show where professional wingsuit pilot Jokke Sommer and I attempt to learn the other’s sport. So we’ll be flying in Moorea, kite surfing, swimming with wildlife, enjoying Tahiti, and yes, surfing Teahupo’o.

The initial impact...
The initial impact…
...aftermath. Photos: Thouard
…aftermath. Photos: Thouard

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