17 year-old Italian Leonardo Fioravanti is recovering in hospital with two broken vertebrae and several torn ligaments in his back, after a horrific wipeout during his Round 3 heat at the Volcom Pipe Pro on Saturday.

Fortunately the damage to his spine is not thought to be permanent, and he should be out of his back brace within two months, and back in the water not long afterwards. The cover star of the last Surf Europe and one of world surfing’s brightest young stars, Leo is still hoping to compete on the WQS this year, and expects to be back entering competitions around May time. He’s been told he won’t have to undergo back surgery.

In between hits of the morphine on tap at Honolulu’s Queens Hospital, Leo spoke to Mimi LaMontagne of Surfing Life. “I was in the heat and this pretty good one came,” he explained, “and I realised that I was right on the peak, but I took off anyways, really late, and kind of airdropped into it. My fins didn’t catch the water and I flew back over and I landed straight onto my back on the reef. As soon as it happened I knew it was bad, and I took my leash off straight away, flagged the jetski down and within five minutes I was on a board getting carried up the beach.”

“Oh, the pain was something I’ve never even come close to,” Leo went on to say. “The doctors said I got really lucky, that I hit the rock a bit lower on my spine. They said that if I had hit the rock a bit higher on my back it would have hit the spinal cord and I could have been paralysed… I literally couldn’t breath for 10 seconds, and then every time I took a breathe it was excruciating pain… I’m lucky I didn’t hit my head or anything, and that it was just my back. As soon as I came in I could feel my leg and the rest of my body, and that’s when I knew that I was going to be ok.”